I think I can safely engage in a bit of understatement when I say that we don't talk about the New York Giants special teams all that much. Or at least when we do, it's because they aren't performing well or there's been some sort of gaffe. So usually, whenever we're talking about special teams, the Big Blue Villagers are lighting torches and sharpening their pitchforks as they damn Tom Quinn to various levels of hell.
Really though, special teams are generally an afterthought, especially when compared to offense and defense.
But that is doing the special teams a disservice. They genuinely are the third side of the ball, and games can hinge on the "hidden" yardage gained or lost on special teams play. Giants fans well remember the play that likely ended the team's playoff hopes in 2010, but perhaps an even better example were the San Diego Chargers that year.
The 2010 Chargers finished the season with the top offense and defense in the league that year, but arguably the worst special teams in the league. The result? They missed the post season.
The Giants know how much sub-par special teams can hurt the team as a whole, but there was still ridicule when Jerry Reese signed and drafted players with significant special teams upside in the 2015 offseason.
Despite the criticism lobbed at the team for investing in players who were "just" special teamers, it paid off handsomely.
Inside The Pylon did an exhaustive look at the NFL special teams play and teams' investments. Generally, the better a team's special teams performed, the greater the investment they made.
Except for the Giants.
Of particular note are the New York Giants, who finished second in special teams DVOA despite spending the least. That was largely keyed by a terrific season from kicker Josh Brown, who finished 30-of-32 in field goals. Chuck Zodda's favorite punter Brad Wing and kick returner Dwayne Harris also had terrific seasons. New York's season appears a bit fluky - Brown had his best season at the age of 36, and the Giants had not finished in the top 10 in special teams DVOA since 2012.
"DVOA" is a metric created by Football Outsiders. It is a measure for a team's efficiency, and when it comes to special teams, Football Outsiders takes field goals and extra points, net punting, punt returns, net kickoffs, and kickoff returns into consideration.
After years of hoping for mediocrity, the Giants fielded a special teams with the second highest DVOA in the NFL. But what makes the Giants special teams so interesting was that while the Ravens and Patriots were spending $10 million and $12 million to get good special teams play, the Giants were spending less than anyone in the league.
Josh Brown certainly had a fantastic season and was one of the most reliably accurate kickers in the league. As well, cutting fan favorite Steve Weatherford and trading a seventh-round draft pick for Brad Wing turned out to be a coup by Jerry Reese. Despite only being a second year player, Wing played excellently for the Giants, and producing at nearly franchise record levels.
But the biggest move had to be signing Dwayne Harris away from the Dallas Cowboys. Harris was a special teams ace for the Cowboys, but he left for New York on the promise of the opportunity to contribute as a wide receiver -- and a nice contract as well. And contribute he did, turning in a career best year as a slot receiver. Harris has quickly become one of the Giants' most useful and versatile players.
"Dwayne Harris is a featured special teams player for us." McAdoo said, "He's someone who showed that he can play wide receiver, and a large number of snaps if you need him to be, and be successful doing it. He improved at the position last year."
"We're going to use him any way we can use him." He added, "It just depends on what the number look like. It's way too early for that."
The Giants were a very flawed team in 2015. They lacked talent on defense, they were ravaged by injuries, and there were mistakes made at all levels. Oddly enough, apart from Eli to Odell, the team's bright spot was its special teams. It hasn't happened since David Wilson was the most electrifying -- or frightening, depending on which side of the ball you were -- return man in the NFL.
Hopefully as the 90-man roster is pared down to the final 53, they will work to keep their special teams dominance.