It took just two games for the Sam Darnold vs. Saquon Barkley debate to ramp back up for the New York Giants.
With the 37-year-old Eli Manning swarmed early and often by Dallas Cowboys defenders and his offense rendered in effective in Sunday night’s 20-13 loss, the questions arose over the wisdom of the Giants’ decision in April to use the No. 2 overall pick on Barkley, the running back out of Penn State, instead of Darnold, the quarterback who instead fell to the Jets.
It didn't help that the loss dropped the Giants to 0-2. If you subtract a 68-yard touchdown run in the opener, Barkley has just 66 rushing yards (averaging 2.36 yards per carry) and no other scores. Darnold, meanwhile, has shown plenty of promise for the 1-1 Jets.
But the problems plaguing the Giants offense run much deeper than just at the quarterback position.
Manning is not the sole or even primary reason the attack ranks just 28th with 289 yards and 14.0 points per game. Darnold also largely would have struggled under similar circumstances.
The root of Manning and New York's issues lie squarely in a flawed strategic approach and an ongoing adjustment period both for coaches and players.
When the Giants hired Pat Shurmur to replace Ben McAdoo as head coach, expectations heightened for a quick turnaround and an invigoration of an offense that hasn’t recorded a 30-point outing since the final game of the 2015 season.
Not only would Shurmur inherit a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, but he more notably would have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. at his disposal. With the team later opting for Barkley, the group would also have a game-breaking figure who could be a centerpiece of the attack.
But the offense can't even find its footing so far. Manning's quarterback rating of 84.5 ranks 21st in the league. He has taken eight sacks and has just one touchdown pass. Meanwhile, Beckham doesn't have a score through two games, and Barkley has yet to produce consistently.
Yes, an 0-2 start doesn’t bode well for postseason hopes, with the pressure heightened for this week's game against the Texans. Since 1980, only five 0-3 squads have reached the playoffs.
But the Giants do have both the pieces to work with and a chance to turn their season around – if they modify their approach.
"We're still finding ourselves as a team,” Beckham told reporters on Thursday.
And as Manning noted the day before, “When you have new coaches and new schemes, 30 new players, it takes some time for everything to come together and start clicking.”
The quarterback also said that his squad has remained competitive but that must get off to better starts. To do so, Shurmur and Co. need to employ a more effective game plan.
The Giants struggled mightily on Sunday because of an inability to adjust to what the Cowboys threw at them. Dallas’ defense worked to force Manning to get the ball out quickly.
As a result, the linebackers backed off and gave Manning the underneath targets The bulk of the time, that wound up being Barkley, who notched a franchise-record 14 catches in one game. Meanwhile, the Cowboys harassed Manning often, racking up six sacks and hitting him eight more times. Beckham managed only four catches on nine targets for 51 yards.
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