Commentary

Don't close book on wide-open offense

There should be no turning back for Giants and their pass-first, run-second attack

Updated: December 6, 2011, 8:39 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' banged-up defense was without three more regulars by Green Bay's game-closing drive Sunday. The Giants were playing the undefeated Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL's MVP-in-waiting.

Yet, rather than cross their fingers and hope they could merely hang with the Packers just days after being hammered by the Saints, the Giants chose a bold, attack-first approach that had Eli Manning slinging the ball all over the yard.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireThe Packers couldn't keep Hakeem Nicks and the Giants receivers down.

And the offense was so good, the Giants nearly won.

Which makes you wonder: What if the Giants' offense played that wide-open style all the time?

Following that sort of plan in their last four regular-season games would be a dramatic flip of the run-first script that Tom Coughlin's teams usually follow. But the running attack hasn't been reliably good all season. And with the 6-6 Giants now facing another win-or-else game Sunday night in Dallas, knowing the NFC East title is still within their grasp, they also know their short-handed defense has been consistently unable to close out games.

It cost them against Seattle backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and a mediocre Philadelphia team that was playing without Michael Vick. It cost them in the last 58 seconds of Sunday's game against the Packers' Rodgers. But look whom Rodgers was picking on: rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams and cornerback Will Blackmon, an emergency backup the Giants had signed just days earlier.

So why shouldn't the Giants put the game in Manning's hands again and again as they make their season-closing playoff push? Why not lean on the offense more than ever to carry the team?

Manning is having the best season of his career. Why not treat him the way the Saints treat Drew Brees or the Packers use Rodgers?

It especially makes sense when you know that all those points the Giants put on the Packers in Sunday's 38-35 loss didn't just happen in the normal flow of the game.

Running a daring, wide-open, look-deep attack was the Giants' game plan.

As Coughlin said afterward, "I had a number in my mind that I thought we would hold them to, and what we would score."

So what's to stop the Giants' pass attack from deliberately staying that aggressive all the time the rest of this season?

"It's a possibility," veteran offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie said, nodding. "We could do it."

The Giants should, after what they were able to do Sunday. They decided to be unrelentingly aggressive against the best team in football, a club that has now won 18 consecutive games, and it worked. Manning consistently went downfield rather than contenting himself with dumping the ball off in the flat or underneath, across the middle. Then -- just as strikingly -- he kept it up from the Giants' opening drive to their last.

It didn't matter whether the Giants had just stopped the Packers or the Packers had just scored. Manning kept pushing for big chunks of yardage, and he kept throwing long, even when the Giants were deep in their own territory and even after he gave up an interception that Clay Matthews returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. And the Giants kept making big play after big play.

Manning completed seven passes for 17 or more yards. All told, he threw deep 13 times. His receivers' longest gains went like this: Victor Cruz, 42 yards; Hakeem Nicks, 51 yards; and tight end Travis Beckum (how'd he get in there?), 67 yards on a zigzagging TD catch on the Giants' opening drive.

Despite being under frequent pass-rush pressure, Manning finished 23-of-40 for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

So give the Giants' coaches credit. They recognized the Packers were going to enjoy a big day against their depleted defense. And so, rather than accept that losing would be the inevitable consequence, the Giants' game plan was essentially telling the Packers, "You want a shootout? Fine. We'll give you a shootout."

Now is no time to stop. The Giants' offense should stay wide-open.

With 12 games gone, it's time to concede that the Giants' best defense is a great offense. And if the beat-up defense comes around? Even better.

On Sunday, Cruz went over 1,000 yards for the season, which is astonishing production for a guy who's still technically Mario Manningham's backup. Cruz finished with nine receptions for 119 yards. Tight end Jake Ballard was back to gashing another defense with those seam routes he runs and averaged 15.7 yards a catch Sunday. Nicks outmuscled the Green Bay defensive backs who were often hanging on him for 12 catches, 88 yards and two touchdowns, including the one that helped the Giants tie the game with 58 seconds left.

Then, facing a gotta-have-it, two-point conversion play to just tie the game, the Giants' response was -- again -- all gall.

Manning audibled into a run play that was the boldest thing the Giants did all day. With their season perhaps on the line -- remember, most of the Giants didn't know at that point that division-leading Dallas was in the process of losing in overtime to the underdog Arizona Cardinals -- Manning trusted his backup running back, D.J. Ware, to run behind the backup center (Kevin Boothe) and backup guard (Mitch Petrus).

And the Giants made it. They tied the game.

In the end, the Giants' defense was kicking itself for not being able to stop Rodgers and push the game into overtime. But the Giants have to face it: They may have to win a shootout every week. So rather than worry whether their defense can stop anybody when it counts, why not keep taking the initiative? Keep the offensive mindset they had Sunday into all of their last four games. Keep the more physical, revamped offensive line the way it is.

Nobody thinks of the Giants as a wide-open offensive juggernaut. But necessity is the mother of invention. Why can't they be?

As Manning said, "I think in the locker room, guys are obviously disappointed with the loss, but there was a little sense of energy, a sense of, 'Hey, we can get this thing going now.'"

The Giants can. They just did. There's no reason to take the pedal off the metal now with their season on the line and Dallas just ahead.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NFL HEADLINES