My fellow New York Giants fans,
If you didn't know already, back when I made my scratch in the "fanpost" section of our great site, Big Blue View, I had a series going every six months or so called the "State of the Union." It seemed like a well-received piece, so I figured, why not throw one in now. My play off the annual presidential address, it offers a view of the New York Giants through several high-powered rose-colored glasses from a person gulping down tremendous amounts of a blue Koolaid beverage. If you'd like a trip down memory lane, I've got the past "SOTUs" lined up for you right here:
So with that out of the way, let's get it started. How is our union? It is hopeful. There are more questions with the current structure of this team than have ever been over the last 7-8 years. We are coming off our first losing season and the turnover for this team is gigantic. I wrote about how it might actually blow up in our faces here:
But within those "lingering questions" is hope. The hope that this change in personnel (both coaching staff and players) will also bring about a change in culture. Complacency is the death knell for a team that has aspirations for success. Looking back at past achievements means you aren't looking forward to your future. I get the feeling there's a hunger in these Giants. One that clearly wasn't there in all of them last year. Does that matter from a talent point of view? Not at all. I'm sure it means something, though. So with that said, let's take a birds eye look at a pre-training roster and look for signs of this "hope."
Obviously the biggest change has been the arrival of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. With him comes the promise of a shorter passing game, shorter drops, and a drastic decrease in route complexity. If indeed is the case, the upgrades are multi-fold and affect the offense in a tremendous number of ways.
We all know that the season runs through Manning. He was an incredible failure last season. While the argument can, and should, be made that he suffered from a supporting cast that left him out to dry, there's no denying that he was equally to blame. It is the hope (and it's a reasonable one) that this new system will refresh Manning and create a monstrous bounce back year. Let's look a bit further. Take ProFootballFocus' excellent breakdown of Eli Manning found right here.
So this is what I took from this. Manning crushed plays in the 0-9-yard range, especially on comebacks and slants. Comebacks and slants are staples of the WCO offense. Why did he succeed so much in that short yardage range?
My theory ... and it's only a theory, is that these short routes aren't predicated as heavily on sight adjustments and the routes don't change as much simply because there isn't as much time to change. They've got a quick route to run, and Eli can throw it to where it needs to be. Now with McAdoo coming back to the fundamentals, we might see a better Eli simply because that principle extends to the entire route tree.
How many of Aaron Rodgers' attempts, by the way, went 0-9 yards? Sixty percent (187/316 last year). That's a lot. It gives us a rough estimate of what the Giants might try and do, and if Eli comes even remotely close to that number (only 45 percent of his passes went that distance lst season -- 250/551), we'll see a sharp rise in his completion percentage and performance.
Now wait, you say. Didn't Tom Coughlin state that they wouldn't be fully getting rid of the deep ball? Of course not. But factor in the fact that seven percent (third-highest in the league) of Eli's passes traveled more than 30 yards in the air and you see another reason for why he didn't do as well as we'd hoped. He threw deep way too much, and even a mild decrease can only help.
Finally, looking at his performance, PFF noted that his worst performances came from holding on to the ball too long. That's, hopefully, going to be another thing that'll be fixed with a WCO.
The Run Game and the Offensive Line
Let's first address the new personnel that have come through to the Giants. Using ProFootballFocus, we can already tell that these new additions will likely be an upgrade for the Giants. Let's first take a look at the additions made to the offensive line:
Center - In 2012, J.D Walton had a +5.1 grade (4 games). In 2013, the combination of David Baas, Kevin Boothe, and Jim Cordle had the Giants at a -12.5 grade. Now, of course we have to factor in Walton's injury history and all of that, absolutely. Will it really get as bad as the situation was last year? Not with Weston Richburg in as the backup and future starter. In my head, either way, this position is a clear upgrade from what it was last year, because again, I don't see how it gets worse.
Left Guard - In 2013, Geoff Schwartz, the presumptive starter at left guard, had a cumulative grade of +18.3 for the Kansas City Chiefs. The intimidating combination of Kevin Boothe and James Brewer for the Giants racked up a -11.3 grade. That's a swing of +29.6 from ONE POSITION. That's absurd, and should provide an instant impact on the line.
Right Guard - Yes, I am mentioning right guard even though Chris Snee is slated to start. He had a grade of -6.4 last year in only three games. Given the multitude of issues here, I unfortunately don't see him making it through training camp. He's gotten two hip surgeries and another elbow issue holding him up. Even GM Jerry Reese has publicly stated that he's had some concern over Snee. So who are his replacements? One of the most underrated guys on the team in my head has been Brandon Mosley. He was simply "OK" last year, garnering a +0.3 grade in 59 snaps last year. The other contender is John Jerry, who hails from the Miami Dolphins. He had a -2.9 grade last year, excellent in pass protection at a +6.4, terribad at run blocking at -10.4. The only other player I can think of that might garner snaps here is Richburg if Walton proves to be a competent and healthy center. Will right guard be an upgrade over what it was last year? Probably not a big one, but again, hard to imagine it being worse.
So we see with our offensive line that the interior in 2013 was bad on a historic level. The subtraction of David Diehl (who I didn't even mention once!), David Baas, Kevin Boothe, and probably Snee means that there's a new era here in Giants football. Younger, and hopefully better.
At running back, we changed from Andre Brown, who scored a -4.6 last year to Rashad Jennings, who grabbed a +6.0 grade from the Oakland Raiders. Forget about the difference in scores, though, I don't believe they matter all that much. What does matter is Jennings' ability to stay healthy, something Brown hasn't been able to do. A consistently reliable presence in the backfield is the very least you need, and the Giants accomplished that. Now, it's time to see what he can actually do.
Finally, speaking of what they can actually do, the X-factor of this offense is David Wilson. He is expected to be cleared for training camp and will likely be on the 53-man roster this season. This guy was a first-round pick for a good reason, and he flashed that every time he took the field on kickoffs and occasionally in the run game as well. His ability to change direction at high speed is masterful. McAdoo, I firmly believe, can get him out in space the same way the Packers got Eddie Lacy out there. Once he's got some room and some blockers, he can add that dimension the Giants need.
The Receiving Corps
Let's actually take a look at how McAdoo's offense will actually help the wide receiver squadron. First off, the biggest jump I see in performance will be from Rueben Randle. We hashed out to death how fewer sight adjustments will help Randle use his natural talents to the best degree, so I won't talk too much about that. He's also in his magical "third year" as a wide receiver, so it's essentially now or never.
Ditto this with Jerrel Jernigan. He finally showed a spark in the final three games of last season when he was allowed to catch the ball in space and create. The Giants have made it clear with McAdoo that they want to manufacture YAC. Jernigan (outside of the unknown quantity of Odell Beckham Jr., is the best the Giants have at that).
Speaking of Beckham, anybody else think his transition to the big leagues is going to be a bit easier with the West Coast route tree rather than the Gilbride Run 'N Shoot? You have speed and athleticism, let them use it, in much the same way they have with Wilson.
I didn't forget about Victor Cruz, but with two terrific options outside, we may finally see the Cruz that runs free across the middle, unbridled by bracket coverages. That's going to be a beautiful thing.
As far as the tight end group goes with Adrien Robinson, Daniel Fells, Xavier Grimble, Kellen Davis and Larry Donnell, it's a group of misfits that haven't really shown yet that they belong on an NFL roster. It's certainly the weakest position group on the team (yes, even more so than the LBs). At the same time though, Robinson, Grimble and Donnell have intriguing size/speed combos and Fells and Davis are wily veterans. This is one area that I'll be watching with extreme interest during training camp. Always the possibility we unearth a hidden gem, it's happened before.
No Will Hill. No Linval Joseph. No Justin Tuck. Yeesh. From hearing just that, many feel the Giants defense is destined for a backwards step. We added a few pieces, however, so let's take a look at the replacements like we did on the offense, starting with the defensive line:
RDE: Mathias Kiwanuka racked up an astonishing -31.5 grade from ProFootballFocus last year. That's really uncharted territory in terms of poor play, and this was with him racking up six sacks last year. His replacement, it would be the prodigal son, Jason Pierre-Paul, who is now 100 percent healthy and slimmed down to 270 pounds from the 285 or so he was playing at last season. Pierre-Paul, incidentally has never had a negatively graded season by PFF, going +3.5 in 2010, +25.6 in 2011, +20.3 in 2012, and in limited snaps last year, +1.2 in 2013. Now it's clear that JPP has to play better, but I can pretty much guarantee that a healthy, contract year JPP will be a big upgrade to Kiwanuka, who I think falls to a rotational role this season.
1 - Technique: Linval Joseph had a strong season for the Giants, garnering a +3.6 off a consistently decent pass rush and run defense. He only scored negatively in 5 games this season. He's gone now, and his replacement is 2nd year player Jonathan Hankins. Thing is, Hankins might be even better. He netted a +5.6 grade in a third of the snaps that Joseph took. The difference there was Hankins' superior effort against the run, where he racked up 11 defensive stops in only 105 run defense snaps, compared to Joseph's 26 run stops in 287 run defense snaps. That's a run stop rate of 10.5 for Hankins good for seventh in the league (behind only top 15 pick Star Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers amongst rookie DTs) as opposed to a run stop rate of 9.0 for Joseph. If Hankins can develop some pass rush moves, he'll provide a monstrous presence inside for our team.
LDE: Justin Tuck, often the face of the defense is gone. In his place comes Robert Ayers. It will be difficult to reproduce what Tuck brought to the team in 2013 with his balanced level of play. His +12.6 grade ranked 7th amongst all 4-3 defensive edge rushers mostly on the strength of his run defense. Turns out, however, his replacement Robert Ayers actually graded out better in the run game (+8.5 vs +6.6) en route to a 14th overall finish amongst 4-3 DEs with a +7.2 overall grade despite only playing 514 snaps this past year (380 less than Tuck).
As far as the rest of the line goes, former Philadelphia Eagles Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins reprise their roles as backup and starting 3-tech respectively. New addition Jay Bromley will hopefully make some noise, and we're looking for a big jump from Damontre Moore. Kiwanuka looks like he'll be relegated to first guy up in the rotation, which, quite honestly, is probably for the best. Altogether, that's a pretty deep line, and that's without even mentioning Kelcy Quarles and Markus Kuhn. Not a homerun by any means but there's a ton of potential to be among the league leaders in this area, especially when it comes to run defense.
We're looking at a ragtag group here, no doubt about it. There hasn't been much change here, with the exception of swapping out Keith Rivers with Jameel McClain. Let's take a look at that particular transaction. Rivers had a decent enough +1.3 grade from 2013, while McClain garnered a -8.0. To be totally honest here, this is the one area (aside from safety) that I can say with some confidence that the Giants got worse in the offseason.
However, and this is a pretty big however, I do think the Giants make up for it with McClain's leadership. I know you're thinking "oh here we go again" but I think it's true. Let's be honest here. The SLB plays the least amount of snaps of any regular starter on this defense. That's not just my assertion, it's backed up by proof. Keith Rivers, the starting strongside backer played only 429/1,155 defensive snaps last season. The third safety, Ryan Mundy, played 667 snaps.
In any case, this leadership argument for me is that it's someone to be the "glue guy" that holds the team together. In prior years, it was someone like Deon Grant. Jon Beason is already injured and very well might miss the opener against the Detroit Lions, but we've got McClain in there as the wily vet that can make the calls. It's very fair to question whether he can actually carry out the duties that his calls dictate, but hey, he can get everybody else in position, that's definitely worth something. A fair trade-off in my eyes.
On the weakside we've got Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger. Paysinger is smart and plays well coming up. Jacquian does his best work with his backpedal in coverage and can blitz well. Neither are complete products, but I'm one of the few that believe that they can get the job done, especially JWill.
In the middle, Beason reprises his role as a smart, injury prone, bad in coverage but powerful run defending leader. That isn't necessarily good or bad, but I didn't see him as a liability outside of a few games this past year, and it's something that I see repeating this year. ProFootballFocus hated his game last year, but it's one of the few times I disagree with them.
Ah, yes. If you hadn't had your fill of blue sunshine, well, this section might just overdo it for some of you. Consider that the secondary for the New York Giants last year was as dominant as it was, the team added two players that are among the peak of the positions they play.
I know we have the unfortunate story of Will Hill, which has been discussed ad nauseum so I won't get into that. His +15.9 grade (good for 2nd in the league) will of course, be heavily missed. However, Stevie Brown, his replacement, is no scrub. Really, he isn't. Despite lapses in coverage back in 2012, he still managed a respectable +4.5 in 2012, good for 26th among all safeties despite only playing 70 percent of the snaps for the Giants that year.
Now while he isn't as good as Hill is, I can confidently hope that the lapses in coverage will be less and the communication will be better. The entire secondary suffered that year, and with his second year playing (third on the team), we can hope that he's finally gotten Fewell's scheme down cold. Fewell admitted to simplifying the scheme last year, so perhaps this can benefit Brown the most. He certainly was proving to be an asset in the preseason before he got injured on an interception return.
So with that said, Brown is the biggest question mark on this team's secondary, and having that as a fact is pretty darn remarkable. His running mate, Antrel Rolle, is coming off his best season as a pro earning a +8.0 grade (good for 8th in the league). From week seven, onwards, Rolle had all positive grades with the exception of the Dallas game. If you remember, that was because Rolle was forced to man cover Dez Bryant due to injury. That's a difficult enough task for a corner, let alone a safety. I don't think he'll have to worry about that too much because...
The corners are revamped in a big way. Trumaine McBride, who I thought was the best corner in the NFC East last season, is now the No. 4 corner on the squad. Here are his numbers from last season (facing a mix of No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers):
43.7 percent catch percentage allowed, 2 INTs, 8 passes defensed, 2 TDs allowed, and a 57.4 QBR against. ProFootballFocus Grade: +6.8
That's not bad stuff. Why is he fourth on the list? The Giants replaced him with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a player who's +13.1 grade ranked sixth in the league, just 0.3 points behind Richard Sherman (though DRC actually had a higher coverage grade than Sherman).
They also added one of the premier slot corners in the league in Walter Thurmond III. How good is this guy? This is a guy who has allowed only two TDs in his entire career and none in the past two years. He had a bit of a down year last year, but a down year for him involves grading at a +4.8. Yeah. With a talent like him, expect to see the Giants nickel defense as the base defense this year.
Prince Amukamara returns as a veteran cornerback, one who is steady if not spectacular. He won't have the responsibility of shadowing a top wide receiver this year, so I expect great things. He's steadily improved every year that he's been in the league and he's got something to prove. It took some time for the Giants to exercise the team option on his year and he was demoted by default with the addition of DRC. It's show time for this Giant stalwart, and he'll be up to the task of providing the edge that the Giants need to tip the scales.
The Giants seem to be full up on depth as well. They also added Zack Bowman from the Chicago Bears (-3.1) who would've had a positive PFF grade had he not had a horrendous final game in which he scored a -5.1. He'll be a good depth piece for the team. At safety, they added Quintin Demps, who's in line for the 3rd safety spot in the "Big Nickel" formation. He was also a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, posting a -5.1 grade. Cooper Taylor, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound safety is also waiting in the wings. He'll be someone else to watch very closely. I've never quite seen depth of this secondary to be as great as it is now. Certainly the biggest strength of the roster.
For the sake of this article not becoming the football version of 'War and Peace,' I won't spend too much time on specials. It was one of the worst units in all of football last year, but given just how much the Giants have tried to revamp this squad, it's really, really difficult to believe it will be as bad as it was.
Damontre Moore and Cooper Taylor are now second-year players and will have more of an impact on specials. Mark Herzlich is a standout on special teams, really can be considered one of the better players in the league. Rookies Nat Berhe and Bennett Jackson were special teams demons in college. Zak DeOssie returns as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. Charles James is another rising player who made the team based off of his speed and angry playing style on special teams.
Wilson, as we all know, was a straight up monster on kickoffs his rookie year, earning him second-nd team All-Pro honors in that regard. Beckham was a noted kick and punt returner in college and a big consideration as an explosive talent to put back there.
That's all without mentioning the guys the Giants signed. Zack Bowman was a key special teams gunner for Bears. Demps happens to be the second-ranked player by PFF on kickoffs in the league last year.
Then we have Trindon Holliday who scored on both kickoffs and punt returns last year. Adding both standouts leaves the Giants flush with options to control the field position battle every time there's a kickoff or punt. That's ridiculously important.
As for the kicker and punter, you don't get as non-descript as you get with Josh Brown. That's a good thing. If you're talking about a kicker, it's usually something bad. He doesn't make silly mistakes and he'll get you some 50+ yard kicks. Steve Weatherford remains awesome as usual and has a well above average leg. He'll get you some of those coffin corners.
Pre-Training Camp 53-Man Roster
I leave you with a simple exercise. My projected 53-man roster as of right now. It will be interesting to see how off I was once the season starts. Starters for week 1 in bold. My base set for offense is 11 personnel and base set for defense is nickel.
QB (2): Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib
RB (4): Rashad Jennings, David Wilson, Andre Williams, Henry Hynoski
WR (6): Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr., Jerrel Jernigan, Trindon Holliday, Mario Manningham
TE (3): Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells
OT (3): Justin Pugh, Will Beatty, Charles Brown
OG (4): Chris Snee, Geoff Schwartz, John Jerry, Brandon Mosley
OC (2): J.D Walton, Weston Richburg
DT (5): Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley, Mike Patterson
DE (4): Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore
OLB (4): Jameel McClain, Jacquian Williams, Devon Kennard, Spencer Paysinger
ILB (2): Jon Beason, Mark Herzlich
CB (6): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond III, Trumaine McBride, Zack Bowman, Charles James
S (5): Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe
Special Teams (3)
LS (1): Zak DeOssie
P (1): Steve Weatherford
K (1): Josh Brown