EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Stumbling into the bye week after two straight losses, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants are in trouble.
The once-potent offense has dried up. Eli Manning is in funk. The defense is giving up too many big plays and special teams have sprung holes in their coverage.
So forget that the Giants (6-4) have 1½ game lead in the NFC East over Dallas (4-5) with six games left in the regular season. Getting back to the playoffs is not going to be easy.
Tom Coughlin’s team has a tough stretch run ahead. It returns on Nov. 25 against Green Bay (6-3) and follows with Washington (3-6), New Orleans (4-5), Atlanta (8-1), Baltimore (7-2) and Philadelphia (3-6). Even the so-called easy games against the Redskins, Saints and Eagles will be tough.
What makes things scarier is that the Giants are once again in a second-half slide. Since Coughlin became the coach in 2004, the team has posted a 27-37 in the second part of the season, and it has not had a winning record in that half since going 5-3 in 2008.
If the Giants are looking for a positive, all they have to do is remember last year. They went 6-2 in the first half and then lost four straight and five of six to enter the next to last week of the season with a 7-7 record.
Just as suddenly, things turned around. The offense started hitting. The defense made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and the Giants went on a six-game winning streak that led to a second title since the 2007 season.
“I don’t know how you can follow that blueprint,” guard Kevin Boothe said. “I don’t think you can guarantee that we’ll even get in the playoffs following that blueprint. That’s not our plan at all. We have to come back and perform at a higher level, and it has to start immediately.”
While it’s debatable whether the time off will allow the Giants to hit the re-start button when they return, this is a talented team.
Don’t forget the group went to San Francisco earlier this year and embarrassed the 49ers, when Jim Harbaugh’s team spent the week talking about getting even for losing the New York in the NFC title game.
“We’re still in a good position,” Manning said. “If you said after 10 games, we’d be winning our division, you take that every time. So that’s where we stand and we’ve been through stretches before where we haven’t been playing our best, but we’ve been able to bounce out of them and we’ve got time to rest up this week, get back healthy, get refreshed and come back.
“We’ve got a six-game season,” Manning added. “It’s all going to come down to what happens in those six games. We’re in control of our own destiny. We have a tough schedule. We have good teams to play, but it should be exciting and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
If the Giants are going to succeed the offense has to get back in gear, and that means Manning.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP has not thrown a touchdown in the last three games and the passing attack has been held below 200 yards in each game, the first time that has happened since December 2008.
The offense has not scored more than one touchdown in the past three games and the team’s yardage totals have been pathetic — 293, 182 and 318 yards, respectively.
The problem isn’t solely Manning. Hakeem Nicks has played with foot and knee injuries all season and the Giants need him healthy so they can go after defenses with a 1-2 threat that also features Victor Cruz. While Senor Salsa has 60 receptions for 743 yards and seven touchdowns, but he’s also dropped a couple, including a TD last week in the one-side loss to Cincinnati.
Tight end Martellus Bennett needs to get back in the mix. He has 36 catches and three touchdowns, but he hasn’t scored since Week 3.
The running game is gaining close to 100 yards per game — up almost 11 yards over last season’s league worst — but everything seems to be between the tackles with Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown.
Despite allowing only 13 sacks, the O line has to improve its pass protection. Manning has been under too much pressure lately.
A healthy Nicks could definitely spark the offense. However, this might be the time for the Giants to unleash rookie running back David Wilson, their first-round draft pick. His breakaway speed would force opponents to reconsider how much the pack the box.
To play, Wilson needs to protect the ball and Eli, too.
Running backs coach Jerald Ingram isn’t ready to rush Wilson into the lineup.
“Just because you’re a first-round draft pick doesn’t mean you’re ready to play, or they all would be great,” Ingram said. “Also, the difference in makeup of size. David is not a big man. He’s not 265-270 pounds. He’s not 230-225. He is a situational player as a rookie right now. Yeah he’s explosive, but at what cost is he explosive? Is he explosive at the cost of not being able to protect well, not being able to know his job well enough being a pro? That all has to develop.”
Defensively, the Giants have been hurt by the big play. Opponents have completed 39 passes of at least 20 yards, third most in league. Over the past two games, the Steelers got a 51-yard touchdown from Mike Wallace, and the Bengals ignited their win with a 56-yard TD pass to A.J. Green.
The pass rush, which is the force of this unit, has been inconsistent and the secondary has had hurt by injuries and too many mental errors.
“We definitely can be a good defense,” coordinator Perry Fewell said. “All the makings are there. We’re not consistent. We’ve shown at times that we can be a good defense, but we’re not a consistent defense. That’s what we’re striving for, to be a consistent defense. I think that if we can obviously pull together, which we will, and be more consistent with what we do, that we can finish strong.”
That’s not a given, especially for those who have seen the Giants. Had it not been for a 77-yard touchdown pass to Cruz with 73 seconds to play against Washington and Dallas’ Dez Bryant landing an inch or two out of bounds, New York might be riding a four-game skid instead of two.
“We will take this time off to kind of relax and exhale and come back stronger,” Boothe said. “We’re in first place right now, but we’d like to stay there. So we have to continue to play our best football and don’t rely on others to help us out. We still have everything that we need in our hands.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.