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Offense works around lack of big plays


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** What most demoralizes a defense, a long touchdown pass or a multi-play, grind-it-out drive that forces the opposition to continually line up to try to stop an offense?

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The issue arose again today at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, because the Giants' offense has lacked the big-play capability it had in the past, and it has affected the team's scoring ability. Through nine games a year ago, the Giants were 6-3 and had scored 254 points. As they prepare to host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Giants are 3-6 and have scored just 165 points. That's almost nine points a game less than they were scoring in 2012.

Tom Coughlin is more interested in extending his team's three-game winning streak than obsessing about points and how the Giants score them.

"I like winning, whatever we have to do to win," he said.

Increasingly, that has been relying more on the Giants' stout defense (one touchdown allowed in 14 quarters, and that on a five-yard drive) and an improving rushing attack. The Giants ran for a season-high 133 yards in their victory over Oakland last week, including 115 by Andre Brown.

But the yards on the ground have come in relatively small chunks. The Giants are the only NFL team without a run longer than 18 yards this season.

In the air, they have completed 33 passes of 20 or more yards, which place them 17th in the NFL. That is actually three more than they had at this time last year. But they are 28th in the NFL with eight passes of 30 or more yards, a significant drop from the 15 they had at this time a year ago. The Giants have five completions of 40 or more yards, which is 23rd in the league and just one less than they had last year.

"We've always been a throw-the-ball-down-the-field team," Coughlin said. "We've gotten in terms of numbers a little bit away from that, although we had our spots picked pretty well the other day and it didn't work out. We'll continue to do that."

"It just kind of depends on what defenses are doing when you can hit the ball down the field," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Sometimes you call for plays with the possibility of getting the ball down the field. It just all depends on if the defense gives you those opportunities. We'll try to get a few balls down the field, but if we've got to dink and dunk and get positive yardage and get in third and manageable situations and get first downs, then that works also. You can't force things down the field just to be throwing it down the field. It's only worth it if you have a chance to complete it and make some big plays."

Manning has thrown an NFL-high 16 interceptions, leading to speculation that Coughlin has pulled the reins in on the deep passes to reduce the Giants' number of turnovers. Asked if that's true, Coughlin said, "No, not really."

Wide receiver Victor Cruz also said he believes the offense hasn't been more conservative because of a fear of turnovers (the Giants have an NFL-high 28).

"I think coach does a good job of anticipating what we're going to get and just playing an offense and whether we run or pass, we're playing it off of what they (the defense) show us," Cruz said. "I think we've done a good job of attacking that and it just takes time and it takes certain play calls for us to get it right. There's definitely no pulling back or anything like that, unless we have a lead going into the fourth and we're just trying to win the game."

Rueben Randle has 11 of the Giants' receptions for 20 or more yards, followed by Hakeem Nicks with 11 and Cruz with six. But Cruz has three of the four that were completed for more than 50 yards and last year he had the Giants' two longest completions, for 77 and 80 yards.

"They're still in the offense," Cruz said of the deep shots. "Absolutely, 100 percent. I think the past couple weeks I've ran about eight or 10 of them in practice, so we're moving the ball downfield, for sure."

Without the big play, the Giants have had to rely more on lengthy, time-consuming possessions. They have 13 touchdown drives of 70 or more yards (tied for 14th in the NFL), 11 of 80+ yards (tied for eighth) and against Oakland, they had their third touchdown drive of at least 90 yards, which is tied for second in the league.

"It all depends on how we are as a full offense," Cruz said. "Running the ball, protecting up front, running our proper routes, that all plays a part in how we approach our down-the-field passing. It all goes hand-in-hand. Offensively, we haven't been that full spectrum, all the way around the board thus far. But I think we're moving in the right direction, we're getting our running game going and I think everything else can play off of that."

So what's better, the long pass or the long drive? Manning characteristically has no preference.

"You just try to run the offense efficiently and if you have some opportunities for big plays, we're going to be aggressive and take them and see if we can get that game-changing and momentum-changing play," Manning said. "I'm just trying to find completions and going through my progressions and try to move the offense."

By any means possible.

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