Biggest Giants must start to play bigger

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
4:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning, in case you hadn't yet heard, has thrown seven interceptions in the New York Giants' first two games of the season. Not surprisingly, the Giants have lost both games. Also not surprisingly, the Giants have not lost faith in their two-time Super Bowl MVP.

"I think Eli's pressing a little bit," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Monday. "I think our run game is struggling, and I think our offensive line is struggling with some people misplaced and trying to get in sync with each other. So I think Eli feels like it's all on him a little bit."

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Andrew Mills/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsLackluster offensive line play has led to a shaky start to the season for Giants QB Eli Manning.
It would be hard to blame him. The way the Giants have played on both lines to this point is the major source of their problems. Tuck's right about the offensive line and the near-complete lack of a run game, and Manning and the offensive linemen talked about that. But there are issues on the defensive line as well. The Giants got five sacks in a victory over the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 25 of last year, but they have a total of five sacks in the seven games they have played since then.

"Yeah, that's shocking," Tuck said. "I wish I knew the reason. I'm searching for answers, seriously. I encourage feedback. If anybody has any ideas, I'll listen."

Somebody had better come up with some soon, because if the Giants don't start playing better on the offensive and defensive lines, they're not going to have any way to control games. Which means they'll keep finding themselves in these wild shootouts that, so far, haven't ended well for them. If the defensive line can't find a way to improve the pressure, opposing quarterbacks are going to pick apart their secondary and especially their linebacking corps. And if the offensive line can't find a way to open more holes for whichever running back happens to have the ball on a given play, opposing defenses aren't going to have to get real creative in order to keep collecting those interceptions. In Sunday's loss, they couldn't get the Broncos to even flinch at their play fakes.

"We really didn't have much play-action," Manning said. "The few times we did, they were playing Cover 2, so we weren't getting the safeties down much. But yeah, if you're not running the ball well, they can keep two safeties deep."

And when that happens, it doesn't much matter how well the offensive line is doing in pass protection, because Manning has nowhere to throw the ball.

"If you take out the run game, then we're one-dimensional, and the other teams are too good for us to be successful on offense that way," guard Kevin Boothe said. "It's pretty easy for them to expect pass when we're losing yardage on first and second downs."

Boothe had just come from watching tape of the Denver game and said that the good news was that the mistakes were correctable -- a view shared throughout the room. The Giants always believe they can solve their problems, and very often they end up being correct. There will be no panic here, as disappointed as everyone might be in the way this season has begun.

"When we looked, most of the time it was a case where five of the guys were going great and one guy messes up and then all of a sudden it's a bad play," Manning said. "So I think we are close. It's not like everybody's messing up and we're getting out-physicaled."

They may not be getting pushed around physically, but the effect is the same. The Broncos were able to get defenders into the backfield to hit the Giants' running backs before they got back to the line. On the defensive side, when the Giants were able to get close to Peyton Manning, they weren't able to bring him down. The Giants continue to insist these are mistakes of technique and focus that can be corrected with practice and study, and if they're right then they have reason to expect things to get better.

But make no mistake: The lines are where the Giants need to improve if they're going to fight their way from 0-2 to playoff contention. The offensive line is getting healthier, with center David Baas having returned from injury Sunday. The defensive line needs a dominant Jason Pierre-Paul in order to elevate the pass rush to elite levels, and perhaps Pierre-Paul will get more dynamic as he puts more time between himself and his June back surgery. However it happens, the performances of the largest Giants on the field has to come up. Until it does, Manning's performance is bound to suffer.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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