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Giants need to improve on third down, starting with Eli Manning

Eli Manning confirmed on Wednesday that he will retire by the year 2032.

Manning said his calendar is cleared to reunite in 15 more years with his 2007 Super Bowl teammates, just not at Monday night’s 10-year anniversary celebration for the home opener against Detroit.

“I’ll be there for the 25th anniversary,” Manning joked. “I don’t think I’ll be playing for that long.”

Manning has too much on his mind and on his plate to celebrate. He is too busy trying to win a Super Bowl ring to focus on his first. And he is especially distracted because the beginning of his quest for a third championship was as forgettable as they come:

Three points, an interception, a 78.8 quarterback rating, and a 16-point loss to a division rival. Is he at least optimistic that it can’t get any worse?

“It can always get worse,” Manning said, smiling. “It can always get worse. So I won’t say that, but hopefully it can get a lot better.”

Eli Manning expressed that the Giants need to improve on third-down conversions.

Eli Manning expressed that the Giants need to improve on third-down conversions.

(Roger Steinman/AP)

If it’s going to improve, Manning is going to have to play better — not just his offensive line.

He stressed that in his opinion, after watching the film, one of the offense’s biggest problems was “we didn’t have the ball long enough” because “we didn’t convert on third downs.”

But Manning has to own his part of the blame for the Giants’ measly 3-for-10 third-down conversion rate, excluding the meaningless final drive when the Cowboys’ defense had softened and dropped.

It is one of the more worrisome facts of the loss: the offense had problems everywhere, including with its QB.

GM Jerry Reese signed 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall and drafted 6-3 tight end Evan Engram specifically to help the Giants convert on third downs and on red-zone opportunities. But Manning was just 1-for-4 on conversions when targeting Marshall and Engram on third downs.

If the Giants' offense is going to take a step forward, it'll begin with their quarterback.

If the Giants’ offense is going to take a step forward, it’ll begin with their quarterback.

(Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)

The Giants offense went 0-for-5 on third down in the first half, including three-and-outs on the first two possessions, which Manning said made “everybody … a little tense.” Pressure up front was a trend.

Cowboys end DeMarcus Lawrence sacked Manning on his first 3rd-and-4 by running a stunt to confuse right tackle Bobby Hart and right guard John Jerry. Lawrence again blasted by Hart to force an incompletion on a 3rd-and-5. Manning avoided the sack but threw incomplete, and Jerry was called for holding anyway.

The next 3rd-and-4 was Manning’s fault: linebacker Sean Lee made a great play to recognize the play, but Manning still shouldn’t have thrown behind the first-down marker. Sterling Shepard gained two yards. Punt.

On the next 3rd-and-13, Manning threw a 1-yard pass to Shane Vereen after feeling pressure from only a three-man Cowboys rush, with a corner blitzing late untouched. But then Manning completely missed a wide-open Marshall on a 3rd-and-2 against zone coverage. Pressure moved Manning off his spot, but that was no excuse.

The offense rebounded by going 3-for-4 on third downs in the third quarter: Manning completed 22 yards to Roger Lewis Jr. on 3rd-and-11 with time to throw; he hit Engram quickly for five yards running across on 3rd-and-3, and after throwing just six yards to Lewis on 3rd-and-13 in the red zone, Manning’s offense converted a 3rd-and-1 on a power run by Orleans Darkwa with fullback Shane Smith leading the way.

Eli Manning can improve, but the offensive line needs to offer him better protection.

Eli Manning can improve, but the offensive line needs to offer him better protection.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The fourth quarter, however, brought more frustration. Ben McAdoo inexplicably used an empty backfield set on a 3rd-and-1, and Engram had a pass knocked out of his hands in tight coverage. A roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive, but their third-down woes continued.

On 3rd-and-12, both right tackle Hart and left tackle Ereck Flowers got burnt immediately. Manning made a great step up to avoid a sack, but then Marshall dropped a pass into the left flat. The ball was slightly behind him but hit Marshall directly in his left hand, and the receiver should have turned his body upfield already anyway. There was no excuse for the drop.

Manning threw his support behind his beleaguered offensive line: “They know I’ve got their back and we’ll be alright.” He continued to back McAdoo: “I have confidence in the offense.”

But if he wants that third Super Bowl ring, all of them will need to be better, especially on third down — starting with the quarterback.

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