A lot of people disregard the pain of being a New York Giants fan because of the fact that they won two Super Bowls in the past decade, but that's an unfair comparison model for deducing hardship. I know this is an unorthodox metaphor, but stick with me; I like to think of them as a schoolchild.
Imagine that they were a gifted student and were top of their class in 2007 and 2011. Maybe they didn't do the most work every day, but did better than anyone else when it mattered in their end-of-term tests. Now, imagine that they haven't done as well in the last three years. They followed up a period of greatness with some years where maybe they slacked off a little. Sure, they were sick for some days so they didn't get the most out of certain classes, but at the end of the day, the rest of the students were sick too and a lot of those managed just fine.
So, what do you do? Maybe you change the leadership scheme and move them to a different school where perhaps the teachers have a different strategy and value different things because they believe that's how to get results. Maybe it's for the best to not send them to the school where the elderly man runs a tight-ship and wants to crack skulls and take names every day. It's not that his system doesn't work. Just maybe that the kid has outgrown it.
The 2015 Giants are a bright kid that just can't put it all together. Their report card is a mixed bag of B's, C's and D's with some comments scribbled at the bottom about how they're making some basic mistakes that a kid their age shouldn't make. They're doing okay in most subjects such as Foreign Languages where they have proven they can pick up new vocabulary quite quickly, but they're totally failing Math, because they can't seem to master the questions at the end of the test dealing with how clocks work.
Since Eli Manning first started in 2004, the rest of the NFC East have had a total of 27 different starting quarterbacks. Manning is often bashed for his inconsistent play, when in reality, his ability to actually be on the field is more consistent than anyone in the NFL. His "Iron-Man" streak of 177 consecutive starts is an undervalued record in a league where the majority of players are injured at one point or another during the season.
After Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, the Giants defense has 14 interceptions this year, which is tied for the league-best with the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals (though both of those teams have had their bye week and the Giants have not). Their turnover differential for the year is plus-12, which is four more than the next best team. According to Pro Football Reference, the Giants' defense generates a turnover on 19.5 percent of drives. This is also the best. For a monumentally bad defense, they sure do have a lot of positives.
Yards-per-touch is a metric that charts all-purpose yardage for a player and includes rushing, receiving as well as any special teams numbers they may collect. Players who place high in this area are usually the guys that announcers call "playmakers" or would maybe even prompt the phrase "He's just a good football player" for their extraordinary well-rounded skill set. The good news is that the Giants have two players who rank in the top 10 of yards-per-touch. Odell Beckham Jr. comes in at eighth overall with a respectable 13.1 yards for every time he's in possession of the football, but even better is that Dwayne Harris' 15.4 YPT is the highest of any player in the league.
The criticism of Harris' somewhat expensive contract has waned with each passing week. Now, with the benefit of hindsight regarding Victor Cruz' injury, Harris looks like a bargain. It's fair to assume that he was signed to primarily act as a kick-returner, and he has done well in that area, but his impact in the passing game has been nothing short of tremendous given the expectations of a back-up slot-receiver. He matched his previous season-best through just nine games in 2015 and his four touchdowns are second only to Beckham on the Giants.
His cap-hit for this year was very low and came in at just $1.8 million, but it shoots up to $3.8 million in 2016, though I can't imagine the Giants would risk messing with that number as Harris has proved himself as more than just an effective insurance policy for Cruz -- whose cap-hit for next year is a much more likely target at a less agreeable $9.9 million and would account for 56 percent of the Giants' receiver-salary.
It's possible that the team would also like to resign Rueben Randle, and he is likely to command a contract similar to what Golden Tate got with the Detroit Lions. Both are solid No. 2 receivers that you don't want as your No. 1 guy. Tate got an average of $6.2 million per year from the Lions, and that's a fair estimation for Randle if he stays healthy. If that's the Giants paying out, it would put them in the top five for most expenditure on receivers despite having one of the best players in the league stuck on a rookie contract.
What it all boils down to is that it's unlikely that the Giants sign three receivers to big money with a contract extension for Beckham presumably looming in the not-too-distant future. Something has got to give and one of these guys will either be playing for less money than they expected, or they'll be playing for a different team. The Giants have themselves an unusual problem; too much talent at one position.
We have seen in recent years that the Giants won't over-pay. Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks were allowed walk. If they can't come to team-friendly terms with Randle or Cruz, we may seem them in a different jersey next year, and the fact that it's gotten to that really emphasizes the value that Harris brings to this team.
Giants are reportedly signing Hakeem Nicks, the most-targeted receiver in Eli Manning’s career pic.twitter.com/PbVOXwfGhk— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 17, 2015
The Giants are giving Hakeem Nicks another chance to prove he can still play at a high level. It's been a few years now since we've seen the good version of Nicks, and he's bounced around the AFC South a little since his time in New York, but it's possible that this may work out better than expected.
First of all, let's look at his numbers. The guy clearly had a good on-field rapport with Manning, and remains the most targeted player throughout the quarterback's tenure. At the time of writing we don't know what his contract is like but I can't imagine it's much more than the veteran minimum plus performance incentives. The upside of recapturing some of Nicks' previous magic far outweighs the low-risk of a minor contract.
More importantly, the Giants are well set at receiver. This isn't a situation where they need Nicks to step in and play right away. Instead, he'll likely be competing with Myles White and Geremy Davis for rotational playing time on the outside. Having some veteran depth wouldn't hurt a team with so many young players.
Best case scenario is that Nicks re-establishes himself as an exemplary possession receiver and uses his previous experience with Manning to give the Giants another solid option. With Randle in a contract year, it would also give the team a little extra leverage should Nicks show even a little promise.
If it doesn't work out, it's easy to cut ties and try something new. As long as the team doesn't thrust a ton of responsibility on Nicks, I like this signing, even if I was never particularly fond of the player over the past few years. This is a 2011 Chase Blackburn-type deal. Let's hope the story ends the same way.
It will be a minimum of 691 days between the last time Cruz played in a regular season game, and the next time he possibly can. This is to take the earliest date available for the 2016 kickoff game -- which is likely Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 -- and the slight chance that the Giants will be playing on said date as either the Super Bowl champions, or the visiting team for opening day.
The Giants' inability to close out games stems from their poor pass-defense. However, it appears as though this pass-defense -- which is likely to set an NFL record for most yards allowed in a single season -- is especially incompetent in the fourth quarter. Take a look at the chart below which tracks passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed and interceptions gained as sorted by game period.
|Period||Passing Yards||Passing TDs||Interceptions|
As you can see, the pace of the opponent is dramatically worse at the end of the game. While the time-management of the offense has been a real concern, at least they have been holding up their end of the deal by putting points on the board by posting six touchdowns and only one interception in the final quarter. The league average defense has allowed 5.1 touchdowns in this time. In four of their five losses this year, the Giants have been leading with two minutes or less remaining in the game and couldn't finish it out. The team don't even need their defense to be average to come out on top, just not totally awful, but that's too much to ask.
The Downright Confusing
In previous editions of this article, I have lamented the lack of any deep passing strategy within the Giants' offense. Last week, Manning attempted just three passes that traveled more than 15 yards through the air. This week? He threw it deep 15 times, and it was a huge success.
Of those 15passes, six were caught. You don't expect a high catch percentage on deep passes, so this is a totally fine ratio. On those six catches, the receivers gained 225 yards. That's an average of 37.5 yards per catch or 15 yards per attempt. So, when Manning threw 15 yards or more downfield, he gained 15 yards. Even if you take out the 87-yard touchdown to Beckham, the offense gained 9.8 yards per deep attempt.
Not every game will be like this -- I know that -- but it has been clear for weeks that the offense has been reluctant to take shots down field. Ben McAdoo opened up the playbook a little and we got to see a little of the Manning who took Kevin Gilbride's offense to two Super Bowls. I am in no way endorsing a return to the old ways of the run-and-gun, but the imbalance within Gilbride's offense had shifted the complete opposite direction under McAdoo this season. The winning formula is a common ground in-between lateral-spacing and deep shots. Don't be predictable. Why has it taken so long to realize this?