For the last 210 regular seasons starts, there was no doubt who the Giants would be starting at quarterback. The names on the offensive line, receiving group and backs have changed since November 21st, 2004, but the one constant has been Eli Manning. Until Sunday.
The Giants fan base was already frustrated with the season and on Tuesday the organization gave them reason to display a full on revolt. They coldly benched Eli Manning to start Geno Smith (though it has been argued the real crime was starting Smith over Davis Webb). Ownership could not have envisioned the visceral reaction they received from Giants nation. A fanbase that was already fed up with the front office and head coach was pushed over the edge. For one day, fans displayed a stronger loyalty to the name on the back of the jersey than the logo on the side of the helmet.
For Giants fans rooting for a loss against the Raiders, the first three drives of the game could not have been scripted any better. The Giants went three and out on each drive and totaled five net yards of offense. Against one the worst defenses in the league the Giants were unable to generate any first downs to open the game. Overall, the Giants offense only generated 265 yards of offense, with 76 yards coming off of two catch and runs from Evan Engram and Sterling Sheppard. After watching Geno Smith fumble twice while getting sacked, one has to wonder if Eli intentionally coughed on him in the quarterbacks room to pass that virus onto him. In the end, the Raiders offense was able to pull away late, winning the game 24-17.
So what were the positives from the Giants loss to the Raiders? Evan Engram bounced back from one of the worst performances of the season last Thursday against the Redskins. He hauled in seven passes on eight targets for 99 yards and a touchdown. Sterling Sheppard showed he could be a threat with the ball in his hands, grabbing an inaccurate throw from Geno Smith and scampering 47 yards. Geno and Eli may not be part of the Giants future, but the organization is starting to build a young stable of pass catchers with Odell Beckham, Sheppard and Engram.
It’s hard to understand what exactly the Giants accomplished today by starting Geno Smith. The Giants tried to make the game as simple as possible for him by giving him designed rollouts, though none of them were effective. Rarely did the Giants let Geno drop back to give him the opportunity to make any plays down field. They stuck to the short passing game and gave Geno a safe environment to throw the ball from.
If wins are no longer a priority, then why not give Geno a real opportunity to prove he can become the franchise quarterback? If the organization does want to evaluate Smith, then put him in situations that can truly be evaluated. See how he moves in the pocket behind a leaky offensive line. Examine his ability to set up in the pocket and complete passes down the field. Test his understanding of the offense and opposing defenses by forcing him to go through progressions. The best quarterbacks aren’t elite because they throw the hardest or are the most accurate. They separated themselves from the pack by being able to move around in the pocket while simultaneously keeping their eyes down the field. They earned the label of being an all-time great by anticipating coverages and rapidly going through their progressions. It’s rare to fool Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. They have seen it all and are prepared for every situation. It’s unlikely Geno will ever be a franchise caliber quarterback in the NFL, but shouldn’t the Giants at least put him in a position to find out?