By now, we know exactly what the New York Giants are. They are a team capable of beating the bottom-feeders of the NFL, against whom they are 3-0 this season. They are a team that can't play consistently enough to beat winning teams, against whom they are 0-8 this season.
How do the Giants make the jump from being what they are -- a team that is mediocre to bad -- to a team that is a playoff-caliber one? The view from here is that the Giants are not as far away as you might think, much closer than they were a year ago despite what the 3-8 record says. Thus, this week's 'Five Things I Think I Think' about the Giants turns into a five-point plan for getting the Giants back to the playoffs in 2015.
Give Tom Coughlin One More Year
If he wants it, that is. Yes, the Giants have gone backwards since their Super Bowl glory days. You can't convince me, however, that you can lay this at Coughlin's feet. A year ago he was handed an aging, decrepit roster filled with too many guys who either never could play or used to be able to play but couldn't do so any longer. Going 7-9 was a miracle.
I said from the beginning that it would require one of the best coaching jobs of Coughlin's career to put together all the pieces of the re-constructed jigsaw puzzle the Giants were this season. Even without the massive number of injuries to key players the Giants have suffered this was, with Coughlin's best work, probably a borderline playoff team.
Truth is, the Giants had fallen so far last season that a one-year rebuild was probably asking too much. If the Giants were going to blow things up and move on from Coughlin -- and Eli Manning -- they probably should have done so after last season.
Not doing so probably meant the organization realized it was going to take more than one season to dig out of the hole they had made for themselves. Nothing we have seen this season has changed that perspective. I don't care what the record is, or what it ends up being, this team is in a better position than it was a year ago.
There is some young talent to be excited about. The offense has been inconsistent, and there are pieces missing, but it is headed in the right direction.
I continue to believe that with good health, and the addition of a handful of helpful pieces in the 2015 NFL Draft and free agency, the Giants could be a good team next season. It would be a shame to blow up what the Giants have started. From this vantage point, that would turn this season into a complete waste.
Give Coughlin next season to finish what was started with the re-structuring of the offense. If it doesn't work, then blow it up and start from scratch.
Stay The Course On Offense
This is really an extension of my thought about Coughlin. Eli Manning and Coughlin both have contracts that run through next season. Manning is not the problem on this team. Yes, he had a five-interception game a couple of weeks ago. Yes, he threw an off-target ball Sunday that turned into a critical interception. Sunday, though, he complete 72 percent of his passes, threw for 338 yards and threw one bad ball (ONE) in 40 attempts. When he left the field he had taken the Giants 93 yards on a drive that should have won the game.
Manning isn't Aaron Rodgers. Or Tom Brady. Or his brother. He is better than any other option the Giants have for next season.
If you believe, like I do, that the new Ben McAdoo offense shows promise, you stay the course. If you think, like I do, the combination of Victor Cruz -- if he is the same player -- and Odell Beckham in this offense could be special, you stay the course. If you think, like I do, that the Giants are one offensive lineman away from having a solid group and maybe one explosive play-maker away from having a special group of offensive weapons you stay the course.
Blow Up The 'Broken' Defense
The more I have thought about the overhaul the Giants underwent last off-season, the more I believe my biggest complaint is that it didn't go far enough. The defense might not have been broken after last season, but the Giants would be farther down the path toward returning to becoming a top-tier team if they had made the same overhaul defensively that they made on offense. It is crystal clear now that the defense is broken, that the Giants need an infusion of both new talent and new ideas on defense, that Perry Fewell and his defensive staff are not able to get their ideas across to these players. It's time to start over.
Carl Banks says over and over that Giants' defensive players are undisciplined, that they aren't fundamentally sound. Part of that is on players either being unwilling or unable to learn. Fewell and his staff, though, also bear responsibility for not being able to communicate properly to teach what it is they need to make the defense succeed.
There are too many defensive game plans from Fewell that make no sense, like playing nickel vs. the Philadelphia Eagles when they are running the ball down the Giants' throat. Too many questionable personnel decisions, like keeping pass-rushers Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore off the field Sunday when the Giants needed to pressure Tony Romo.
Goodbye, Old Friends
Many long-time Giants were ushered out the door a season ago -- guys like Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, Justin Tuck and others. It's time for more to go after this season.
The biggest name on that list? For me, it's time to wave goodbye to Antrel Rolle. Over the years I have vacillated on Rolle. I keep going back and forth about whether Rolle's "leadership" -- meaning his constant public calling out of teammates -- is good for the Giants or bad. Back in 2011, Rolle ranted, raved and pushed some teammates to get on the practice field more often, and that helped the Giants win a title.
The more I listen to Rolle talk now, though, the more his words sound self-serving, they sound like complaints, they sound like they are aimed at absolving himself from blame for the fact that the Giants defense is largely defenseless.
Sorry 'Trel, but plenty of the blame has to fall at your feet. If the defense is undisciplined and players can't, or won't, follow their assignments that is at least in part on you. You are their leader. Hold them accountable, call them out, get in their face. Privately. Make it better. Make some plays yourself. Stop dropping interceptions that cost your team points. Stop taking bad angles in run support. Cover somebody.
Rolle is at the end of a five-year, $37.1 million contract. He will be 32 next season. He will want big money. He's not worth it. Talent-wise, and leadership-wise, the Giants need to take that money and use it elsewhere.
It's All About The Beef ... On Both Sides
The Giants are simply not good enough in the trenches. The 2015 NFL Draft, and the free agency signing period, have to be devoted largely to fixing those weaknesses.
Offensive front seven -- The Giants are one piece away from having a quality starting group. Geoff Schwartz, Will Beatty, Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg are four-fifths of the Giants' future on the offensive line. Richburg has to go to center, the position he was drafted to play, and Beatty is the left tackle for a couple more years. No matter how they align Pugh and Schwartz, J.D. Walton and John Jerry are not long-term answers. The Giants need one more quality piece there.
They also need one or two quality, experienced reserves. No more Charles Brown types -- guys who failed elsewhere and who the organization hopes to turn around. The Giants obviously don't see Brandon Mosley and James Brewer as answers. They need to find a couple of veterans they can have in reserve who actually can get the job done in a pinch.
Defensive front seven -- The defensive line has gotten pushed around too much. The pass rush has been missing in action most of the time. The linebackers don't make enough plays, and make too many costly mistakes.
There are only two players at those position groups who are obvious long-term answers -- defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebacker Devon Kennard. Perhaps second-year man Damontre Moore and rookie Jay Bromley are part of the solution, but we don't know for sure yet. Everyone else is expendable. Including Jon Beason, who just can't be counted on to stay healthy. And yes, including Jason Pierre-Paul.
When it comes to JPP, I think we need to get over the idea that he is a great player. He hasn't been that since 2011. He has been healthy this year and shown no signs of being a dominant player. When he is at the top of his game, which isn't often enough, Pierre-Paul defends the run as well as anyone. What he simply does not do is rush the passer. He is slow off the snap, has only a bull-rush, often just waits at the line of scrimmage for others to flush a quarterback toward him and occasionally makes a play by chasing a running quarterback when others have done the work. That's the extent of his pass-rush ability.
Should the Giants re-sign Pierre-Paul? Only if the price is right. If Pierre-Paul wants top 10 or 15 defensive end money the Giants need to tell him to go get it elsewhere. His performance doesn't come close to dictating that he is worth it. If he will take a short-term deal for reasonable money, keep him. The Giants, though, need to get over the idea that they can build a defense around Pierre-Paul. He can be a piece of the puzzle, but he isn't a transcendent player who should be considered the center piece of a defense.
The Giants need to use both draft and free-agent resources to find real play-makers at both linebacker and the defensive line. That group won't get better until they do.