Is there one single reason things have gone this bad for the New York Giants?
For the past couple of weeks, when exchanging “Five Questions” with writers from the teams the Giants were preparing to play, that question keeps being asked. There is, as anyone paying attention should know, not a single reason. There are many. With many people deserving at least some of the blame and many factors having led the Giants into this 1-8 morass.
Let’s try to examine the mountain of things that have led the Giants to this pitiful place. It’s going to take a while, though I will try to be as concise as possible, so settle in for a painful ride.
Jerry Reese’s offseason
Let’s start with this. The roster the Giants have wasn’t created from scratch this offseason, it is an accumulation of decisions (some good, some bad) made over several years. What I want to do, though, is focus on where the Giants were at the end of last season and what happened during this past offseason.
The Giants’ general manager DID make some good decisions. Evan Engram is a really good player, and whether you wanted an offensive lineman, linebacker or whatever at No. 23 it’s impossible to argue that Engram wasn’t a quality choice. Same with defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in Round 2. His play is justifying his selection. He did add D.J. Fluker, who is helping the offensive line. Also, while the jury is still out, Ereck Flowers is showing signs of justifying the GM’s patience.
I have said many times that you can’t fix all of a team’s problems in one offseason, and that remains true. What the 2017 Giants are paying for, though, is Reese’s refusal to address — or perhaps properly recognize — major flaws from 2016 that still exist.
The offensive line. That, of course, is where it starts. Yes, Flowers has played better and Fluker is helping. Yes, as Reese says, the line is comparable at this point to many in the league. Comparable, though, isn’t good enough when you have an aging quarterback who can’t make plays with his legs.
The Giants, in my view, are one really good offensive lineman away from having a top-tier offensive line. We have talked over and over about Andrew Whitworth. Even if they wanted to leave Flowers at left tackle, what if they had taken the money they paid to Brandon Marshall (two years, $11 million) and Rhett Ellison (a ridiculous four years, $18 million) and put that toward figuring out a way to sign a top-tier offensive lineman, preferably a right tackle. Wouldn’t they be better, especially if they hadn’t had to move Justin Pugh back-and-forth between positions?
At the very least, shouldn’t the Giants have added a veteran swing tackle before the season started? Like, oh, Marshall Newhouse — the one they let get away.
The defense. I was in favor of choosing Jason Pierre-Paul over Johnathan Hankins when it came to free agency. It’s not Reese’s fault that Pierre-Paul hasn’t come close to earning the $40 million guaranteed the Giants gave him. I can’t even fault Reese for trying to bring back as many key players from 2016’s really good defense as he could.
Where Reese’s plan went awry, in my view, is that there weren’t any real pieces added. Especially when it came to pass rush or linebacker.
The Giants “schemed” much of their pressure last season, when they got eight sacks from the secondary. They didn’t rely on the talents of their front four to get to quarterbacks. They really could have benefitted from the addition of a pure pass rusher.
As for linebacker, that’s long been a sore spot. This year, the Giants counted on 2016 fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson at middle linebacker, without a real backup plan, and the remaining group from last year. Sooner or later, someone has to figure out that not having at least one true impact player at linebacker is a problem.
Ben McAdoo’s mistakes
There are many. Again, I will try to be brief.
Reese talked during the bye week about preparation, about buying into the hype, about needing to start from scratch each year and earn victories.
Whether the coach was guilty of buying into the hype or not, in my view he didn’t have the Giants prepared to play when the season opened. Maybe playing three preseason games in 10 days factored in, but I thought McAdoo’s training camp was soft. Too geared toward the science of making sure everybody felt great, not geared toward getting ready to play great football. The Giants simply weren’t competitive Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys and they played a poor game Week 2 at home in a loss to the Detroit Lions.
I have said before that I believe McAdoo’s greatest flaw as a coach is hubris. Dictionary.com defines hubris as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” Why has it, to this point, applied to McAdoo? Let’s look.
- The simplest and most obvious is that it took the coach far too long to make even small changes to his offense. He believed it would work and, despite mounting evidence, refused to make adjustments. I still believe he never would have surrendered play-calling duties without the “urging” of ownership.
- Whether intentional or not, the coach has too often made it seem like whatever had gone wrong was someone else’s fault, not his. It’s no wonder he said the other day on a conference call that “I’m not here to throw anyone under the bus.” Because he knows he has made it sound at times like that is exactly what he has been doing.
- A good leader has to delegate. He has to trust. I’m not sure McAdoo has done a good job of accepting ideas and input from those around him. Remember Reese’s “smarter than everyone in the room” comment? I have never believed that was a complement.
- McAdoo this week held a “brutally honest” meeting with players, but it seems to have taken him too long to realize his team was in crisis. It was in trouble after starting 0-2 and in full-fledged crisis after losing to the Eagles to fall to 0-3.
- Maybe this is unfair, but I wasn’t thrilled by his “I’m built for this” and “it’s probably the greatest opportunity in my life” remarks on Wednesday. That, in my view, is making the story about him. It has to be about the team, about everyone.
McAdoo remains a young NFL coach. He had only two years of coordinating experience. Almost his entire NFL coaching career prior to coming to the Giants was under Mike McCarthy with the Green Bay Packers. I said this week on the “Big Blue Chat” podcast that because of that I didn’t believe McAdoo had “a bag of tricks” to fall back on.
All of those things combined, in my view, helped lead to the discord and disciplinary issues that have plagued the Giants. Can McAdoo learn from those things? Sure, and maybe he already has begun to. But, it could well be too late.
The fact that the Giants are 1-8 is not the fault of Odell Beckham Jr.
It is not Beckham’s fault he got hurt in a preseason game. It is not his fault that the Giants, with three weeks to prepare for a Week 1 game without him, had no workable offensive plan. It is not his fault he was never truly healthy in any of the games he played. It is not his fault that he suffered a season-ending fractured ankle and can’t help this team while riding around on a scooter.
The Giants miss Beckham’s passion, which is something they feed off of. They, of course, miss his immense talent, too.
It isn’t Beckham’s fault that the Giants have, for years now, treated his trangressions differently than those of other players.
That’s a problem, but it’s not one you blame the superstar wide receiver for.
In no way is it fair to equate any of Beckham’s antics with disrespecting a head coach the way Janoris Jenkins has by not showing up, not caring enough to call when that happened and by not giving effort last week against the 49ers.
All I have ever believed is that you can’t make excuses for or refuse to confront one star player when he doesn’t do the right thing, then throw your two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback under the bus and try to discipline other players without causing some hard feelings.
Please, though, do not mistake any of that for me blaming Beckham. I don’t.
This has been the biggest mystery of the 2017 season. How did a defense that was among the best in the NFL last season, finishing second in the league in points allowed, turn into the discombobulated, dysfunctional and in some cases disinterested mess that it has become?
Injuries (Olivier Vernon, B.J. Goodson, Jonathan Casillas among them) are part of it. The disciplinary issues with Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are part of it, with the Giants playing without key players. The regression and questionable attitude of Eli Apple is part of it. The fact that Jason Pierre-Paul hasn’t played up to his $62 million contract is part of it. So is the fact that Landon Collins hasn’t played the way he did a season ago. Collins had an ankle injury earlier in the year and maybe he still isn’t right. That, though, can’t explain his bad pursuit angles and too often being out of position.
All of this falls in the lap of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The disciplinary issues and lack of effort is all coming from players on the defensive side of the ball, a poor reflection on the defensive coordinator. The regression in play is also a reflection on Spagnuolo’s work.
Spagnuolo had a great run as Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. There is, however, a lot of failure on his resume since.
- His 10-38 stint as head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
- Coordinating a historically awful New Orleans Saints’ defense in 2012.
- Being coordinator of a Giants’ defense in 2015 that was the worst in the league.
Now this. The Giants have given up 82 points the past two weeks, and rank 28th in points allowed and 31st in yardage allowed. They can’t cover, don’t stop the run, and give up big plays like they are handing out candy at a parade.
Some, including Collins, have said recently that the Giants’ defense became too complex this season. That the Giants got away from what they did best in 2016.
The old saying is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, Spagnuolo seems to have violated that credo. Remember when Spags said back in the spring that his players were now in “graduate school?” Well, they apparently either weren’t ready for it or didn’t need it. Now, the defense is just a hot mess.
That is on Spagnuolo.
The offense just plain hasn’t been good enough. Yes, the Beckham injury is part of that. It isn’t, however, the whole story.
- The offense still hasn’t put up 30 points in any of the 26 games in which McAdoo has been head coach.
- Remember way back when I said the Giants weren’t ready to play their first two games? They scored a combined 13 points. Beckham was out the first game and limited in the second. Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall all played, yet the Giants looked like they had no Plan B. The offensive line was a mess in those two games.
- In Week 3 against the Eagles, the Giants had the ball for only 22:28. With the ball and just 51 seconds to play in a tie game, the Giants could neither win nor get to overtime. Two penalties on Flowers (a hold and a false start) killed any chance they had. Veteran running back Shane Vereen also inexplicably ran out of bounds with 32 seconds left, saving the Eagles a timeout. They punted, and Jake Elliott happened.
- In Week 5 against the Los Angeles Chargers, a late fumble deep in their own territory by Eli Manning set up LA’s winning score.
- In Week 7, only 7 points, 46 rushing yards and 131 passing yards against the Seattle Seahawks.
- Three turnovers Week 9 against the Rams, and a couple of missed opportunities with wide open receivers who would have scored with better throws.
- Another Manning fumble against the 49ers that cost the Giants a scoring opportunity.
Even with Beckham not there, this offense should be better. There always, however, seems to be something going wrong. Bad offensive line play some weeks, no receivers to throw to other weeks, at times unacceptable play from Manning. There has been progress, just not enough progress to help overcome a defense that isn’t playing up to last season’s standards.
Locker room leadership
There are a lot of good guys in the Giants’ locker room. A lot of guys who lead by example, who do the right things, who are willing to stand up in front of the media and take the heat when things don’t go well. Which, of course, they haven’t at all this season.
What there does not appear to be is a vocal leader. An “alpha” who is willing to be the voice, to be the guy others have to answer to, or who says what others won’t.
At one time, that was Michael Strahan. After Strahan, Justin Tuck didn’t really want that role but he took it. He had the ring and the respect of his teammates, so he carried it. Later, Antrel Rolle became that guy. I wasn’t always sure that Rolle used the platform properly, but you knew who the vocal leader was.
Eli Manning has never been that guy. Justin Pugh has never looked for that role. On defense, Jonathan Casillas is the captain. He’s well spoken, but he’s not a “hold guy’s feet to the fire” type. Jason Pierre-Paul has never wanted that role, and Damon Harrison doesn’t want it, either. Landon Collins could be the guy, but perhaps not yet.
The Giants could use somebody with some fire, someone who would challenge other guys. I’m not sure they have that right now.
Special teams play
The Giants have suffered from special teams breakdowns all season.
- In Week 2 against the Detroit Lions, the Giants gave up an 88-yard put return touchdown. Rookie placekicker Aldrick Rosas also had a kickoff go out of bounds.
- In Weeks 3 and 4, horrible late-game punts by Brad Wing helped set up crucial late-game scoring drives.
- Wing had a punt blocked by the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9.
- Rosas hit another kickoff out of bounds against the San Francisco 49ers.
- Rosas, a rookie, is just 10-of-15 on field goals and has missed a kick in five straight games.
- The Giants are 24th in the league in put return, averaging 6.2 yards, and 17th in kickoff return at 21.4.