Bye weeks are the time in the season to take a breath, to take a break from the relentless NFL schedule and smell the roses. It’s also a chance to take a look back at the state of the team, to take a look forward at the second half of the season and the final push for the playoffs.
So let’s take this time to take a the temperature of the New York Giants roster, see where their problems lie, and propose some solutions going forward.
Concern - 5
Eli Manning has had some very not-good games this year, but it seems to be due to a number of correctable factors. Things like the protection (and Eli’s faith in it), execution at the skill positions, scheme, and play-calling. While it might take some time to restore Eli’s faith in the protection, they can work on all of those things over the bye week. Eli has also had some very efficient performances, completing passes at some of the highest rates of his career. Manning is still completely capable of playing at a very high level.
Of greater concern is the backup QB position. Ryan Nassib is a free agent, and it’s time for the Giants to start thinking about Eli’s successor.
Solution - For Eli, the solution is for the team to get back to work. The receivers need to run the right routes correctly, and the protection (line, running backs, and tight ends) needs to show Eli that he does have time in the pocket.
As for the backup and potential successor, the Giants might be best suited to finding a mid-round prospect who has the intangible traits of a starting quarterback — intelligence, professionalism, work ethic, leadership — and the upside to grow into a franchise player. A player who can learn how to be a Pro and how to deal with the New York media from Eli.
Quarterbacks like Jerod Evans of Virginia Tech, C.J. Beathard of Iowa, Patrick Mahommes of Texas Tech, or Davis Webb of California could all be under consideration in the middle of the draft.
Franchise QBs don’t necessarily come from the top pick in the draft, and a mid-round pick is much easier for a franchise to recover from should they miss. Especially while their franchise quarterback is already under center.
Concern - 5
Mid-level concern at this point. The interior of the OL has become a legitimate strength after John Jerry took the steps to take his game the next level over the summer. Justin Pugh is quietly becoming one of the best guards in the NFL and Weston Richburg is a very good center — though he could stand to get stronger to deal with power straight on. Ereck Flowers has taken a step forward from 2015 and is at least effective if not technically refined. He absolutely needs to continue to work on his technique. If he can stop lunging at defenders and consistently use his punch, Flowers has the upside to be a dominant left tackle. Bobby Hart has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle, providing a quiet and unexpected upgrade over Marshall Newhouse.
The concern comes from the line’s apparent inability to run block. That is partly because they only have a few plays they seem able to execute on a consistent basis, partly because the offense has fallen into a schematic rut. Also, Hart might not be the future at right tackle and Jerry is over 30, so it might behoove the Giants to add a potential starter or two.
Solution - Part of the solution is for the offense to actually try something new once in a while. Put Manning under center or try the pistol formation, either of which open up the playbook for the running game, giving the defense fewer things to key on.
For the future, the Giants need to continue to work with Flowers and refine his technique. If they can, it will fully unlock his prodigious power and he can finally reach his ceiling. They might also want to look at an offensive tackle in the draft, such as Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin, Adam Bisnowaty of Pittsburg, Taylor Morton of Western Michigan, or Avery Gennesy of Texas A&M. Drafting an offensive tackle would allow the Giants to move Hart inside to right guard should Jerry begin to decline.
If the Giants are comfortable with Hart at right tackle and want to move on from Jerry, they could look at Dallas’ Ronald Leary in free agency. He will likely be let go in favor or La’el Collins, but he could also command a bigger price tag than the Giants are willing to pay.
Concern - 4
The Giants might not be particularly strong at running back, but their issues have more to do with a predictable blocking scheme than the backs themselves. Losing Shane Vereen to a torn triceps certainly hurt both the passing game and the running game, but Bobby Rainey has filled in well enough and exciting rookie Paul Perkins is in line for more snaps. Rashad Jennings is a steady player who the coaches can trust in seemingly any situation.
Solution - The solution here is for the coaches to figure out how to add wrinkles to the running game that the team can execute well. This might be Jennings’ last season with the Giants, which would leave them without a “big” running back. Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd is intriguing for his rare speed, quickness, and explosiveness at 6-foot-3, 240. He also has plenty of experience running and receiving out of a spread offense, which is unusual for a big running back.
Concern - 7
The Giants need to make Larry Donnell at most a situational player. Will Tye filled in well for Donnell in 2015, and he has the physicality to pick up tough yards between the 20s, but he is a shorter tight end and his blocking has yet to develop. Losing Will Johnson in the preseason might have actually been a devastating injury for the Giants. Jerell Adams has yet to really show much on offense, though he also hasn’t had many chances.
Solution - The first thing the Giants can do is reduce Donnell’s snaps to just the red-zone, where his height and receiving ability are the most useful. His snaps can be spread between Tye and Adams. Adams was a blocking tight end at South Carolina, and he is a tremendous athlete so perhaps those traits will show up for the Giants. They can also re-sign Johnson after this season. Johnson is athletic, versatile, and a good blocker as well as receiver. The Giants desperately miss his skillset in the H-Back position. They could also look to the draft for a tight end such as Michigan’s Jake Butt, Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech, or Jeremy Sprinkle of Arkansas.
Concern - 1
The only concern for the Giants is getting all of their receivers enough snaps.
It is difficult (if not impossible) to take any of Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, or Sterling Shepard off the field. Dwayne Harris showed the ability to be a reliable option in the slot in Cruz’s absence in 2015, and rookie Rodger Lewis is already pushing for more snaps as well. On the practice squad, Darius Powe looked like another talented rookie who might contribute, and Geremy Davis could find his way back to the 53-man roster as well.
Solution - The Giants might actually need to take a receiver off the field more often, using a two-tight end set (though they could line one of the tight ends up as a “fullback” or “wide receiver” for more variation). But they could also use more 4 receiver sets as well. That would give them a chance to get Harris or Lewis on the field and spread the defense out even more.
Concern - 2
The biggest concern with the defensive line is the number of snaps the starters are playing. They are also failing to regularly convert pressure into sacks, but with Olivier Vernon playing through an injured wrist and Jason Pierre-Paul probably still learning how to play with his injured hand, that could come on its own in the second half of the season.
Solution - The Giants might have found part of the solution when they moved Devon Kennard to defensive end in obvious passing situations against the Los Angeles Rams. Kennard gives them the pure quickness off the snap that JPP and Vernon can’t quite match. They could also use more of a rotation along the defensive line. Jay Bromley hasn’t played poorly when he has been in the game and could take snaps from Johnathan Hankins. Owa Odighizuwa is the Giants’ most athletic defensive end, but still effectively a rookie after missing his true rookie season to a foot injury. He has played very limited snaps thus far, and might find his way on to the field as both a defensive end and a nickel defensive tackle in the second half of the season.
Concern - 4
For the first time in a long time, I’m not overly concerned about the Giants’ linebackers. Jonathan Casillas has been a tremendous surprise at WILL linebacker, and Keenan Robinson has been even better in coverage.
Kelvin Sheppard has been okay coming down in run support, but his coverage in the middle is a liability, and Kennard has been coming off the field often in nickel situations.
Solution - First off, the Giants need to go ahead and make Robinson the starter at middle linebacker. He isn’t as stout of a run defender as Sheppard is, but the defensive line’s ability to win up front makes the lives of the linebackers much easier — all they often need to do is clean up. Second, they need to figure out how to keep Kennard on the field for more snaps. A base linebacking corps of Kennard, Robinson, and Casillas could stay on the field in more situations than with Sheppard. They could also take either Hankins or Damon Harrison off the field on occasion and use a 3-4 front with a nickel corner or Landon Collins playing a psuedo-linebacker role.
None of this is to say that the Giants couldn’t, or shouldn’t, draft a linebacker. A player like Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham or Florida’s Jarrad Davis could take the Giants’ defense to a whole new level. Likewise an EDGE player like Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Qualls or Auburn’s Carl Lawson could give the Giants the situational pass rusher they need.
Concern - 1
As it stands right now, I am not only not concerned about the Giants’ secondary, but excited. The combination of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, and Eli Apple looks like one of the top units in the league, while Landon Collins has become one of the very best strong safeties in the NFL. What gets me really excited is the return of Darian Thompson, who showed impressive chemistry with Collins. That chemistry lets both players play to their strengths and play fast. As well, his ability to understand offensive concepts and communicate the defense helped the Giants call some very ambitious blitzes. And the Giants might have hit pay dirt twice in undrafted free agency with Roger Lewis and Andrew Adams. Adams was thrust into the starting line-up straight from the practice squad when Thompson went down with a foot sprain. And while he had some issues, he played far better than anyone could have hoped.
If there is a concern with the Giants’ secondary, it is the slot corner position. Currently being manned by a platoon of DRC, Leon Hall, and Trevin Wade, the Giants are okay there.
Solution - The best thing for the Giants’ secondary is to get healthy. DRC has been playing through injury and Eli Apple has dealt with hamstring and groin injuries while Darian Thompson is coming back from a foot sprain. If they can all be as close to 100 percent as reasonably expected when the Giants take the field against the Philadelphia Eagles, that is a lot of returning talent. Looking to the future, the Giants could stand to add a slot corner. Perhaps it could be Donte Deayon, the feisty and talented corner from Boise State on the practice squad — assuming he can add the weight he needs to play in the NFL on a regular basis.
From a personnel perspective, there aren’t any glaring concerns for the Giants, at least outside of the tight end position. Most of their concern is on the offensive side of the ball, and that seems to have its roots in scheme and execution rather than talent.
All of that follows with what is plainly visible watching the team on the field. The Giants’ most dangerous opponents this season have been the New York Giants. The offense has stalled drives with frustrating penalties, hung the defense out to dry with mind-numbing turnovers, and given opposing teams new life with mistakes. If the Giants miss the playoffs in 2016, it will be due to carelessness with the football and execution failures — things that have their roots in the team’s preparation during the week.
That shouldn’t be especially surprising, considering that this is Ben McAdoo’s first time being a head coach at any level. There is a learning curve involved, and even Super Bowl winning coaches have started out with losing records when they first got their jobs. Pete Carroll started with two 7-9 records at Seattle and Bill Belichick started 5-11 the year before winning the Superbowl.
The Giants have talent and few major concerns on their roster and have already won games that they probably would have lost the previous three years. They are moving in the right direction, now they just need to consistently play up to their talent level.