by Adam Smith | December 20th 2016
With their dominant defensive performance in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos laid down a reliable template for success in the modern NFL.
Future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning had arguably the worst season ever for a Super Bowl winning quarterback in 2015, throwing 17 interceptions and only nine touchdowns. In fact, his play was so poor that it somehow convinced the Houston Texans that Brock Osweiler was worth big bucks in comparison.
The Broncos succeeded thanks to a defense full of superstars such as Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and their offense did them very few favours, relying on the odd moment of brilliance from Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas to win games. Ring any bells?
How do the Giants compare?
While Eli’s stats aren’t anywhere as bad as his brother’s last year (23 touchdowns to 13 interceptions is certainly acceptable), the younger Manning has been underwhelming all season. With a receiving corps of Odell Beckham Jr, the fit-again Victor Cruz and promising rookie Sterling Shepard, Eli has a strong core of playmakers that he’s been unable to feed consistently.
Even last week in a massive win against Dallas, the Giants had to rely on Beckham Jr out-sprinting an entire defense to get the victory with Eli throwing one pick and almost a few others.
On the other hand, the Giants defense has been magnificent and stand third in the league for tackles. Janoris Jenkins is enjoying the season of his life, while rookie Eli Apple has shown a lot of promise across the field. On the defensive line, Olivier Vernon has grown into a strong acquisition after a poor start and, next to him, Jason Pierre-Paul officially became the best nine-fingered player ever before his injury.
It’s a massive turnaround for a franchise that struggled to contain offenses for years. In the most competitive division in the NFC, Big Blue has made a giant step forward defensively. It’s just typical, then, that their offense would take a step backwards.
What’s happened to the Giants offense?
Offensive coordinators are focused on creating the best matchups for their receivers. OBJ, Shepard and Cruz are all speedy wideouts who flourish when the ball is thrown into space. While they’re capable of beating corners or safeties one-on-one, they aren’t powerhouses who should be expected to outmuscle double-coverage, a la Julio Jones. For the unit to succeed, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan needs to get more creative.
A few weeks ago, Manning apologised to Shepard after not targeting him all game against the Cleveland Browns, then Victor Cruz made the same complaint following a loss to the Steelers. Of course, there was also OBJ’s fight against a kicking net back in September after some offensive miscues. More often than not, throws are made to whoever looks to have separation, even if the window and matchup is risky.
It’s not all Eli’s fault – the offensive line has been poor, too. The unit has greatly missed Justin Pugh in the last month, and he should be back for the final stretch. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been unable to adjust to blitzes, resulting in scattergun throws and the run game has also been average at best, putting too much pressure on Manning.
Can they go all the way?
While the Giants defense doesn’t quite match up to Denver’s unit, they’re going to be a formidable opponent for anyone in the last few weeks.
On offense, in Odell Beckham Jr, they have a receiver who can turn a 5-yard completion into a 50-yard touchdown. Even considering Eli’s struggles, the presence of Beckham and their defense should be able to keep them in games.
JPP’s injury will be damaging for the defense, but the win against Dallas suggested they can adjust without him. As for Eli, while his numbers do not suggest a quarterback in crisis, the offense needs to utilise its receivers more wisely as his interceptions could prove devastating in the final few games. With the defense playing so well, settling for 3 and out rather than forcing throws could be all that the Giants need for another Super Bowl appearance.