EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If the New York Giants are going to get back into the playoff chase after an 0-6 start, Eli Manning and company have to step up.
The defense has carried the Giants (3-6) in the three-game winning streak that has moved them within 1½ games of first place in the NFC East.
The offense has been average, doing just enough to help Tom Coughlin's team win. It generated five field goals to beat Philadelphia before the bye and produced 10 points in the 24-20 victory over Oakland last weekend. Special teams scored a TD, and a turnover by the defense led to a 5-yard touchdown drive.
"We need to keep working," Manning said Wednesday after practicing for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers (5-4). "We're doing some better things. We're not making as many mistakes. We're getting in better positions to do some better things and make some plays to score some touchdowns.
"Now it's just a matter of executing a little better, because we are very close and I think we know that. We need to work a little harder and make some of those plays."
The big difference for the Giants on offense during the winning streak has been Manning has only thrown one interception — a pick 6 — compared to 15 in the six-game losing streak. The running game has been getting better, and it was at its best last weekend with Andre Brown rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown in his first game. He missed the first eight with a broken leg.
While blocking better, the offensive line has allowed Manning to get hit a little too much lately. The pass that Tracy Porter returned for a touchdown came with Manning about to be hit by a 300-pound lineman.
"We need to play a more complete game," guard Kevin Boothe said. "I do feel we are taking steps in that direction, but we do need to get there fast. We're going to be playing against a lot of talented teams and this one on Sunday is no different."
Manning has to play better, too.
Heading into this week, he is ranked 31st among NFL passers with a 68.5 quarterback rating. The only player lower than him in the NFC is Josh Freeman, who has played with Tampa Bay and Minnesota this season. Manning also ranked 41st in fourth-quarter offense, with a 43.6 rating and eight interceptions.
The positive for Manning is that he has played well against Green Bay, completing 60 of 103 for 926 yards, nine TDs and two interceptions in the last three games.
The remainder of the schedule is tough. Dallas will come to MetLife Stadium on Nov. 24. The Giants will have road games at Washington and San Diego and then face Seattle, Detroit and the Redskins again in the regular-season finale.
New York probably can't afford more than one mistake to have any shot at the playoffs.
There are two key areas the offense needs to improve.
It is ranked No. 23 in the league in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 11 of 22 possessions inside the 20. The other thing that has been missing this season has been the long ball. The Giants were one of the best in the league last season and this season they have only three touchdowns of more than 20 yards.
Part of the problem was the running game at the beginning of the season. It was ineffective and that allowed secondaries to ignore the play fake and stay back in coverage.
Manning said the offense can only take what the defense offers.
"We'll try to get a few balls down the field, but if we've got a dink and dunk and get positive yardage and get in third and manageable situations and get first downs, then that works, also," he said. "You can't force things down the field just to be throwing it down the field. It's only worth it if you have a chance to complete it and make some big plays."
Receiver Victor Cruz said if Brown continues to run the way he did last weekend, defenses are going to have to adjust and that should open things up for the offense. The Giants' leading receiver (50 catches for 714 yards and four touchdowns) insists the offense is not frustrated.
"As long as we are winning games and we are doing everything we have to do get a W on that win column, that's fine with me," Cruz said. "We understand, offensively, that we have to do some good things to continue to be better and continue to do better week-in and week-out in order for us to be successful."