“Eli is being blamed far and away too much for the interceptions,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday in a conference call with Twin Cities media. “It’s a team concept, and you do need to be properly protected. We’ve also had some communication breakdowns.
“There’s some growing pains here with some different people involved and some people that really didn’t get the offseason that we would have hoped.”
Coughlin was referring to the Giants’ top two receivers, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Both skipped the Giants’ voluntary offseason practices. Cruz also skipped the team’s mandatory minicamp in a contract squabble before signing his tender and a five-year, $43 million deal.
“[Missing practices] is always going to be a factor” in the turnovers, Coughlin said. “You’d like to say that training camp is a long period of opportunity, but in fact, in this day and age, it isn’t. You do have to think of your OTAs and that type of thing as precious opportunities for people to get on the same page, communicate, do things well. When it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t help you.
“Right now, we’re careless with the football, and that strikes right at my gut, because that’s, quite frankly, one of the things that we preach about the most.”
Manning, meanwhile, downplayed the missed practices, saying it hasn’t “been a huge issue.” Cruz leads the team with 35 catches for 541 yards (15.5) and four touchdowns, while Nicks is second with 25 catches for 442 yards (17.7) and no touchdowns.
Eli’s still the guy
Coughlin was asked on the conference call whether he’s considered benching Manning. He reacted as if someone had asked if he’s considered sticking a fork in his eye.
“If I hear you right,” said Coughlin, “that hasn’t crossed my mind at all.” Later, Coughlin said, “It’s always the head coach and the quarterback. I say I’m responsible, put it on my shoulders, I’m the head coach.”
Manning, who has started every Giants game since Week 9 of his rookie season in 2004, said he hasn’t worried about being benched. And he said it’s not because he feels entitled having won two Super Bowl MVPs.
“You never earn anything to be above anything in this league,” Manning said. “It’s always a case of what have you done for me lately. I have high expectations for myself and expect to bring a contender every year and try to win championships and make playoffs and play at a high level. So this is a tough situation.
“But we’re going to fight through it. Our thought is we’re three games back in the [NFC East] with 10 to go. There’s a lot of football to be played. We have to get that first win, and you hate to be saying that in Week 7.”
The Vikings don’t feel much better about themselves. They are 2½ games back in the NFC North with 11 games to go. And a lot of defensive players without Super Bowl rings weren’t willing to rile a two-time champion quarterback when asked, bluntly, “What the heck is wrong with Eli?”
“I got enough of my own problems to worry about,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I think he’s a guy with two Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVPs. As far as I’m concerned, there can’t be too much wrong.
“He’s going to figure it out. He’s an elite quarterback. He’s going through a couple things, and his team is in a similar situation that we’re in. A must-win situation.”