Cardinals' example offers hope for beleaguered Giants offense
In 2012, Carson Palmer threw for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns to 14 interceptions for an Oakland Raiders offense that had little else going for it. He did as well as could be expected under offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, whose schemes have met with mixed results during Knapp's time in the NFL, and offensive assistant Al Saunders. But when Palmer moved on to the Arizona Cardinals ahead of the 2013 season, it took the veteran a while to get the hang of head coach Bruce Arians' offensive concepts -- Arians prefers a vertical game with heavy doses of receiver re-distribution, and he prefers a mobile quarterback who can keep plays alive. Palmer still has the arm to make just about any throw, but the new concepts stymied him at first. He went on to throw for a career-high 4,274 yards in Arizona's offense on the way to a 10-6 record, but it definitely took some time for things to coalesce.
Through his first eight games under Arians, Palmer had completed 61.3 percent of his passes (174 of 284) for 1,913 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 6.74 yards per attempt. In his last eight games of 2013, Palmer's numbers enjoyed a significant uptick -- 65.3 percent of his passes completed (188 of 288), 2,361 yards, 14 touchdowns, eight picks and an 8.2 yards per attempt average. It wasn't enough to pull the Cards into the playoffs only because 10 wins doesn't cut it in the brutally competitive NFC West.
Arians, who did an amazing job with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and helped Ben Roethlisberger along in Pittsburgh, said this week that when a quarterback meets a system, the marriage isn't always instantly successful. And that could be the ray of hope that the Giants, the team Arians' squad faces Sunday, is desperately looking to find.
"I try to never judge a quarterback in a new offense until Week 8," Arians told the New York football media on Wednesday. "If you have your open date in there, maybe a week sooner because it just takes so much time and you see the same defense all of OTAs and all of training camp. Then you see a couple of different defenses in preseason, but you are not playing that much if you are the starter. Now all of a sudden, you are seeing a different defense every week and a different game plan, and I think it takes a while to get through a number of different style clubs, especially in your division, and swing it back and really see the improvement in the second half of the season."
Certainly, Eli Manning's performance in the new offense drawn up by first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo isn't off to a great start. Manning had a disastrous preseason in which he was hesitant, balky and mistake-prone, and that carried over into Big Blue's season opener against the Detroit Lions. The Giants were whitewashed, 35-14, as Manning completed 18 of 33 passes for just 169 yards (4.9 yards per attempt!), one touchdown and two interceptions. It's also possible that Manning is on the wrong side of done as a starting quarterback -- after all, he led the league in interceptions last season in a Kevin Gilbride-led offense with which he was intimately familiar -- but Arians believes that it's too soon to judge.
"I don’t think there is any doubt," Arians said, when asked if Manning looks like he's going through growing pains. "It is very hard for somebody to change after you have been in a system. I did this with Carson Palmer last year. He had been in the same system pretty much nine years and he has ideas, then you are trying to re-program. It is much easier getting a rookie and brainwashing him than it is to take a veteran and change him totally into a new system."
Perhaps that's why the much younger Ryan Nassib looked better in McAdoo's offense in the preseason. In any event, McAdoo is trying to stay away from any timelines -- he understands that intense frustration in his offense has already set in, and for good reason.
"We prefer to kick in on Sunday instead of Week 8," McAdoo said. "I will say this, in 2007 we came up here when I was with Green Bay and played the Giants and they were struggling at the time on defense. Then we had a chance to play them in the championship game that year. It was interesting how they looked on film and the progress that they made and how impressive they were. At the end of the day we are going to trust who were are, we are going to trust the character in the room, trust the fundamentals, we are going to count on the chemistry to kick in. We are not going to apologize for it."
As expected, head coach Tom Coughlin has his patience for this process on a fairly short leash.
"I stay away from that because it has to be sooner rather than later for all of us," Coughlin said of the willingness to let things play out. "Would I take the 10-6 record [Arizona] had last year, even if we had to go through some very impatient moments? We will have to see about that, too. You’d like it to come sooner than later. I think the players have had a very good attitude about this. They expressed the fact that they are closer together as a group. They acknowledge some of the problems and the issues that we are having and have had in all three phases. Let’s face it, all three phases didn’t play anywhere near like we anticipated playing based on our preseason. I think that the minds and attitudes are in the right place, and we’ve just got to work hard to try improve and do the best we can with it."
In the short term, there's nothing the Giants can do but let their new offense take effect. And as sympathetic as Arians might be, you can bet that Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who brought a blitz-heavy attack in Monday's win over the Chargers, will do the same to Manning, who hasn't adjusted well to pressure at all in his new system.
So, if it does eventually click for the Giants and Manning, what will it look like when the lights finally come on?
"All of a sudden, you could see the guys around him start to get it and play faster and play better," Arians said about that moment for Palmer. "Instead of waiting to see a guy come open, he was throwing guys open. When you are waiting to see a guy come open, you are going to throw interceptions because your eyes are there too soon and too long. When you can throw the ball on time, trust the receiver is going to be there, everything happens a second or a second and a half faster, and that is a lot of time when you are talking about the passing game."
Right now, the Giants would settle for milliseconds ahead. There's little time left to wait for anything else.