- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants tight end coach Mike Pope tallied 35 pass routes for Martellus Bennett in Sunday's loss to the Bengals, and said Bennett was hit coming off the line on 19 of those routes. It's a sign the athletic tight end has become a player opposing defenses account for.
"He's not getting the free releases that he was getting earlier in the year, and getting through that five yards is a challenge for anyone that is any good," Pope said. "Anyone who they think can (hurt them) they are trying to batter him at the line of scrimmage and that wasn't case so much earlier in the year before he established himself as a threat."
After signing a one-year deal, Bennett has emerged as a reliable pass catcher for the Giants. He's second on the team with 36 catches and three touchdowns, and his 411 receiving yards are third on the squad. He's also delivered on his reputation as a solid blocker.
Bennett started the year hot, catching a combined 15 passes for 185 yards and three scores in the first three games. In the last seven games, though, Bennett has just 21 catches for 226 yards and no touchdowns. He's only topped 40 yards once in that stretch.
While Bennett hasn't been 100 percent since hyper extending his knee against Cleveland on Oct. 7, Pope said a high portion of the decline in production is opposing defenses making sure they don't allow Bennett to beat them. The tight ends coach added that he doesn't believe there has been any disconnect between Bennett and Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
"I think his progress has been ongoing. He's a good student of the game. He wants to play well here, he wants to establish himself in his own role as a starter in the NFL," Pope said. "We just continue to try to perfect to get former systems out of his mind and things he might have done because he is not a rookie, he's in his fifth year in the NFL.
"He was engrained pretty thoroughly in another system when he came here to us so part of that has to become absent-minded and not try to do things that you might have done somewhere else in the heat of the game. Part of that is putting the eraser on those things and getting absolutely fully involved in our offense."
Bennett, who is a starting tight end for the first time in his five-year career, said he believes there's a stigma attached to the Giants offense right now and that it can't be certain coverages. He further explained that the team is seeing a lot of two-man looks that take away deep balls and the underneath routes.
The tight end said it would help the offense to use more of a "dinks and dunks" offense that uses more of a quick-strike attack. He added that the team doesn't have to always rely on a home run ball, and could settle instead for a five-yard play or an eight-yard slant.
Bennett is putting the onus on the playmakers around Manning to step up as the quarterback has endured this rough stretch. Bennett had four catches for 37 yards in Sunday's loss.
"Sometimes we have to make plays for him. It's not just on him, it's on everybody on this offense. If he makes a throw, if he is having a tough game, we can't drop them. Someone has to make a play for him, get him going sometime," Bennett said. "It's on everybody. It's on Eli. It starts with me. I have to make more plays for him and do different things for him to make things easier for him and that's all I can control is what I do. I just got to get better for him."