It’s only been one game, but so far, those two, along with quarterback Eli Manning have not had the opportunity to make the kind of impact the Giants envisioned.
The question, though is why? Is it scheme? Luck? What the opponent is doing?
Head coach Ben McAdoo attempted to shed some light on the question for each player starting with Marshall, who was not targeted in the game until late in the second quarter and who ended up with just one reception out of four pass targets for 10 yards.
“I think it was a product of a lot of things,” McAdoo said of Marshall’s rather lackluster Giants regular-season debut.
“There may have been times where you’re trying to get him the ball, but couldn’t get it to him for one reason or another. It could’ve been where he was lined up in the progression, based on the coverage we were seeing. It’s not just one factor, you can’t just point to one thing. It was a variety of things. We certainly want Brandon to get a touch earlier than he got a touch.”
Perhaps the most curious thing about how Marshall was—or in this case wasn’t used—was when the Giants made their only red zone trip. After driving down to the Cowboys 5-yard line, someone on the Giants—either McAdoo or Manning—called for a Paul Perkins run up the gut even though the Giants offensive line’s interior has struggled with consistently opening holes for the backs.
Perkins did manage to get one yard but from there, things went south for the offense. Manning was sacked by Cowboys defensive end Charles Tapper, the ball being pushed back to the Cowboys’ 13-yard line.
On their third down attempt, instead of trying to find the 6-5 Marshall, Manning inexplicably went to Roger Lewis, who finished with team-high 54 receiving yards what with Odell Beckham Jr. on the bench still nursing a sprained ankle. Lewis was stopped at the 7-yard line.
Engram was supposed to be one of the solutions the Giants deployed to discourage opposing defenses from constantly deploying Cover 2. Yet per Pro Football Focus, he played 60 percent of his snaps Sunday night (47 total) as the in-line tight end, where he tried to help with blocking.
Engram, who was moved around on offense—he was in the slot 30 percent of the time, was split out wide two percent of the time and spent the remaining two percent of his time in the backfield as an H-back, wasn’t targeted on any deep routes up the seam, even when Manning was afforded a rare clean pocket to step up in.
Why wasn’t Engram deployed up the seam after showing signs of being able to do so in the preseason?
“It wasn’t that simple,” McAdoo explained. “It wasn’t just cover two. There were a variety of coverages being played. There was a form of quarters, there was some sky weak being played, there was two being played as well, but yeah, it’s novice to say that it was just a bunch of cover two [Sunday].
“But they were playing soft and they were playing to keep the ball in front and to make you take completions and move the ball slow and methodically down the field.”
So, as McAdoo likes to say when he starts off his day-after conference call, where do they go from here?
They might want to start with the offensive line, the unit whose inconsistent play doesn’t always afford Manning a clean pocket to step into his throws, or allow the receivers and tight ends to get into their longer routes.
Per Pro Football Focus, Manning averaged 2.7 seconds to throw on 41 drop backs. He had less than 2.5 seconds to throw on 61 percent of his pass attempts.
McAdoo has preached the importance of patience with the offensive line and letting the unit get better with its technique.
If it hasn’t happened by now, then it’s certainly a legitimate concern to wonder if it will ever happen. And if it doesn’t, do the Giants have viable options to go in a different direction?
“We feel that we’re confident in the guys that we have and we’re confident in our depth and if we feel that we need to make a change there, we’ll make a change,” McAdoo said.