The New York Giants are broken.
There is no arguing that point. Not after blowing a 21-point lead. Not after getting out-scored 22-3 in the second half by a 1-10 team lead by a rookie quarterback, aided by a pair of fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
Much ink has been spilled over the issue of who is to blame, and much more will be spilled expounding opinions about how to fix them.
Does the blame fall on the shoulders of Tom Coughlin, the head coach? The Giants have a clear command structure, and ultimately the consequences of his subordinates' decisions fall at his feet.
Is it Jerry Reese's fault for not giving the coaches enough to work with? For not getting enough talent on the roster, and not building around their franchise quarterback?
Then, of course, there is the prickly question of how to fix the problem. Do the Giants fire Coughlin despite the franchise-wide respect he has and the championships he's won? Do they fire Reese, who drafts players only to have them sit on the bench? Do the Mara's opt for the "Nuclear Option" of firing everybody and gutting the roster?
That last one, as much as it would likely mollify a frustrated fan base, isn't one the Giants will likely consider. One of the tenants of the Giants' ownership is that consistency is key to building a successful team.
There is another route the Giants could go, and it might be the most difficult of all:
Staying the course.
Few things are likely to set off a firestorm from a ravening fan base and media like announcing that Tom Coughlin would be retained for the 2015 season. Except, perhaps, that Perry Fewell would be retained.
However, it is certainly possible that the Giants' ownership, John Mara and Steve Tisch, could decide that staying the course with Reese, Coughlin, and McAdoo is the best course of action. But what possible reasoning could be used for retaining a coach who has helmed the Giants to records of 9-7, 7-9, and at best a 7-9 finish in 2014?
There are a few good reasons.
The Giants' rookie offensive coordinator is half-way through his renovation of the Giants' offense. It's a big job, switching from Kevin Gilbride's primarily vertical, read-based offense, to a more West Coast flavored, timing-based offense. The position of head coach of the New York Giants is a prestigious one. Even in a down year, the Giants are one of the NFL's flagship franchises, playing under some of the brightest lights.
That means that any successor to Coughlin would almost certainly have an impressive pedigree and a strong personality. Coaches like that have very definite views on what their vision for the team is. Coaches like that wouldn't sign on if it meant having to work around their successor's offensive coordinator.
If Coughlin is fired, that most likely means that McAdoo would be fired as well. Changing directions and visions could turn a mostly-finished, and promising, rebuilding of the offense into chaos, returning it to square one.
Also, there have been whispers that some members of the Giants organization viewed McAdoo as a potential successor to Coughlin when he was hired. When McAdoo was hired, he impressed the Giants with his knowledge, passion, and thorough preparation. Those are some of the same qualities that have made Coughlin a successful head coach in the NFL.
Keeping Coughlin gives McAdoo room to grow and mature as a coach before taking on responsibility for the whole team. It also allows him to finish molding the offense in his image. So far McAdoo's offense has Eli Manning playing some of his most efficient football to date. However, inconsistent play-calling, including some questionable second-half adjustments, point to a need for more experience.
Injuries aren't an excuse for bad play -- every team has to deal with them -- but they are a reason for it.
That pesky injury bug has ravaged the Giants locker room once again. So far this year, the Giants have 20 players on injured reserve -- in only 12 games. Many of them were, or were expected to be, key contributors.
Players like Geoff Schwartz (foot/ankle), Jon Beason (foot), Victor Cruz (quad), Walter Thurmond (chest), Robert Ayers (chest), Jerrel Jernigan (foot), Prince Amukamara (bicep), Trumaine McBride (thumb), Cooper Taylor (foot), and David Wilson (neck/retired) all had their seasons derailed by injury.
There were also players like Odell Beckham (hamstring), Rashad Jennings (knee/ankle), Justin Pugh (quad), Jacquian Williams (concussion), Cullen Jenkins (calf), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (hip/leg/back) have all missed significant time with injuries.
All of those players either were, or were expected to be, significant players for the Giants. In fact, they represent a large part of GM Jerry Reese's off-season acquisitions. That many starters or major role players dropping out of the line-up has a two-fold effect on the team.
First, the constantly shifting roster means a constantly shifting skill-set on the field. When the Giants lost Robert Ayers, they lost their best pass rusher. When they lost Victor Cruz, they lost Eli Manning's safety blanket, and the team's most experienced receiver. Before Odell Beckham came back from injury, the team had no dangerous deep threat. Those players, and their skills, don't have replacements. The Giants have had to play without many of their most talented players, and replace them with less talented back-ups, or mid-season acquisitions.
Second, the rash of injuries has claimed many of the Giants' veteran leadership. The young players who have replaced them -- Beckham, Chandler Fenner, and Devon Kennard -- don't have the same experience. They don't know how to finish games. The Giants have been in position to win five games this year, but fallen short. Because of the injuries, the Giants are relying heavily on young back-ups. Just like with Ben McAdoo, they need to learn how to win.
Coughlin is under contract through the 2015 season.
At the end of that he will be 70 years old, and McAdoo will have had two years with the core of the Giants' offense to install his system. He will also have had input into an off-season and draft to find "his" players going forward.
The conclusion of Tom Coughlin's current contract represents a natural breaking point where the Giants can -- relatively -- smoothly transition from Coughlin to McAdoo if that is the direction they want to go. If the Giants are unhappy with the performance of McAdoo, or don't feel he can be their next head coach, they can go in a new direction almost as easily as transitioning to McAdoo.
Also, with Manning only 33 years old -- still in his prime as a cerebral pocket passer -- Giants' ownership could well decide that their window of opportunity with Manning has not yet begun to close. Quarterbacks like Manning, who's effectiveness is largely independent of their physical abilities, can have careers that extend in to their late 30s. Giants' ownership may decide that keeping the franchise stable and continuing to build around the quarterback who has already brought them two championships is the most prudent move. Particularly if they feel the heir apparent to the head coaching position is already in-house.
The Giants' owners find themselves in a tricky position as the 2014 season winds down. Theirs is a franchise who's goal is to contend for championships every year. They have fallen woefully short of that goal for three consecutive years now. That simply is not good enough. Not by half.
That is the line of thought that could lead to Coughlin and the Giants parting ways.
But at the same time, Coughlin is a highly-respected coach, who is liked -- loved even -- by the franchise and his players. As well, the Mara and Tisch families believe strongly in organizational stability. That line of thinking could lead the Giants to give Coughlin one last year to get the team heading in the right direction and teach McAdoo the ropes of helming a flagship franchise.
Even if the Giants decide to stay the course with Coughlin, that doesn't mean that there won't be changes to the coaching staff. After the additions of Ayers, Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Jameel McClain, Jon Beason (re-signed) Zack Bowman, and Quintin Demps, the defense was expected to be the strength of the team while the offense was overhauled. That obviously didn't happen, and the defense regressed to its lowest point under Perry Fewell. Not only have they been embarrassed on the road and at home, the Giants once-feared pass rush has disappeared and a distressing lack of discipline has emerged. All of that points to potential changes to the defensive coaching staff, much like the sweeping changes to the offense just a year ago.
Ultimately, Mara and Tisch will make the decision that they feel is in the best interests of their franchise. That could be ground-shaking changes that carry much of the current team and structure out the door. That would certainly please a number of the more blood-thirsty fans. They could, however, decide to stay the course and finish the work they started in January.