The 2018 New York Giants season is playing out a lot like the 2013 season did for the Giants.
Recall that in 2013 the Giants began the season 0-6. They then proceeded to win four straight games, flirt with the periphery of the playoff race, go 7-3 over their final 10 games and finish the year a respectable 7-9.
This season the Giants began the year 1-7. They have now won four of five, averaged 31.4 points per game during that stretch, risen to 5-8 and are flirting with the outskirts of wild-card playoff contention and the possibility of finishing 8-8.
In both the 2013 and 2018 seasons, the turnarounds were helped by playing a string of teams who were not using their starting quarterbacks.
The question right now is what should be made of the Giants’ recent success. Is it a mirage? a stretch built only on the weaknesses of the teams the Giants are playing? Is it serving no purpose other than to hurt the Giants’ 2019 draft position? Or, is it something the Giants can build on? A sign that things are getting better and there are brighter days ahead?
“Years are connected”
That is something coach Pat Shurmur said after Sunday’s lopsided victory over the Washington Redskins, The Giants’ first 40-point outburst since 2015 and biggest margin of victory since 2014.
Can the Giants carry the success they have had over the past five weeks into 2019? Or, does one season have nothing to do with the next?
Former Giants lineman and current SB Nation analyst Geoff Schwartz believes seasons can indeed be connected.
“I agree with him because most of their guys are coming back,” Schwartz said. “It takes 8-10 weeks for a new offense to get rolling and I think we’ve seen that with the Giants.”
Again, a comparison of the 2013 and 2018 Giants is instructive.
The 2014 Giants failed to build on the 2013 team’s end-of-season success. The Giants went 6-10 in 2014, with a mid-season seven-game losing streak nearly costing Tom Coughlin his job.
Why weren’t the 2014 Giants able to pick up where the 2013 Giants left off over their final 10 games?
Probably because of the way the 2013 Giants were built and how they managed to piece together some victories down the stretch of that season.
The 2013 Giants were a house of straw.
The offensive line had one building block — 2013 first-round pick Justin Pugh. If you want to call Will Beatty a building block, fine. That is still only two positions settled, at best.
The tight end was Brandon Myers. He was one-and-done as a Giant.
The receivers were Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, unbeknownst to them both in the final truly productive seasons of their careers.
Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis, both at the ends of their careers, carried much of the running back load.
On defense, the Giants got terrific play from Jon Beason after his midseason acquisition from the Carolina Panthers. Sadly, Beason’s body broke down and he played only eight more games over two seasons.
The other top defenders on that 2013 team were 31-year-old Antrel Rolle and 30-year-old Justin Tuck. Rolle made the Pro Bowl in 2013, but was gone after the 2014 season. Tuck had 11 sacks in 2013, but was allowed to leave in free agency.
What was missing? Aside from Pugh and Jason Pierre-Paul, young, improving players who could be built around.
The conclusion? The 2013 Giants were a house of straw, built without a sustainable foundation.
House of straw or house of bricks?
Which one are the 2018 Giants?
In my view, there is a chance the recent success of the 2018 Giants is sustainable into next season and maybe beyond because this Giants team is much closer to being a house built on a foundation of bricks than the 2013 team ever was.
There aren’t enough bricks yet, especially in my view on defense, but the Pat Shurmur-Dave Gettleman Giants have begun building their foundation with some pretty solid bricks.
Start with running back Saquon Barkley. We can, and probably will, continue to haggle about whether the Giants would have been better served long term to select a quarterback No. 2 overall, but Barkley is special. The offense revolves around him, and his self-less personality is perfect to lead the Giants into the future.
Odell Beckham Jr. is pretty special, too, and Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram are good young players. Corey Coleman also appears to have a future with the Giants.
The offensive line has solid pieces to work with in Nate Solder, Will Hernandez and Jamon Brown (if they can re-sign him). If the Giants are happy with Spencer Pulley/Jon Halapio at center, that leaves them only right tackle to really aggressively try to upgrade this offseason.
The defense has front four building blocks in B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson. Maybe R.J. McIntosh, too. Landon Collins is a building block, if they keep him. Grant Haley looks like a player. They hope supplemental draft pick Sam Beal will prove to be one, too.
Offensively, as the offensive line has played better the Giants have found a way to play that revolves around using Barkley to take pressure off Manning, and allows the veteran quarterback to find opportunities to utilize all of the team’s weapons without the burden of carrying the offense himself. That, with Barkley, Beckham and much of the offensive line coming back in 2019, should be sustainable.
The other thing that should be sustainable is the “play for each other” attitude taking root in the locker room as Shurmur has successfully implanted a healthier attitude in this team.
The biggest long-term question, of course, is quarterback.
The Giants are averaging 31.4 points over five games since the bye. Manning is playing efficiently (career highs in completion percentage at 67.7 and passer rating at 95.8, a career low interception percentage of 1.7), leading to a mounting belief the Giants could go forward with him as their quarterback in 2019.
There was a time this season when I thought it was over for Manning with the Giants. Not now. Why start over with a different veteran when what you are doing is working with the one you already have? Especially if you believe Schwartz that it takes roughly a half-season for a newly-installed offense to hit its stride.
That doesn’t mean Manning is a perfect quarterback or the long-term answer. He is not. Using our ‘Three Little Pigs’ house of straw analogy, Manning is probably a house of sticks right now. He will do, but you know you have to be in the market because he’s not a permanent solution. Manning is, however, playing well enough — and the offense is playing well enough — that should it continue the Giants could justify going forward the way they are.
They could kick the quarterback can down the road a year, when the quarterback class in the draft is supposed to be stronger. Or, they could spend a Day 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft on someone like Daniel Jones of Duke or Trace McSorley of Penn State and allow the youngster a year to learn.
So, about that connection
There is no way to carry momentum from one season to the next. It’s hard enough to carry it from one week to the next.
There is also no way to tell what will happen from one season to the next. Injuries and funny bounces can wreak havoc on the best-laid plans, and the sturdiest foundation.
In my view, though, the Giants have put some bricks in place that just might make what we are seeing now sustainable.
This is not a house of straw.