2013 started out as a year of promise. After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2012, we went into the offseason with the intent to reclaim our seat atop the NFC East. Unfortunately, our decision making was not on par to do so. I want to say that 2013 showed us a lot of great things, such as our ability to look at an 0-6 start and refuse to just give up, winning 7 of the remaining 9. We showed promise with spurts of greatness from our developing running back Andre Brown, who we severely missed during his stint on Injured-Reserve. We had great play from Pro-Bowl caliber Safety Antrel Rolle, and we saw great play out of our Free Agent gem Jon Beason. Now though, we will recap some of our not-so-incredible decisions that led to a down year.
Note- I prefer to study and critique the offensive side of the game. We obviously lack some pieces on defense, but this article will address our offensive struggles.
Number 1: Offensive Line Woes
It may seem a bit cliche to say this, but NFL offensive lineman don't grow on trees, much less NFL lineman that can consistently create a pocket against today's Freak-of-Nature pass rushers. This year our offensive line was in shambles. Our first round pick, Justin Pugh, didn't quite live up to expectations, but he showed us that he can be developed and be effective at Tackle. On the other hand though, our interior line is pitiful. Chris Snee and David Baas were injured this year, and Left Guard Kevin Boothe is a free agent. None of those three are probable to be solid, consistent starters next year, our interior line has to be one of our top priorities this year in both Free Agency and the draft. It's not something that we can hoist the Lombardi again without fixing.
Number 2: Running Back Inconsistency
Going into this season, we had a solid, but unproven backfield. We had a wild card with David Wilson, because fumble problems kept him from shining much in 2012, but we were fairly certain that with him and Andre Brown, we would be able to run the ball effectively. Unfortunately we took a huge hit when Andre Brown broke his leg in the preseason. He could've offered the consistency we lacked with Wilson. Then, as we all saw, Wilson struggled the whole season, and the frustrating year ended with him heading to IR, and an uncertain future. Then we basically picked the Free Agent market to try to supplement our injured backfield. We brought in some veteran leadership from Brandon Jacobs and some tough-running from Peyton Hillis, but neither of them dazzled anyone with their limited performances. Brandon never got healthy, and Peyton just can't recreate that fairy-tale year in Cleveland. When Andre Brown got healthy, he shined a few times, and hopefully can help carry the rock in '14, but this year, our Running Backs just didn't cut it.
Number 3: Quarterback/Wide Receiver Communication
Eli Manning is an NFL quarterback. This isn't a bashing of him or what he's accomplished, because he's earned a lot of respect during his career. This is also not a bashing of our pro-bowl wide receivers in Nicks and Cruz, but this year, we really didn't have both parties on the same page. We had a lot of pop ups, a lot of mistimed routes, but also a lot of awful decisions made by Eli. Every facet of our passing game has to improve. In a league dominated by 5,000 yard passers and Superman numbers, our offense is just outgunned (Think of the Dallas game in week 1). Nothing was more degrading than watching our "Boom or Bust" receivers get manhandled all year. We had a couple of "Booms", such as long plays after the catch, but we also had a lot of "Busts", where we had 3-and-outs because our wide receivers couldn't get open. Eli Manning can make every throw on the field, he doesn't have a Flacco arm or Brees accuracy, but this kid can play quarterback, and he can do it exceptionally (Just ask Tom Brady). Our problem isn't in finding a person to deliver the ball, it's having the right role players to supplement our struggles. Calvin Johnsons come once in a lifetime, AJ Greens come once in a decade, so we may as well deal with the fact that we don't have any Jack-Of-All Trade wide recievers. We need people to do what they do. We need Cruz running screens and making big things happen after the catch, as well as attacking the field vertically, but we also need someone who's going to get past the Jam Coverage on 3rd and 4 and get those tough yards even though they know they're going to get smacked by a Linebacker. We lack the physicality to sustain drives (Enter Kelvin Benjamin or Eric Ebron). But we also need an aggressive play caller that can take advantage of our talent.
Number 4: Conservative Principles That Don't Work
Long Live KG! In no way am I saying that our coaching staff isn't world-class, because it is. But this year we had some painfully conservative play calling that led to enough 3-and-outs to make any fan cringe. We had far too many times that we spent an entire half of a game running between the tackles every single first down play. Defensive coordinators these days can catch on when it's your 15th consecutive run call on first, and what's worse, we did the same thing on a lot of second downs. The weirder part is that we probably ignored our most valuable offensive asset, the vertical passing game -- granted, the pocket in which Eli was trying to work resembled something that had been hit by a garbage truck. Fortunately, the "run, run, pass" seemed to work better with Andre Brown in the backfield, but for the most part, that doesn't work in our league. We don't even have an NFL-caliber interior line to block for our sub-par backfield. It just doesn't make sense. We need to rebuild the line, and Draft some big-physical pass catchers to let our new offensive coordinator take advantage of -- Hopefully a more aggressive play caller such as McAdoo.