EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Giants are making life easier for Eli Manning since the bye week.
After opening with a 1-7 record, Pat Shurmur’s team has won four of five by doing all the little things that make a quarterback look good.
The offensive line, which was much maligned before the bye, has been reshaped and is protecting the two-time Super Bowl MVP better while opening holes for sensational rookie halfback Saquon Barkley to show his skills.
The defense has forced 12 turnovers in the five-game span, including 11 interceptions. And the pass rush, nonexistent much of the season, has 10 sacks in the last two games after getting 14 in the first 11.
Put it all together and the Giants (5-8) still have a slim shot at making the playoffs heading into Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium against the Tennessee Titans (7-6).
All the talk about this being the 37-year-old Manning’s final season as the starter also has died down. It actually looks like he can be the starter for a few more years.
Manning said Wednesday the biggest difference since the bye has been the Giants’ ability to run the ball. Barkley has rushed for at least 100 yards in the past four games, capped by a career-best 170 yards on 14 carries in the 40-16 win over Washington on Sunday.
“Just an emphasis on running the ball, the play-action,” Manning said. “A lot more under center. Not as much shotgun. Not as much seven-step drop. Just having everything built off the run game.”
The success of the run has allowed Manning to cut back on his passes. The fewest he threw in the first eight games was 29 in a win over Houston. In the other seven, he put the ball in the air between 36 and 47 times.
In the current span, he has averaged 28.6 passes, with the highest total being 37 against Philadelphia, the only loss since the bye.
Manning said making fewer throws doesn’t reduce the pressure.
“You just want to go out there and do your job” Manning said. “We got to throw the ball. We got to throw it well. We got to run the ball. When you can do both, and depending on what the defense is doing, we can just adjust a little bit easier.”
The offensive line has been a big plus in the past month. It allowed 31 sacks in the first eight games. Since adding Jamon Brown at right guard and Spencer Pulley at center a few weeks before that, the unit has allowed 12 sacks.
“Just being able to fire off and get that run game going, it can help all the play-actions,” Manning said. “We’re not in as many third downs for any obvious passing downs as we were early on, where the defense kind of can have a little bit of an advantage.”
Left tackle Nate Solder said the line, which includes rookie Will Hernandez at left guard and second-year pro Chad Wheeler at right tackle, has developed chemistry. Wheeler is the only current starting lineman who was with the Giants last season.
“We kind of know what to expect from each other,” Solder said. “We believe in each other. I guess that’s settling in as much as you can, knowing what the coaches are asking of us, being able to do it multiple times consecutively, successfully. … I think all those kind of contribute to that settling in.”
The result this past weekend was Manning experienced something he has not felt in a while. He got to watch rookie Kyle Lauletta play in the fourth quarter with New York ahead 40-0 despite being without top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (quadriceps).
“I guess you’re happy to be out there when you’re winning and you got a lead, and let the rookie get in there and play some,” Manning said. “Rooting for him to do well. It’s fun to cheer on your guys, and when you have a big lead, it’s a good feeling.”
NOTES: After Shurmur said Beckham would not practice Wednesday, he took part on a limited basis. He looked fine in the individual portion of the workout. … TE Rhett Ellison (ankle) did not practice. … Defensive captain and safety Landon Collins had surgery Tuesday to repair a partially torn labrum. He was injured against Chicago on Dec. 2. He was placed on injured reserve last week.
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