A season ago, the New York Giants started 3-2, got blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6 and then proceeded to wreck their season by losing seven straight games. This season, the Giants started 3-2 and got blown out by the Eagles in Week 6. So, now what? Head coach Tom Coughlin grew irritated on Tuesday when asked to compare the two situations.
"That was last year, this is a new year. What am I worried about? I'm worried about getting our team ready for the Dallas Cowboys. Forget about last year. Last year was last year," Coughlin said.
If it were only that easy to forget. The memory is too fresh, the playoff-less seasons have piled up for too long and this gritty, try-hard team shows too many talent deficiencies for the question not to be a valid one. Is this team on the precipice of another mid-season free fall?
We will find out over the next few weeks, of course. The learning will begin on Sunday when the Giants face the Dallas Cowboys in a game that they really need to win.
Let's use this week's "Five things I think I think" space to address five things that have to happen if the Giants are going to win the NFC East.
1. Stop Beating Themselves
The Giants are 3-3. You can make an argument that no one has actually "beaten" the Giants yet, that they have accomplished losing three games with no help from their opposition.
They had historic, and unbelievable, fourth-quarter melt downs in the first two weeks as they became the first team to ever open a season by blowing back-to-back double-digit leads in the final quarter. Monday night at Philly the Giants handed the Eagles a Pick 6, committed two drive-sustaining penalties that led to Eagles' points, failed to generate a single point off four Philly turnovers and killed two of their own scoring chances with turnovers.
There is the distinct possibility that those missed opportunities have already wrecked the Giants' season. If they are to overcome all of that, though, the nonsense has to stop. They need to win the games they should win, and they need to make teams actually beat them instead of doing it themselves.
2. Find/Create A Pass Rush
We have talked, and talked, and talked about the Giants' inability to rush the passer. The Giants have just eight sacks, and only the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins with seven are worse. Per Football Outsiders, the Giants' Adjusted Sack Rate of 3.3 percent is the worst in the league. Pro Football Focus agrees, grading the Giants at -13.0 overall in rushing the passer, also worst in the league.
It isn't just the lack of sacks, though. It is the complete lack of pressure. For most of the game on Monday, Philadelphia quarterback Sam Bradford had time to eat a sandwich while he waited for a receiver to come open. Luckily for the Giants, Bradford couldn't even hit some of those receivers who eventually shook free, but you can't let NFL quarterbacks survey the field like it's a training camp 7-on-7 drill.
The Giants sent more than four rushers only one time on Monday and, while curious strategy on its face, I actually get it. Devon Kennard, the best pass-rushing linebacker, didn't play. Trumaine McBride, a guy the Giants like to blitz off the edge, didn't play. Tom Coughlin always says if you are going to blitz you better get home, and likely Steve Spagnuolo figured he didn't have anyone who could actually get there so why risk exposing the secondary?
I get it, but I don't have to like it. My own belief is that playing coverage no longer works in the NFL. With the rules, the quality of the quarterbacks and the complexity of the offenses guys will come open at some point. The only thing that really stops passing attacks is pressure. The Giants have to find some way -- any way -- to get some.
If Kennard and Robert Ayers return to the lineup this week that will help. If Jason Pierre-Paul returns at some point and contributes that will help. If Damontre Moore can stop being a walking "Kwillie" and figure out how to play without somehow helping both teams that will help. If Owa Odighizuwa can grow into a pass-rushing force that will help.
The Giants have to figure something out because they can't continue to let opposing quarterbacks sit comfortably in the pocket and do whatever they want.
3. Run The Ball
I know there are Giants fans, and probably fans of many NFL teams, who turn their nose up at the notion that running the football is important in the modern-day NFL. But, guess what? Running the football is still important in the modern-day NFL. The Giants haven't been able to do that with any consistency. They are the only team in the league without a 100-yard rushing game this season, and this is the first time in franchise history the Giants have gone six straight games with fewer than 100 yards rushing.
What kind of things happen when you can't run?
- You get two shots to make a yard from the opponents' 41-yard line and fail, which happened Monday night.
- You struggle to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Giants are 28th in the league at 40 percent (8-for-20).
- You wind up throwing the ball way more than running it, getting your quarterback pummeled, and throwing interceptions. We saw those scenarios unfold the past two weeks.
The Giants have some issues to sort out when it comes to running the ball. They do not have a blocking tight end. They have an inexperienced fullback still learning to play the position. They have a struggling right tackle. They, quite honestly, don't have a stud running back who can get some yardage on his own in the run game.
Do I know exactly what the solution is? No, I don't. The Giants need to figure something out, though, before it's too late to matter.
4. Get Healthy/Get Reinforcements
Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz and Will Beatty haven't played a snap. Kennard and Ayers have missed the last few games. There is no Daniel Fells or Prince Amukamara. Jon Beason, Markus Kuhn, George Selvie and Owa Odighizuwa have missed significant chunks of time. Trumaine McBride. Jonathan Casillas. The list goes on.
Injuries are always a source of consternation for Giants fans, and while a very revealing ESPN study shows that the Giants are roughly middle of the pack this season in games lost to injury there is no denying that they have been hurt by the injuries they have suffered. The Giants' roster is not exactly overflowing with talented, capable, proven reserves. Many of the issues the Giants have are exacerbated by the players who aren't playing.
Maybe, just maybe, though that picture is brightening. There is some noise about JPP having a checkup with the Giants this week. There has been chatter that perhaps Cruz could begin practicing. Beatty is eligible to begin practicing, so he could be back on the field in two to three weeks. Kennard and Ayers might play this week. So, light at the end of the tunnel there possibly.
What about help from elsewhere? At this point in the season you don't find true difference-makers on the street, but ... could the Giants find a wide receiver better than Myles White? Maybe a blocking tight end? Could they find an experienced backup corner better than what is on the roster? A backup safety better than Craig Dahl?
The name Martellus Bennett keeps popping up on social media as a player the Giants should target via trade. The ex-Giants and current Chicago Bears tight end is without doubt superior to Larry Donnell. Is he even available? Could or would the Giants make a play for him? To be honest, a deal for Bennett is probably a loooooooong shot. At best. Doesn't hurt to ask, though.
Speaking of all of these players potentially returning to the Giants, it seems like a good spot for this. Just because I can:
5. No more NFC East losses
We know the NFC East isn't exactly a juggernaut. There is no overwhelming favorite, especially with the Dallas Cowboys continuing to miss Tony Romo and Dez Bryant (yes, I know there are whispers Bryant might play vs. the Giants on Sunday). Dallas won 12 games last season en route to the division title. I seriously doubt that is happening this year. do you really think there is an NFC East team capable of going 9-1 the rest of the way? I don't.
More likely, 10 wins -- maybe even 9 -- will be good enough to win the division. The division could easily come down to the final week, when the Giants host the Eagles. Tie-breakers could also be a factor in determining who goes home and who goes to the playoffs.
The Giants are 1-2 in the division and can't afford any more losses. They have losses to the Cowboys and Eagles, and probably can't afford to be swept by either team. A Week 12 stumble against the Washington Redskins could also be devastating. The Giants are walking a tight rope, and the net is getting smaller and smaller.