By Ernie Palladino
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Look under the rocks. Look behind the trees. It’s nowhere to be found.
Until the real football season starts, it’s going to be hard to find any real sightings of Ben McAdoo’s grand scheme to run a West Coast offense. But don’t panic. It’s there.
For now, it exists on the Giants’ practice field and McAdoo’s Powerpoint meeting room presentations. Fans who attended training camp saw it through glimpses — a swing pass to the running back here, a short, over-the-middle throw there, the quicker release from the quarterback. But the grand unveiling won’t happen until McAdoo and Tom Coughlin deem it time, and not a second before then.
Although Saturday’s first-unit performance against Indianapolis has led to official, widespread consternation about Eli Manning and his group, one must understand that the offensive coordinator is keeping things under wraps. He certainly wasn’t going to let any felines out of the sack Saturday, since the Giants play the Colts for keeps Nov. 3. Given that he has been mandated to produce immediate improvement in a moribund unit that ranked 28th overall and second-worst in the league in turnover differential in 2013, he may even play it coy Friday as Manning takes his three quarters of work against the Jets.
The wailing among the upper-deckers could reach an operatic timber by then. But this is just typical NFL-style camouflage. The league knows Rashad Jennings is perfectly capable of receiving a pass out of the backfield, even though Manning has yet to hit him with one. They know Victor Cruz is going to be a regular target in the short and medium routes, and that Cruz and Rueben Randle can fly down the sidelines for the occasional deep shot like Cruz’ 50-yard catch-and-fumble. But plays like those will come now as a departure from McAdoo’s new system, as opposed to the staple it had been with former coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
All will be revealed in time, however, and preseason apparently is not the time. Still, seeing progress even in the vanilla sets the first unit has employed would set a lot of minds at ease. When Manning goes 1-for-9 for six yards over two games, when he overthrows open receivers, when the offensive line misses an assignment for a sack, it gives credibility to the idea that this year may not be much different than the last.
Same car, different model, one might say.
McAdoo has asked the Giants and their fans to take a “leap of faith” with him. Buy into the system, no matter what. Forget the perceptions the preseason creates. Things will be different.
Exactly when the change comes is the question. Once the formal unveiling does come Monday, Sept. 8, in Detroit, will the promise of better days begin its fulfillment?
Maybe. Maybe not. And this is where patience comes in to play.
The whole offensive situation is reminiscent of the defensive story heading into the 2007 Super Bowl season. A new coordinator named Steve Spagnuolo asked his unit to take a similar leap of faith. New system, new mindset, new way of playing.
There was little sign of the aggressiveness that would mark his game plans in the preseason. And then the regular season started and suddenly — nothing. The system designed to turn the Giants into a monstrous presence in the division gave up 80 points in an 0-2 start along with yardage numbers that came dangerously close to being measured in miles.
Spagnuolo continued to preach his system, continued to encourage his players to buy into it. But a third loss probably would have removed any confidence that Spagnuolo’s system would work. They came awfully close to that, too, in Washington. One legendary goal line stand saved the season, rocketed that defense into dominance, and produced Coughlin’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Whether McAdoo’s offense will fix Manning and turn him once again into the “elite” quarterback of the second Super Bowl season of 2011 is anybody’s guess. It may not happen until several games into the regular season, when Manning finally finds the three-step rhythm and comfort level he so clearly does not have now.
For the present and near future, waiting is the only available activity. McAdoo will release the hounds when he is ready, and not a moment sooner.
Whether the offense will look any different than it has is the question.
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