Your New York Giants are riding a three-game winning streak and currently looking down from atop the NFC East standings. With a critical game against the Philadelphia Eagles looming Monday night, let's take time for this week's version of "Five things I think I think."
I think we know what they are now
After five games I don't think we know yet where the 2015 Giants are going, of exactly what they will beat the end of the season. I think, though, that we do know what they are. Head coach Tom Coughlin keeps using words like "grit" to describe his team, and that is an accurate portrayal.
The Giants have some talent deficiencies, particularly on defense. They do some things that make you shake your head in frustration or disgust at times. They aren't going to overwhelm teams simply because they are better talent-wise. But, they play hard. Really hard. They have players who care, who get it. They have, for the first time in a while, a roster with reserve players who are not major liabilities and can actually contribute. Perhaps fullback-defensive tackle-special teamer extraordinaire Nikita Whitlock is the best example of what this team is becoming -- a group of guys who don't seem to care what role they are asked to play.
It's a team that just wants to win games. Whatever that takes.
I think the Giants don't beat the 49ers without Shane Vereen
The reasons why the Giants gave Shane Vereen a three-year, $12.35 million contract were on full display Sunday night in the game-winning drive against the San Francisco 49ers. The numbers said three catches on that drive for 51 yards. The story is the type of catches. Two dump offs turned into gains of 10+ yards. A beautifully executed screen pass (when is the last time you said that about the Giants?) for 24 yards on third-and-10. Three catches, three first downs.
The Giants haven't had a back who was a weapon in the passing game like this since Tiki Barber.
"Last night was a great example of some of the things that he can do in certain situations when the defense may in fact think they've got you in a position where they have the upper hand. And someone like Shane can determine that might not necessarily be so," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "Have we ever had a player like this, to be able to utilize his talents? Probably not to this degree."
I have been saying it for months, and I will say it again. Vereen is a game-changer for the Giants, and he was a terrific free-agent signing.
I think the Giants need to figure out the red zone
The Giants seem to live by the motto "If it should be easy, we make it hard." That refers not only to this team, but to Giants teams going back several decades. So, what made me think of that today? Well, the Giants' complete ineptitude thus far this season in the red/green zone -- whatever you want to call that almost home but not quite there -- chunk of yardage, that's what.
The Giants' offense has been awful this season once they have gotten inside the opponents 20-yard line. They are 7-of-19 in scoring touchdowns once they have reached the green zone. That is a percentage of 36.84, making them 30th in the league.
Against the 49ers, the Giants went 3-for-6. They had a turnover (the unfortunate Eli Manning interception). On their first drive, they could not convert a third-and-one at the 49ers' 3-yard line when Rashad Jennings lost a yard, settling for a field goal. In the fourth quarter with the scoe knotted at 20-20, they had a first down at the San Francisco 14 and ran a shotgun draw to Vereen on third-and-seven that came up a yard shy of a first down. They, rightly, took the field goal there.
"I did tell our team that we pretty consistently have this 50 percent thing going in the green zone and it's not going to improve until we can rush the ball with some degree of confidence. And I do believe that," Coughlin said.
At various times through five games you could blame the running game, odd play-calling, poor clock management or poor decisions by Manning. You might even give some credit to opposing defenses. The green zone struggles are probably a combination of all of these.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the production has got to get better.
I think we need to talk about "resume" vs. "reality"
Every time there is a perceived need on a roster, fans -- of all NFL teams, not just the Giants -- take to Twitter, blog comment sections, Facebook, etc., to scream from the rooftops "why doesn't our team sign big-name player X." As in, why don't we sign Evan Mathis? Or Jake Long? Or Hakeem Nicks? Or Wes Welker? Or Dwight Freeney?
I bring this up because Freeney, the future Hall of Fame pass rusher extraordinaire, signed this week with the Arizona Cardinals. Of course, the Giants have struggled rushing the passer this season and almost immediately I was seeing the "why didn't the Giants sign Freeney?" comments.
We have to understand something. The name of the player doesn't mean anything. How many Pro Bowls, what that player could do five years ago -- or even two years ago -- doesn't mean anything. What matters is what NFL teams see in players NOW, what they believe players can still do.
All of these players are, or were, on the street in season because 32 NFL teams no longer felt they were good enough to deserve spots on their rosters for a full season. Nicks, for example, isn't close to the guy who caught 70+ passes for the Giants in 2010 and 2011. He's a broken down receiver who caught 38 passes last season and averaged a career-low 10.7 yards per catch. Welker is 34, had the worst season of his career in 2014, and has a scary concussion history. After all the gnashing of teeth about Long, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons and has yet to play in a game.
I bring all of this up because I really wanted to talk about Freeney. Yes, the Giants are 26th in the league with seven sacks and would really benefit from having a dynamic pass rushing defensive end. Is there really, though, any evidence that at 35 Freeney is that guy?
If he was a dynamic, difference-making pass rush why would he still have been available entering Week 6? Freeney had a total of nine sacks over the past three seasons, a total of 34 games. He had 3.5 sacks last season for the San Diego Chargers. Is that a difference-making number? Is that worth signing him and watching young guys like Owa Odighizuwa or -- gasp! -- Damontre Moore sit on the sidelines on passing downs? Probably not.
One more note about Freeney. The Giants play a 4-3, and Freeney hasn't been a 4-3 DE since 2011. He has been a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Anyway, point is that just because you recognize the name that doesn't mean that player is the best option to fill a need.
I think first place is nice, but ...
It won't mean much if the Giants don't take advantage of the next four weeks -- when they face the Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That doesn't mean you can or should expect the Giants to win every game, although that would be nice. The Giants, in part due to their winning streak and in part due to the struggles of the Cowboys and Eagles, are in a good spot. The next four games gives them a chance to capitalize on what they have done thus far. Let's see if they can take advantage.