For seven weeks, the New York Giants had one of the most balanced and lethal offensive units in the NFL.
Run, pass, early, late, you name it. The defending Super Bowl champions could do it all, ranking first in big-play ability (plays of 20 yards or better).
Then, out of nowhere, quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants (6-3) began to struggle offensively, especially in Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. And as they search for answers, with a trip to Cincinnati on tap, their lead in the NFC East isn't so comfortable, despite what the numbers say.
In each of the last two games, the offense has become bogged down. After completing better than 63 percent of his passes over seven games (169 of 265), Manning has converted at a clip of 47 (25 of 53) the last two, a span in which the Giants are 1-1.
Of course, the struggles of the rest of the division have masked New York's lack of production. As Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas — all with just three wins headed into the Eagles' matchup with New Orleans on Monday — continue to plod along, the Giants are still in first place. But with two division losses already, New York knows it needs to right the ship ... soon.
A more consistent running game will help. Leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw had 316 yards combined in wins over Cleveland and San Francisco, but in the three games since, Bradshaw has mustered only 169.
So what gives? Is it time for a November swoon?
"We're going to continue to stay positive and win some games at this time of the year. It's just a matter of us getting on the same page. I'm not worried," receiver Victor Cruz said. "We just have to attack the problem areas and get back on track, beginning this week."
After the Bengals (3-5), the Giants will have a bye. So, there's an opportunity for a little momentum switch. After all, Cincinnati has lost four in a row.
"No one likes to lose or play poorly," Manning said. "We have to see where we can do better and above everything, you have to look at yourself first. I'm responsible for a lot of it. I'm where it starts. Our offense is not playing up to its potential. We didn't execute as well as we hoped to."
Manning was asked if the offense is in a slump.
"Whatever you want to call it, that's fine," Manning said. "It's just not playing good football. I have to make better throws and not leave some plays out there. I have to make better decisions with the ball. I didn't play well last night. There's no hiding it. I have to play better. That's all I'm worried about. The only way to get the bad taste out of our mouths is to play better football offensively.
"I know I'll bounce back and start to play better."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin wanted to hear no part of a November slump.
"You can talk about that all you want," Coughlin said. "The facts are the facts. I didn't see anything like that at the end of last season."
The Giants, who were 7-7 at one point last season, went on to win their last six games, including the Super Bowl over New England. But the coach isn't worried about last season anymore.
"I can't explain all of the problems," Coughlin said. "I don't think much has changed. We're just not clicking the way we were. We were the No. 1 big-play team and now two weeks later, we have nothing to show for it."
After watching film Monday, Coughlin noticed that there were some problems between Manning and his receivers in terms of broken routes. Most notably, Cruz and rookie Rueben Randle broke off from original routes, leading to incompletions.
"There's no way that you can have a lack of communication and be successful in the passing game," Coughlin said. "That has to be ironed out."
Manning's quarterback rating on Sunday was 41.1.
"We haven't had the ability to hit the deep ball like we had been doing and the way we like," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It seems like the other team has more people in coverage, but that's about it. We have to make those plays."
Members of the offensive line believe the last two weeks amounted to nothing more than a hiccup.
"We just need to get our confidence back. It's not a time to think this is a new trend," center David Baas said. "I always feel that we have the ability to go down the field and score. It just didn't happen the way it usually does."
Cruz, who has caught 57 passes for 717 yards and seven touchdowns, knows things will change for the better soon.
"We have a very good offensive football team," he said. "We're able to do a lot of good things. We just have to get back on the right track and understand we have the ability to keep doing good things. We have to keep going forward and prepare ourselves the right way."
And struggles or not, everyone feels that Manning will bounce back and regain his form.
"He has the ability," Coughlin said. "I have faith in who he is and how he works. He's resilient. He plays with pride. I know he'll come bouncing back."
NOTES: Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn, who sat out Sunday, said his hamstring felt much better and thought he could practice if the team had a workout Monday. He will wait to test it Wednesday after a scheduled day off. ... The Giants are 1-1 vs. the AFC North.
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