MIKE O'HARA

OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: Eli Manning and the Giants have had an uncharacteristically bad season

Posted Dec 19, 2013

The Giants are stuck in third place in the NFC East with a 5-9 record going into Sunday’s game with the Lions at Ford Field

If Eli Manning were looking for comfort in a season that has fallen far short of expectations, he has two Super Bowl rings and two MVP trophies from the championship games to take away some of the sting from what has been an uncharacteristically horrible season for the New York Giants.

Eli ManningQB Eli Manning (Photo: AP Images)

A season that started bad, with six straight losses, is finishing just as bad. The Giants are stuck in third place in the NFC East with a 5-9 record going into Sunday’s game with the Lions at Ford Field.

Manning hasn’t experience a season like this one since his rookie year in 2004. It was his only losing season as a pro. The Giants went 6-10 and had an eight-game losing streak before beating the Cowboys in the final game of the season.

Manning isn’t falling back on the rings and trophies from the championship years, or the fact that the Giants made the playoffs five times in his first nine years.

In a fashion that is typical of Eli and brother Peyton, the focus is on the task at hand – playing the Lions.

"No, that doesn’t pop into your head," Manning said Wednesday in a conference-call interview,.  "You try to worry about this season and this moment and try to fix things and get things back going and try to figure out what’s the best way to make improvement – what’s the best way to get things going to try to play better."

So, for a player who has experienced the highest highs possible, what motivation is left in two meaningless games?

"Just play for this season play because this is our job," Manning said. "This is what we do. We play football. We’re football players. This is our next game.

"Whether you’re playing for the playoffs or not, you still go out there and complete. You love what you do."

Starting the season with six straight losses kept the Giants from ever really being in playoff contention. They won four straight to get to the fringe of the NFC East race, but three losses in the last four games eliminated them.

Coach Tom Coughlin was especially upset with the way many of his players performed in last week’s 23-0 loss at Seattle. He made his feelings known in his post-game press conference by saying how much he appreciated the effort some players gave, and how he felt sorry for the others who failed to give that effort.

Since Coughlin became head coach in 2003, the Giants have stressed fundamentals – limiting turnovers, using a strong running game that allows the quarterback to run an effective play-action passing game, and defense based on the pass rush.

The Giants have failed in those areas this year. Consider the following:

Running game: Last year, Ahmad Bradshaw led the Giants in rushing with 1,015 yards. As a team, the Giants averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. This year, Andre Brown is their leader with 441 yards. The Giants are averaging 3.6 yards per rush and have 10 rushing TDs.

Turnovers: Manning has been a turnover machine. He has 16 TD passes against 25 interceptions – including five last week against Seattle. His stats last year were just the opposite – 26 TD passes and 15 interceptions.

As a team, the Giants have a league-high 39 giveaways and are 31st in turnover margin at minus 17.

Pass rush: It’s one area where they’re better – 37 sacks compared to 33 for the full season in 2012.

Giants’ D -- on a Rolle: Safety Antrel Rolle is one Giant who’s having a big season. He has six interceptions, and he has played hard every week.

He’d like to help the Lions added to their total of 31 turnovers. It’s something he focuses on doing every week.

"Same mindset each and every week," Rolle told reporters covering the Giants on Wednesday. "No matter if they turn the ball over one time over the entire season or 31 times, it doesn’t matter.

"Our mentality as a defense is always to create turnovers to give our offense more opportunities to put the ball in the end zone."

Giants’ O: Wide receiver Victor Cruz is not expected to play because of a concussion and a knee injury. He was hurt in last week's game. Cruz was having a decent season, but not on par with the previous two. He has 73 catches for 998 yards, but only four TDs.

A year ago, he had 86 catches for 1,092 yards and 10 TDs. In 2011, when he emerged as a big-play threat, Cruz caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine TDs.

His average gain of 18.7 yards per catch was the highest of any receiver with at least 45 receptions.

Hakeem Nicks, the Giants’ No. 2 receiver and a first-round pick in 2009, is having an off year. He has 50 catches but has not scored a touchdown.

GIANTS LEADERS

OFFENSE

Passing: Eli Manning 284-485 (58.6 percent), 3,410 yards, 16 TD, 25 Int., 36 sacks, 69.7 rating.

Manning’s sacks are a career high, and the 25 interceptions tie his career worst, set in 2010.

Rushing: Andre Brown 110-441, 4.0 avg., 3 TD; Brandon Jacobs 58-238, 4.1 avg., 4 TD; Peyton Hillis 58-191, 3.4 avg., 2 TD.

Receptions: Victor Cruz 73-998, 13.7 avg., 4 TD; Hakeem Nicks, 50-794, 15.9 avg., 0 TD; Brandon Myers, 41-460, 11.2 avg., 4 TD; Rueben Randle, 37-571, 15.4 avg., 6 TD; Andre Brown, 18-89, 4.9 avg., 0 TD.

DEFENSE

Tackles: Antrel Rolle 84; Prince Amukamara, 76; Jon Beason 73; Terrell Thomas 62; Ryan Mundy 60; Spencer Paysinger 58; Justin Tuck 55; Will Hill 52; Linval Joseph 51.

Tackles for loss (team total 66): Tuck 13; Joseph 7, Jason Pierre-Paul, Cullen Jenkins, Mathias Kiwanuka 6.

Sacks (team total (29): Tuck 9, Jenkins, Kiwanuka 4.

Interceptions (team total 13): Rolle 6, seven others with 1.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punt returns: Randle, 26, 8.2 avg., 32 long.

Kickoff returns: Michael Cox 17, 19.2 avg., 30 long; Jerrel Jernigan 11, 22.4 avg., 46 long.

Punting: Steve Weatherford 77, 47.3 avg. gross, 37.9 net, 7 touchbacks, 19 inside 20.

Kicking: Josh Brown 27-27 PAT, 18-20 FG.