EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When the Giants rallied to be beat the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, it was the 36th time in the regular-season Eli Manning has led them to victory after they faced a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.
During his 15-year career, Manning has excelled in those late-game situations – most notably in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI – when he remains calm in the hurry-up chaos of a game's final minutes. In San Francisco, he completed six of nine passes on the Giants' final 75-yard drive, including the game-winning three-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard with 53 seconds remaining.
This week, the question arose for, well, at least the 36th time – if Manning is so proficient running the two-minute offense, why don't the Giants speed up the tempo more often? Over the years, Manning's previous coaches, Tom Coughlin, Kevin Gilbride and Ben McAdoo, all fielded variations of that query, on multiple occasions. This week, it was Pat Shurmur's turn.
"Tempo and no-huddle are part of what we do," said Shurmur, whose team hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tomorrow. "There's a difference between no-huddle and two-minute, and when you're in two-minute mode racing up and down the field, that's something that Eli's good at. Because that's not always the scenario, you don't see it throughout games. Most teams have it and use it strategically, just not all the time."
One of the issues is lining up without a huddle or quickly snapping the ball vs. letting Manning scan the defense and assess what it will attempt to do.
"I think there's advantages to both," Shurmur said. "It's just the play selection when you use both. You never want to be a play behind, so obviously Eli's very good at getting us in the right play. But sometimes that creates a little slower pace. Then there's other times when you just call a play and get up and run it. That's where you get a high percentage coverage or front that you expect to get."
Shurmur, of course, knows all about playing fast on offense. He was the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator from 2013-15, when coach Chip Kelly deployed a frenetically-paced attack.
"So it's part of my DNA," Shurmur said. "I was there and help develop the NFL version of Chip's offense, and so very well aware of how to do it. We do it strategically and it's been successful for us. When I say strategically, it's not all the time, it's when we choose to do it."
Shurmur gave a brief dissertation on the differences between a no-huddle and a two-minute offense.
"(Kelly's offense) was no-huddle," he said. "The two-minute drill is where you're going fast, because time is a factor. No-huddle is you're just standing at the line, you're not in a huddle. It's like the throttle on a car, you go really fast, or you can go kind of fast, or you can go slow. So sometimes that gets misunderstood, just like there's probably 50 definitions for the West Coast offense – zone-read, read-option. I cringe when I hear read-option, it's really zone-read. It's just the way it gets phrased sometimes but the difference between two-minute and no-huddle, so to speak, is you just choose not to huddle."
Manning, never one to rock a boat, has always said he'll do whatever the coaches ask of him.
The fourth-quarter numbers he and the team have compiled this season must be analyzed with the caveat that the Giants have faced two-score deficits in each of their seven losses.
But…the Giants have scored 77 fourth-quarter points, more than twice as many as they have posted in any of the first three quarters. In the final quarter, Manning has thrown seven touchdown passes and two interceptions, and his passer rating of 103.2 is significantly higher than his overall rating of 92.7.
Given that, should the Giants try to quicken the pace on offense more often in the first three quarters?
"That's a good question," said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. "I think that we look at that each and every week, and I think there's times that I think we always want to be ready to do that. We want to have that ready for coach Shurmur at any point to do that early in the game. We have been good at it. Unfortunately, we've had a little too much of it at the end of games when we've had to do it as opposed to when we want to do it. I think that's the most important thing, but we've got Eli with a lot of experience who has got a fast mind and gets everybody lined up in a position that makes quick decisions, so that's good to see. Whether or not we do it or not do it, we want to have the ability of when we are called upon to do it to be successful and get the ball moving."
"Again, I think it's important that we use it strategically," Shurmur said. "We had a lot of tempo plays the other night. It didn't appear that way, but that's actually what we were doing. You can do it a lot of different ways."
The players like to play with speed, both for how well they execute in that mode and the pressure it puts on the defense.
"I think just getting in that tempo, sometimes it messes with the defense," wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. said. "You can't check when we check. You can't get set up. You can't get a line, so you just got to play faster and just rely on your players. We make a lot of plays when we're moving fast. Just something that we use going forward. I feel like we have been pretty efficient when we're moving the ball fast and moving the ball, and it worked out for us last week."
Getting it to work out more often in the coming weeks might be a key to the Giants improving their record in the second half.
*For the second week in a row, the Giants have no players on their final injury report. Each of the 53 players on the active roster was a full participant in practice.
*The Buccaneers were not as fortunate, listing five players as out, including linebacker and leading tackler Lavonte David (knee). The others are defensive end Vinny Curry (ankle), safety Justin Evans (toe), running back Ronald Jones (hamstring) and cornerback M.J. Stewart (foot).
5 players to look to make an impact on Sunday