We spent much of yesterday debating Tom Coughlin's future as head coach of our New York Giants. Whether Coughlin stays or goes I think we are all well aware of what the major issues are with this team. Let's turn the debate away from Coughlin for a little bit, look at some of the other issues we have seen this season and toss around some ideas on how to fix them.
Is he elite? Is he a bum? Is he somewhere in between? Everybody, of course, has an opinion -- including the ridiculous notion that the Giants should run him out of town, draft a new quarterback and start over. Think that if you want, but the reality is Eli is the quarterback of your New York Giants -- and is going to be that for the foreseeable future.
So, let's talk about what has happened to him this season. We know all about the 24 interceptions and five lost fumbles. The fumbles I can live with, it happens to a quarterback standing in the pocket and taking shots. The interceptions are another story.
An alarming 4.7 percent of Eli's passes have been picked off this season, the worst percentage of his career ad way up from his 3.4 percent career mark. The past two seasons Eli had 2.1 and 2.8 percent of his passes intercepted, which is an elite number. For point of reference, Eli's brother, Peyton, has had 2.8 percent of his passes picked off for his career. Drew Brees has 21 interceptions this season, but just 3.4 percent of his passes have been caught by the wrong team.
Some of this season's interceptions can be blamed on receivers running wrong routes, tipping catchable balls into the air, defensive linemen batting balls into the air, and the like. I think we can all agree -- and coach Tom Coughlin basically admitted it Monday -- that Eli has made far too many poor decisions this season.
If you are like me, you are tired of hearing Eli say "I need to be more careful with the ball" and you would actually like to see him start following his own advice.
Here is what I think, and it's a two-part answer. I think some of this started with Eli last season as things unraveled for the Giants. I think he often felt he had to take risks because he knew the Giants weren't going to get any help from the defense in trying to win games. Unfortunately, I believe some of that 'try to take everything on my shoulders' mentality has carried over this season -- often at times when it has not been necessary.
The other thing is that I think the loss of long-time quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer has had a domino effect on Eli and the Giants passing game. Palmer had a reputation as one of the league's best quarterback coaches. The current quarterback coach is Mike Sullivan, who has never played the position or done that job before. I am not in the meeting rooms or on the sidelines, but I have my doubts that there is much Sullivan can offer Eli in terms of help in playing the position.
That domino effect carries over to the wide receivers, who Sullivan had coached for the previous six years. That group is now coached by Sean Ryan. Again, I have no idea how good or bad Ryan is at his job. I just know this is the first time he has ever done it, and with some of the mistakes we have seen this season you have to wonder.
Are those two positions a little bit rudderless in terms of guidance from the position coaches? I don't know, Sullivan and Ryan may be fantastic coaches. Considering some of what we have seen this season, however, I think it's a fair question to ask.
Prior to this season I had been calling for special teams coach Tom Quinn's job. Quinn has done some good things this season particularly getting the Giants kickoff coverage under control. Overall, though, the Giants special teams are -- as usual -- among the worst in the league. From Pro Football Focus, the Giants grade at -17.5 for the season, and only Pittsburgh and San Diego are worse.
There were, of course, the inexcusable breakdowns that contributed mightily to the devastating loss to Philadelphia. There has been what I see as tremendous over-coaching of rookie punter Matt Dodge, which has contributed mightily to his inconsistency. There has been the inability to do much of anything in the return game. Finally, D.J. Ware is sparking the kickoff return unit a bit, but still the Giants have gone through 15 games this season without really getting one big field-position changing return. I don't know if another team in the league is in the same boat. I understand that the loss of returner Domenik Hixon before the season began has been an issue, but the bigger problem is there never seems to be anyplace for returns to run.
Coughlin is, sometimes to a fault, fiercely loyal to coaches he believes in. After so many consecutive years of overall special teams failure, though, something has to change here. Quinn has had his opportunity, and the results just are not there.
Using a makeshift line the Giants did have a five-game stretch where Manning did not get sacked. And they did have a three- or four-game stretch where they finally seemed to have conquered some of their struggles in run-blocking. The last two games, though, have not been encouraging. Yes, those are the games since Shaun O'Hara returned to the lineup, but I am not going to say O'Hara is the problem.
What I am going to say is that it is brutally obvious the Giants have decisions to make here. Amazingly, right tackle Kareem McKenzie and center/guard Rich Seubert have been their best linemen this season -- two guys many of us wanted dumped last off-season.
The Giants have a ton of decisions to make here. How much longer can they ride O'Hara at center? Can they continue to tolerate David Diehl's deficiencies at left tackle? Can Will Beatty do the job? Can they rely on Shawn Andrews and his balky back?
It is time for re-constructing this part of the team to be a high priority when it comes to building the 2011 Giants.
I am not really sure these guys are issues, but we seem to spend a lot of time discussing Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell so let's do that a little more formally. If Coughlin is the head coach in 2011, I think also need to recognize -- whether we like the idea or not -- that both of these guys will be the coordinators again in 2011.
The common denominator, or maybe the common flaw, with both of these guys is a tendency to outsmart themselves. As much as you guys hate on Gilbride, and as much as I defend him, there is a middle ground. He does a lot of good things, as evidenced by the fact that the Giants are always near the top of the league in yardage and many other offensive categories. He also has a tendency to get too cute at times or to abandon something that is working too quickly -- whether it be the run or the pass -- to achieve the balance the Giants love. Fewell has done many terrific things this season, but he has to take a huge hit for the horrible defensive breakdowns and questionable strategy in the last five Giants quarters -- as well as the odd game plan against Indianapolis.
Neither guy is perfect. We have seen the good, and the bad, sides of Gilbride for a few years now. I think we have also seen both good and bad from Fewell. I think we need to accept that these guys really aren't going to change much, and that they are both going to be here as long as Coughlin is.
There are other issues -- positions, coaches, specific players -- that we could discuss. Soon enough we will have a whole off-season to do that. This is enough for now.