Here’s a stat that will make no sense to anyone who watched the Giants-Cowboys Sunday Night Football game: Eli Manning completed 76 percent of his passes.
That was 15 percentage points better than Dak Prescott, who started opposite Manning and picked up right where he left off after his sensational rookie campaign, and it didn’t make a lick of difference for the Giants. Manning may have been one of the most accurate quarterbacks in a Week 1 that saw more than its fair share of lackluster passing performances, but that was more of a statistical quirk than any sign of competence for the Giants offense. Without Odell Beckham Jr., who is still recovering from an ankle injury, the Giants were unable to generate any kind of explosion on offense. Manning had no one to push the ball to down the field, finishing with an uninspiring statline: 29-of-38 for 220 yards (a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, and one fourth-quarter interception that sealed the Giants’ 19-3 loss to the Cowboys.
It says everything about New York’s lack of receiving talent with Beckham sidelined that Shane Vereen, who caught just 11 balls in five games of action last year, led the Giants in receptions, with nine. Roger Lewis tacked on 54 yards on four receptions, and Brandon Marshall, the offseason acquisition who was supposed to be a difference-maker with Beckham out, caught just one pass: a meaningless 10-yard reception late in the fourth, after the game was out of hand.
It wasn’t just Manning and the passing game that disappointed: The Giants’ gaggle of running backs were hapless, rushing for just 30 yards on 10 carries. Paul Perkins, the Giants’ ostensible starter, saw his longest run go for just 3 yards, and New York quickly abandoned the ground game as the score began to slip away.
It all led to one of the most pathetic offensive performances in prime time since last year’s Cardinals-Seahawks debacle. All five of New York’s first-half drives ended in punts, while the Cowboys worked their ground game to wear down New York’s defense, which admirably kept four Dallas drives to field goal attempts.
But four field goals would have been plenty to beat New York on Sunday night. The one offensive spark the Giants generated—a 16-play, nearly-10-minute-long, dink-and-dunk masterpiece from Manning to open the second half—netted just a field goal, the team’s only points on the night. New York punted on the next drive, and Manning threw his ill-timed pick on the next, securing the Cowboys’ 1-0 start.
Throughout the broadcast, NBC kept cutting back to Beckham, who was often shaking his head, seemingly in disbelief. He should cheer up, though: The fourth-year pro is under contract through next season but has expressed his desire for a new deal, one that should top the record five-year, $81 million deal ($49 million guaranteed) that Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins signed last month. After seeing how lost they are without him on the field, the Giants should be prepared to pay Beckham whatever he asks for when the time comes.
Beckham has tallied at least 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the first three seasons, and only one receiver has racked up more yards in his first three campaigns: Randy Moss. One player isn't enough to propel an offense in the NFL, but with Beckham, the Giants are at least average (their offensive DVOA has ranged from 15 to 22 over the last three seasons); after Sunday night’s embarrassing performance, we know just how bad they can be without him.