Will Packers see Giants rookie QB, or will Eli Manning still be the man?

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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Twelfth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2019 regular season.

GREEN BAY - Technically, the 2018 New York Giants’ season under first-year head coach Pat Shurmur was a success in that they won two more games than they did in 2017. The problem is how far the franchise has fallen since going 11-5 and losing to Green Bay in the playoffs just two years ago.

The offense has been undergoing an identity change under old-school general manager Dave Gettleman the last two years, yet the linchpin remains quarterback Eli Manning.

Manning, 38, is entering his 16th season. Former coach Ben McAdoo tried to bench him in 2017, a move that likely played a part in the coaching change. But Manning hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl since 2015, and he has overseen five losing seasons over the last six. But, this is the last year of his deal and the Giants did finally draft a quarterback that may succeed him — leading some to wonder if this team is “going for it” in 2019 or merely bridging the gap for another year or two for first-round pick Daniel Jones to be ready?

Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws in the first quarter as the Packers host the Giants in an NFC wild card game on Jan. 8, 2017, at Lambeau Field.

This has put Shurmur in a tough situation, as he has already had to stamp out any idea of a quarterback competition to open the season. But what happens if the experiment fails and the team is losing early? Does Shurmur, who got only two seasons as head coach in Cleveland from 2011-12 and went 9-23, have enough juice with ownership to not just lose for a second straight year, but then be considered able enough to develop a new quarterback and win in 2020 and '21? NFL teams are hardly that patient.

Here are three things to know about the Giants:

Barkley over Beckham Jr.

The Giants elected to pass on the quarterbacks in the position-heavy draft in 2017 in order to take running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley turned in a Pro Bowl and Rookie of the Year campaign in which he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 scores while catching another 91 balls for 721 yards and four touchdowns. For all intents and purposes, he became the offense and the face of the franchise. Then in March, the Giants made it “official” by trading away three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland. Beckham consistently made headlines, for a variety of reasons, but it seemed like he never was a fit for New York. The Giants also have revamped their offensive line, signing left tackle Nate Solder in 2018, right tackle Mike Remmers this offseason and acquiring former Wisconsin Badgers guard Kevin Zeitler in another trade with Cleveland. It feels like the Giants have geared up to make Barkley an MVP candidate and the focus of the offense.

Defense a work in progress

The last time the Giants had a top-10 defense was way back in 2010 — the year before they upset New England in the Super Bowl — and since 2013 they have consistently ranked between 20th and 31st in the league in that category. Since that championship season of 2011 they have had just one top-10 scoring defense (No. 8 in 2012), otherwise checking in between Nos. 12-31 since. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is in his second season in that role under Shurmur, and there was a slight improvement in 2018 in yards and points allowed. But too often the Giants just don’t stop anyone often enough. They traded away pass rusher Olivier Vernon to get Zeitler and then let safety Landon Collins walk via free agency. So this year, Bettcher is trying to create some cohesion with a group that, to this point, is relatively faceless.

Jones on deck

The Packers won’t travel to New York until Dec. 1 (Week 13), and perhaps the Giants will be reeling to the point where ownership and Shurmur want to see No. 6 overall pick Jones under center. This is probably a long shot, even if the Giants are careening toward their fifth top-10 pick in six years because for whatever reason, they can’t quite push Manning out the door. McAdoo clumsily tried to do it in 2017 and wound up getting fired. But the fact is the Giants have made the playoffs just once since winning the Super Bowl in 2011 — and that was a loss to the Packers in the wild-card round in January 2017. Jones, 22, was obviously drafted for a reason. The big question is if the Giants are again faltering will they finally transition away from their two-time championship quarterback?

Packers schedule glimpse

Dec. 1 at New York Giants, noon, Fox

Week before: at San Francisco, Nov. 24.

Week after: vs. Washington, Dec. 8.

On the horizon: vs. Chicago, Dec. 15.

New York Giants

Coach: Pat Shurmur (15-34 overall, second season with Giants).

2017 record: 5-11, fourth in NFC East.

Scoring offense: 23.1 points per game (16th in NFL).

Total offense: 356 yards per game (17th).

Scoring defense: 25.8 points per game (23rd).

Total defense: 356 yards per game (24th).

Series: Packers lead, 33-26-2.

Last meeting: The Packers beat the Giants 38-13 on Jan. 8, 2017, in the NFC wild-card round at Lambeau Field en route to a trip to the NFC championship game. It was the last time either team has made the postseason. It was a one-possession game until late in the third quarter when Mason Crosby made a 32-yard field goal to push the Packers’ advantage to 24-13. Aaron Rodgers then hit Randall Cobb from 16 yards out to blow the game open early in the fourth quarter. It was the second time the Packers beat the Giants at Lambeau Field that year, as the Packers also won the last regular-season matchup in Week 4, 23-16.

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