EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning is not going to take unnecessary risks to try to jump-start the Giants' points-needy offense.
In their first four games, the Giants scored just seven touchdowns, and their 18.3 points a game rank 29th in the NFL.
In addition to touchdowns, the deep pass has become an infrequent component in the Giants' offense. Manning is tied for sixth in the league with 112 completions, but only three of them gained more than 25 yards, and none more than 37 yards. The check-down has become an integral part of the offense, as evidenced by Saquon Barkley's 27 receptions, the second-highest total among NFL running backs.
"I think what it all boils down to is we need to score more points," said coach Pat Shurmur, whose team returns to action Sunday in a road game against the Carolina Panthers. "There are elements of what we're doing that are good, and there are many things we got to get better at. We've got to be more explosive, more efficient and we've got to score more points. That's the reality of it. I was talking about it yesterday. Whether you throw the ball 60 yards or you work the ball down the field, we need to score touchdowns."
One theory holds the Giants can accomplish that by throwing more deep passes to, say, Odell Beckham, Jr., instead of tossing it to him near the line of scrimmage and hope he can use his speed and elusiveness to advance the ball down the field. But that cause and effect is not guaranteed, and Manning is not going to start slinging the ball down the field if the play call and the defense don't warrant him to do so.
"If you think you can complete the pass then you throw it," Manning said today. "If you don't, if it's a risk, a turnover or throwing it into double coverage, then that's not what it's about. You try to put your playmakers in a position to get open, and that's what we're doing. Sometimes, they take away certain things. You got to check it down and try to get a first down and move the chains and live for another down, another opportunity coming up."
Manning is playing in his first season in Shurmur's offensive system, after 10 years in Tom Coughlin's scheme (primarily with Kevin Gilbride as the coordinator), and four in the offense Ben McAdoo brought to the team. Each coordinator/playcaller emphasizes different ideas and plays.
"Different systems have different approaches," is how Manning put it. "Probably the first system we were in, it was definitely a vertical passing system. Guys had a lot of options, though (it was) kind of depending what technique they were getting whether they'd break it in or sit it down, or go deep. So it kind of left, depending on the game plan or the defense, how many times you were throwing the ball down the field and what you're doing."
Manning suggested Shurmur's system has some similarity to his first Giants offense.
"I think this offense is a vertical passing game," Manning said. "I think it has the option to get the ball down the field and it's just a matter of … it's not bad to get the ball to your playmakers' hands underneath and if they're playing soft get the chance to Saquon's hands. He does a good job taking little six-yard catches into 12-yard gains, or could've broke a couple for longer. It's still all about getting the ball to your playmakers hands and getting the opportunity to move the ball, get first downs and stay in good down and distance and good rhythm."
Translation: Manning is not going to force the ball deep just to take a shot that has little chance to succeed. He'd prefer to get the ball to Beckham, Barkley, and Sterling Shepard and let them try to carry it down the field.
The strategy worked two weeks ago, when the Giants defeated the Texans, 27-22, for their only victory. Manning completed 25 of 29 passes and had season highs of 287 yards and two touchdown passes.
"I think (in) Houston we had a bunch of those where you get pressure, you get man-to-man, you hit shallow routes and guys running away, you hit them in stride and we got guys running for 30 and 40 yards," Manning said. "So it is a matter of, can you get those in the timing of those things? Sometimes, obviously, they're playing soft zones and taking away some of the deeper stuff. If there's shallow routes, sometimes, obviously, you don't want to have them on third and long in those situations where they're doing that, but sometimes you got to take the best you can get, (which) is six yards.
"It's not all about just throwing it deep every play, that's not the answer to our solution. I know that's what everybody wants to do, it's an easy thing to say, 'Yeah, we'll throw it deep.' and all of our problems will be fixed. It's still about finding completions, and when you do throw it down the field completing it."
Which is not to say Manning won't throw it down the field if he gets an opportunity.
"I'd love to get some shots," he said. "I'd love to throw it down the field hit some long ones. That's fine, and we may get some of those, but if not, still got to run your offense, and you can score points. I don't care how you do it. It doesn't matter if it's throwing it deep, throwing it short. It's a matter of hey, we have to get the ball to the end zone."
And that's exactly what Manning will attempt to do Sunday against the Panthers.
*Four Giants did not practice today: tight end Evan Engram (knee), defensive lineman Damon Harrison, linebacker Connor Barwin (knee), and wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Shurmur said Shepard had a cyst removed from the base of his back, "that is just going to take him a day or so to get back from, otherwise he'll be fine."
Four players were limited: linebacker Olivier Vernon (ankle), cornerbacks Eli Apple (groin) and Antonio Hamilton (groin), and wide receiver Cody Latimer (knee).
*The Giants signed tackle Jylan Ware to their practice squad. Ware, 6-7 and 317 pounds, has played in one regular-season game, the 2017 regular-season finale for the Oakland Raiders. He was a seventh-round draft choice by the Raiders, from Alabama State. Ware was released by the Raiders on Sept.1.
View the starters for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers