This has been difficult for me. This has been difficult for you. This has been difficult for our New York Giants. In the 2014 season, the Giants are 3-5 through eight games. They are 1-2 in the division with crippling losses against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
If you have been here for any modicum of time you know that I often am the staunchest of optimists and the hardiest of defenders. Even then, it's really hard for me to see this season as a successful one. The Giants are only two games out of first place but it feels like 50. I think this team is on track to be a top 10 drafting team and that's with having a better record through eight games in 2013! Does that mean I've given up on the season? No, but I acknowledge that aside from epic collapses by the other teams in our division and a sudden, new inspiration for our players, we're not going to be going anywhere soon.
So what happened? I think the Giants are in the middle of a retooling (note, I said "re-tool" not "re-build", but either ran out of funds, decided to stay conservative, or both. The issues for this season in particular are two-fold:
I don't know who has final say in offensive and defensive play calls, schemes and personnel decisions, so I'm not going to point fingers at one person in particular (though, if we're being honest, Tom Coughlin is at the top, so he automatically deserves responsibility). There are singular, isolatable events in every game this season where mistakes (at least perceived by me) that you can point directly to coaching. Whether it be personnel appointments (Kiwanuka being an every game as a starter when it's clear Robert Ayers is the superior player at this point), time management issues (botched last drive vs. the Eagles before halftime, the challenge flag gaffe during the Colts game), or just getting out-schemed (rushing only 3 versus an established QB like Tony Romo on passing situations, non-exotic blitz formations, allowing the Colts to play press-man coverage on almost every snap) it's difficult to have much faith in this staff.
That being said, while the honeymoon is indeed over with Ben McAdoo, I absolutely believe that his hiring was the right move. There have been flashes of pure no-huddle, west coast offense. I have never seen a tight end move in more formations pre-snap before. I never saw a jet sweep before this. Kevin Gilbride only knew how to run one bubble screen (the quick sideline pass to Hakeem Nicks set up in a trips formation). Forget about no-huddle in any situation aside from under two-minute end-of-half scenarios with Gilbride. The concepts are there. The consistency isn't. It will hopefully come.
The rub now is what to do going forward. I was impressed by Perry Fewell in his gameplan versus the Colts. He did his best before the defense inevitably collapsed. Injuries, combined with offensive helplessness, and it was a matter of time before the dam broke open. I'm not buying into Fewell just yet, though. He's impressed me before with his changes (2011 last few weeks and postseason, late in the 2012 season) but always reverts back to schemes that in my opinion are antiquated and don't work. So then what do you do with Fewell?
His fate and the fate of Tom Coughlin intrigue me. I'm never in favor of moving on from a coach until you have one lined up that you feel 100 percent confident in can come in and succeed. That being said, the "Fire Clawfin" movement is one that should be gaining momentum for one big reason. Sometimes you just start to tune the coach out. Sometimes they just run their course. Look at Andy Reid and Philadelphia. He was immensely successful. No Super Bowls (yay!) but he had produced a consistent winner up until his last few years. He's not a bad coach by any means, in his first year at Kansas City, he led them to the playoffs a year removed from having the first overall pick. The team lacks a spark. They lack confidence. When you get to the point where you can visualize exactly how the team will lose because you've seen the same mistakes consistently over the past 5-6 years, it's raises your eyebrows. How many different players can you insert into the special teams each year and still produce the same results? How many games can you consistently see drops by wide receivers at key moments, defensive collapses at key moments, streaks of poor games in a row, the same personnel complaints every year before you move on? These are questions in my head right now and ones that I think are legitimate gripes.
The other side of the coin is talent. I've made it clear that I like Jerry Reese as a GM. Always have. I don't have those same issues regarding his job status that I do with Fewell and Coughlin. I'll explain why below but wanted to get that disclaimer out of the way. That being said, I think it's also clear that the level of talent on this team is not where it should be, at least this season, and that DOES fall on Reese since he's at the top.
Let me start with injuries. Before somebody pipes up and says "that's just an excuse, every team has them," you are right. But injuries as 'excuses' are not mutually exclusive with injuries as 'reasons' for losses. Let me just pose this situation to you, if the Giants had Cooper Taylor covering Coby Fleener instead of Jacquian Williams, had Prince Amukamara healthy enough to cover T.Y. Hilton (whom he had shut out before he got injured), and had Walter Thurmond covering Reggie Wayne instead of Jayron Hosley, would the outcome of the Indianapolis Colts game have been different? I don't know, and that's what makes injuries as a 'reason' work. With a healthy secondary, there's definitely a chance the Giants win. Now it's also an excuse because I'm sure the Colts were dealing stuff too, but you can see how both can work.
Now let's look at the level of talent on the roster. I think without the large amount of injuries to our perceived "high value starters" like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Geoff Schwartz, Walter Thurmond, and Rashad Jennings, the rest of the talent is definitely lacking. It was obvious when the Giants essentially were content to just match up player vs player with the Colts and just line up and play ball. They were killed. Is that Reese's fault, by proxy of his team, yes, absolutely, and he deserves the criticism he's received for that. Part of that stems from hanging on to veterans for too long (he did well with Justin Tuck and Hakeem Nicks, but has since failed with guys like David Diehl, Jon Beason, and Mathias Kiwanuka). Part of that also stems from some really disasterous draft results. The 2012 draft will go down as Reese's worst draft ever, with his first round pick out of the league (not his fault), his second round pick just a glorified Mario Manningham, his third-round pick as a third-string corner forced to play, and none of his late-round picks really accomplishing much. Other high-profile misses such as Clint Sintim, Marvin Austin, and Ramses Barden only add fuel to the fire.
That being said, here's why I'm hanging on to Jerry Reese. Through the years, he has adapted and he's improved. In my opinion, there isn't much to deny here. He's moved on from giving out big, unwieldy contracts like David Baas and Chris Canty that leaves the team cap strapped every year. Arguably his worst contract in the past 2-3 years has been Jon Beason, but even that has an out. He ONLY has $900,000 in guaranteed money left on his deal, making him easily cut-able. At the time, his contracts for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Geoff Schwartz, two top tier free agents were at or below market value given history. The Giants will have approximately almost $21 million in cap space in 2015 (14th-most in the NFL and that's with Eli Manning once again taking up close to $20 million by himself). That's unheard of in the Jerry Reese era, where the team has continually been near the bottom of the league in that regard, oftentimes even having to clear space before the offseason starts.
The other thing is through his scouting staff, a little bit of luck, and his recent drafts, he has established a YOUNG nucleus of players that will become the foundation. No more veterans. You look at guys like Justin Pugh, Damontre Moore, Weston Richburg, Odell Beckham, Johnathan Hankins, Prince Amukamara, Victor Cruz, Larry Donnell, etc, these guys are young. Not 30-year-old veterans. This is talent, too. Beckham looks like a star. Pugh has been solid. Moore actually knows how to rush the passer. Hankins is a quietly a star, ranked second overall in PFF's DT rankings. Donnell is on pace for 76 reception, 714 yards and 10 touchdowns for this season. For reference, breakout star Julius Thomas had 65 receptions, 788 yards, and 12 touchdowns last year for Denver.
Let's be clear here, the team needs to improve. I think it's on the right track given the rapid decay of veterans that have left the team in recent years, but it needs to improve. I'm putting Reese on the hotseat as well. I don't think he should be in trouble this year, but he needs to build off the core that is here and continue to make the right decisions, otherwise 2015 and beyond looks awfully murky for him and this team.
I'm frustrated and tired of this team and this article became more of a rant than anything. That being said, there are bright spots for the future but difficult tasks lay ahead. I think I'm okay with Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo for this season, but they need to prove that they are worth keeping both for this year and next. Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell are going to be intriguing decisions for me in the offseason this year. Fewell lapses back into schemes that don't work way too often and Coughlin has been the headmaster for a middling team that is consistently inconsistent and shockingly inefficient when using personnel and managing games. I don't know, honestly, if there are any superior caliber head coaching and defensive coordinator candidates out there, so I don't know if it's really time for Fewell and Coughlin to go. It's reasonable for me to question whether or not the players have started to become numb to the inspiration that Coughlin provides however, and nothing bothers me more.
I'm tired, but this is a process. The team has some tough decisions ahead and patience is needed. So, I guess, I'm prepared to stay tired a little longer.