Today is a weird day to be a New York Giants fan. There is still hope for a playoff berth, yet I can't say I am exactly fired up in anticipation of this afternoon's game against the Washington Redskins. Anxious maybe. I have sort of a melancholy feeling today, like I am about to watch the end of something. Something on which the curtain is closing way too soon.
Today could be the end of the season for the Giants. It could be the end of Tom Coughlin's coaching career, though as I write this I am not even sure Giants President John Mara has made up his mind on that one. Even if TC stays, it could be the end for a handful of Giants assistant coaches. This could also be the end for many of the players we have come to think of as mainstays.
Make no mistake, without a deep playoff run to hang their hats on there are going to be a lot of changes to the Giants for 2011. The question is just how far-reaching those changes will be.
Will those changes start with Tom Coughlin? I don't know. I continue to believe, however, that if the Giants win today Coughlin returns for at least one more year. The Giants are a traditionally conservative organization and one of the best-run franchises in the sport. They don't fire 10-win coaches who have Super Bowl titles on their resumes. If the Giants lose in embarrassing fashion today, however, Coughlin might not survive. It would be hard to explain keeping a coach who presided over two embarrassing end-of-season meltdowns, especially if the Giants appear to pack it in today like they did a year ago in their final two games of the season.
It is dangerous to read locker room tea leaves, especially around a Giants team that is so often confounding. It melts down when you think it is on top of the world, and rises up when you think it is done. Yet, you cannot like what you are hearing from the beat writers as today's kickoff approaches.
From the Star-Ledger's Mike Garafolo:
I can’t help but read into what’s going on in that locker room this week. And it hasn’t just been what I’ve been sensing but also what I’ve been hearing. Some of the statements I’ve heard both on and off the record have been spoken with a kind of finality I didn’t expect. It’s not everyone, of course, but enough for me to wonder if a discouraged team needing help for the postseason will beat a Redskins team that’s playing fast, free and loose right now.
I did not get a very good feeling around the locker room this week. The room felt and sounded like what I’d expect on the day after the season. Too much talk of impending changes. To much talk in the past tense. They sounded depressed, like they had already accepted their fate, like the season was already over. It was … sad. That’s probably the best way to describe it. Now, it’s a dangerous game to try and read the team’s psyche from short interview sessions. And Tom Coughlin insisted they practiced well this week and with energy. But I can only tell you what I saw, and that wasn’t good. They looked like a Dead Team Walking. It felt exactly like it felt before their disastrous finish in Minnesota last year.
Sounds like the players also know change is coming, that they are on the verge of letting a golden window of opportunity slip through their fingers.
Even if the Giants decided to retain Coughlin, I have to believe that both the coaching staff and the 53-man roster will undergo significant changes. We will talk about this much, much more throughout the off-season -- whenever it begins -- but let's quickly look at the coaching staff and roster right now.
I have beaten this drum for a looooong time, but I can't imagine how anyone can find justification for special teams coach Tom Quinn keeping his job. The Philadelphia debacle with the onside kick the Giants were unprepared for and the game-winning punt return on the final play by DeSean Jackson should be the final straw. Overall, the Giants special teams have been among the league's worst the entire time Quinn has been in charge, which is a terrible indictment of a team that believes it has one of the league's best rosters.
After the poor year Eli Manning has had I can certainly see first-time quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan being replaced by someone with a successful track record of coaching quarterbacks. Or, by someone who played the position at the NFL level. And yes, I understand that having played the position is not a pre-requisite for coaching it.
The biggest question here, if Coughlin stays, might revolve around offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. I have defended Gilbride for a long time, and I still believe he has done many good things with the Giants. Even this season I believe Gilbride has done some good things. Yet, Gilbride has to take a hit for all of the turnovers in an offense that no longer resembles the power football team the Giants say they want to be. He has to take a hit for the mistakes made by his wide receivers, and for not scaling the passing attack back to eliminate some of them. He has to take a hit for not finding ways to use a quality tight end like Kevin Boss more effectively, and maybe for not developing Travis Beckum. The Giants yardage and points per game are good, and I have always pointed to those when defending Gilbride. Like other facets of this team, though, you sometimes wonder if it should be even more than it is. Overall, when I look at Gilbride he is a quality coordinator, but what I wonder is this -- has he taken this Giants offense as far as he can? If that's the case, maybe it's time for a change.
I believe defensive coordinator Perry Fewell stays if Coughlin stays. No doubt he has done lots of good things this season. Yet, you shake your head sometimes at the odd game plans (Indianapolis and Green Bay leap to mind). You shake your head at the often confusing use of cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster. You shake your head at the positioning of a play-maker like Kenny Phillips -- often so far off the line of scrimmage that he might need binoculars to find the play. You wonder sometimes what it is that Fewell is trying to accomplish -- unless what he is trying to show you is the depth of his playbook rather than let his defense establish a true personality. My biggest complaint about Fewell's defense is that every week it seems to change based on the opponent, rather than establishing a personality and making offenses adjust to it.
Let's start with the offensive line. Obviously, the five the Giants have had for the past several season won't be together next season. Will Will Beatty be part of the mix? Can the Giants trust Shawn Andrews and his balky back? I think you have to believe David Diehl's days as a left tackle are done. What do the Giants do at center? This is the biggest area of concern.
Offensively, running back and tight end might also be in for makeovers. Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware are heading into free agency, and the Giants might want to part ways with Brandon Jacobs, as well. Tight end Kevin Boss can be a free agent, and he might feel under-appreciated.
Defensively, Barry Cofield can be a free agent and is likely to be looking for a big payday. Mathias Kiwanuka can leave, provided he is healthy enough to convince someone to sign him. I can't imagine the Giants won't look for upgrades at outside linebacker, where they just don't make enough impact plays.
It is difficult to predict, and I am hardly ready to study it in-depth. We all know, though, that change is coming in some way, shape or form unless the Giants miraculously make a deep run in the playoffs.
So, today is without doubt a weird day as a Giants fan.