Tom Coughlin popped into the quarterbacks' meeting room yesterday to chat with Eli Manning. Nothing extraordinary about that. Coughlin stops by every Tuesday, the day Manning spends several hours in the small, windowless room getting a head start on studying the Giants' next opponent.
But their latest get-together carried a bit more significance. The Giants' offense has not been as efficient or productive the last four weeks as it was early in the year and hit a season-low in a 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Coughlin and Manning, as well as offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, are charged with getting the attack moving as smoothly as it did in September and early October, when the Giants were ranked second in the NFL in total yards. They are now 11th. The 6-3 Giants return to action Sunday in Cincinnati against the 3-5 Bengals.
"We had an opportunity to have a nice conversation," Coughlin said at his news conference today. "Most of the time, it's about fundamentals and about us getting going. What can I do to help and little things that I can tweak, in terms of practice, that may help us. He's been very responsive with regard to that. We've been down this road before. He's going to get this thing right, and get our offensive team going again and get us on track. I fully believe that, I have great confidence in his ability to do that."
"We just had a talk," Manning said. "Just about how to get back on track, get back to playing at a high level, anything I needed. That's not uncommon. We talk throughout the season, we have a great relationship, and obviously, both of us want the same thing, for our offense to get back rolling and start scoring some points."
The Giants have scored just two offensive touchdowns in their last two games, both on one-yard runs by Andre Brown. They settled for field goals on four of six trips inside the 20-yard line of the Dallas Cowboys and Steelers. Against Pittsburgh, the Giants gained only 182 yards.
Coughlin today volunteered another issue, a lack of first downs. The Giants had 11 at Dallas and 13 vs. the Steelers, their lowest two-game total in almost eight years.
"You don't get any continuity offensively if you don't make any first downs," Coughlin said. "We haven't had any first downs in two weeks. Make some first downs. You make a first down, you'll have a chance to get some rhythm, get some continuity, get into your play calling. When you don't have first downs, it's like throwing darts at a board. You need the continuity."
"I wouldn't say it's a lack of continuity, I think it's just a lack of first downs," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It's just like any game. To keep the ball and keep driving down the field, you need first downs. So we've got to do whatever we have to do to get first downs and we haven't been getting enough of them."
That is due in large measure to a passing game that is not operating as well as it did early in the season. In the first five games, the Giants averaged 309 yards through the air. In the four most recent games, that average dropped to 206.5, including a season-low 114 net passing yards vs. Pittsburgh.
During those four games, Hakeem Nicks has caught only 13 passes for 152 yards, including one 10-yard reception vs. the Steelers. Nicks missed three games with foot and knee injuries this season and he did not practice today because his knee swelled up. Opponents have shifted their defensive efforts to stopping Victor Cruz. Remove his game-winning 77-yard touchdown against Washington and Cruz has 18 receptions for 202 yards in the same four games.
"(I'm seeing) more double teams, more guys in my face," Cruz said. "Not so much off coverage, more physicality - more of them trying to get their hands on me. It's just something I've got to be prepared for and continue to work and defeat the coverage."
Cruz said the extra attention has not significantly affected the passing game.
"We're still able to find our spots and find our areas where I can get the ball and be effective," he said. "But I've just got to work through a lot more traffic."
"(We have to) keep working," Manning said. "Everybody has a different style on how they play defense. It's just a matter of having the combination of having time to throw and everybody getting open in a timely fashion and we'll be able to make the plays."
Cruz said the Giants today added a one-one-one passing period in practice at Coughlin's suggestion.
"It was a period just to get some more timing down," Cruz said. "So it felt like a productive day. We kind of threw it in. Once the season starts, we normally don't do that as much as training camp, but we threw it in there a little bit just to get some timing against man coverage."
Manning insists that the Giants' mid-week work is the best path to improved Sunday production.
"It all comes down to how we practice," he said. "Have great practices and, hopefully, that turns over into game-day production. I don't think we have to go in and change everything we're doing. We're still in games in the fourth quarter. We had a chance to go win the game. The fact is, when we get the ball back with four minutes in the last game and score a touchdown, everybody is feeling pretty good right now. That didn't happen and we're dealing with the consequences. We've got to keep working. That's all you can do. It's not a time to say, 'Oh, we've got to change our offense, or we have to do this-and-that.' We've got to keep working and start making some plays."
*The Denver Broncos won in Cincinnati last Sunday, so Manning had a chance to get some pointers on the Bengals' defense from his brother Peyton, the Broncos' quarterback.
"I talked to him a little bit," Manning said. "I talked to him yesterday about their game - just seeing if there are any tips on certain things."