A year ago today, in the midst of one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history, cataclysmic change came to the New York Giants. Coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired.
That marked the first time the conservative Giants organization had fired a coach in season since Bill Arnsparger was replaced by John McVay with the Giants at 0-7. It marked the first time the Giants had ever fired a general manager.
The Giants were 2-10 at the time and finished that wretched season 3-13.
Are they in a better place 365 days later?
Before you ready my thoughts on that question, vote in the poll and let us know what you think.
Exactly one year after firing coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese are the Giants better off?
This poll is closed
Not sure yet
My answer? Of course they are. And, to be honest, it’s not close.
The record isn’t that much better. This version of the Giants is 4-8, two wins ahead of last season’s pace. On its face, not much of an improvement.
The difference? How this team got there, and where it feels like the 2018 version of the Giants could be going.
The 2017 Giants were a discombobulated, dissension-ridden mess. There were three player suspensions during the season. There was McAdoo throwing his quarterback under the bus and then botching his eventual benching, the move that was the final straw that pushed the Giants to reverse course and let him go after announcing he would finish the season.
The Giants were pretty much just playing out the string, and looking and acting like they were playing out the string, pretty much the entire second half of the 2017 season.
This team? Far different.
This team started 1-7. It suffered the indignity of losing a game on a 63-yard field goal, much like last year’s team lost on a game-ending 61-yard field goal. It suffered through some controversy with the Odell Beckham Jr. ESPN interview.
Yet, this team has not fallen apart or packed it in. This team has won three of four games, albeit with the victories coming against two poor teams and a good one without its starting quarterback.
This team is still together, and still playing hard. Those are important factors as the Giants, in Shurmur’s words, are trying to “flip culture.”
Saquon Barkley’s conversation with the media on Monday was a bit of a peek into why this Giants team is in a better place.
“This is my first year being in the NFL, but I have heard on other teams just players that have been on other teams around the league that when the season’s not going your way, a lot of people call it quits and you don’t get that vibe when you come in this building, when you play in a game,” Barkley said. “We’re real competitors and we love going out there competing for each other every single day and we do that no matter what, win, lose or draw.”
Shurmur isn’t a perfect head coach. His in-game management sometimes leaves you scratching your head. He does not, however, throw his players under the bus. It’s a small thing, but he popped into the locker room Sunday night — interrupting reporters including yours truly who were talking to Beckham and Russell Shepard — to congratulate them on their touchdown play.
They appreciated it. Small thing, but it’s part of relationship-building and part of why Shurmur’s message resonates with players.
“He (Shurmur) says play for each other together as a team and that’s going to get the job done,” Barkley said. “That’s kind what kind of has just been our motto and our mindset. Come out every single game, work your butt off, and play for each other.”
The Giants are still playing hard. They are playing for each other, and for their head coach. They are getting better. All of those things mean that no matter what happens over the final quarter of the season, yes, the Giants are in a better place.
What others think
I asked a smattering of NFL analysts for their opinions on whether the Giants were in a better place. Here is what they said:
Dan Hatman, The Scouting Academy:
“Yes. The Flowers/Apple/Jenkins situations were tough on everyone. Didn’t seem like there was locker room buy-in, the production really wasn’t there. This year, they seem to be fighting for each other, staying competitive with the draft class looking like an impactful one.”
Matt Williamson, former NFL scout and current host of the Locked on NFL podcast:
“I certainly understand the argument against drafting running backs very early in the draft and certainly having a foundational young quarterback in place would be fantastic for the Giants. But I also believe that Saquon Barkley is a special and transcendent player that will make the job of New York’s next quarterback much easier and his transition much smoother. This roster is far from perfect, but the team is starting to play better of late and overall, the Giants are in a better place right now than they were one year ago to the day.”
“Kudos” to Sterling Shepard
When I put together “Kudos & Wet Willies” I missed one. When you are in the press box and don’t see each television close-up or replay you can miss some small things. I missed how much pain wide receiver Sterling Shepard played through after injuring his ribs in the second quarter Sunday vs. the Bears.
Shepard talked his way back into the game when the training staff wanted him to sit, and had four receptions in the second half. It would have been really nice had he hung on to what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime, but Shepard deserves a “kudos” for playing through pain and being productive while doing it.
Eli looks like he’s having fun
I don’t know how much longer Eli Manning will be the Giants’ quarterback. Maybe these last four games is the final stretch of his career. Maybe it isn’t. What I do know is that the often stoic Manning appears to be having fun down the stretch as the Giants win some games and the offense performs better than it has in quite some time.
There was Manning’s leaping touchdown celebration after Beckham’s pass to Shepard. There was some emotion from Manning after his fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Beckham. There have been some sideline smiles.
Here is what Manning told Mike Francesa of WFAN on Monday:
“There’s a lot of fight in this team. You got a lot of young guys. They’re learning what it’s like to play in the NFL. They want to prove they’re worthy. I enjoy this team.”
Will we see Kyle Lauletta play?
Lauletta found out Sunday morning that he would be active against the Bears for the first time in his NFL career. He said the Giants “haven’t talked about it much” when it comes to whether he will get on the field at some point the rest of the way.
The next step would, of course, be to see Lauletta play in a game. Shurmur made no promises on Monday that Lauletta would see any action over the remaining four games.
“We’re trying to win every game we play,” Shurmur said. “You can look at this a lot of different ways, there’s a lot of models to developing a quarterback. A year ago in Kansas City, the only game (Patrick) Mahomes played was the last game of the year that had nothing to do with their playoff status. But they had seen enough to say we’re going to do this with this quarterback, and do this with this quarterback.
“The models are all different when you develop quarterbacks. We have a starting quarterback that we believe in. We put him out there because we believe he’s going to lead us to victories, and then behind the scenes, much like every other position, we’re developing those players. It’s just like you guys are experts at your job, deciding what the story line is, writing a story and doing your thing – this is our job, this is our profession, this is what we do, we try to develop young men. We do it behind the scenes.”
For now, take it as a positive step that the Giants have seen enough from Lauletta that they have him active on game days. It means they feel confident enough to put him in a game if they need to.
Let’s feel good that the Giants, averaging 29.25 points per game over their last four games, are playing better on offense. That pace would put them fourth in the league in points per game over the full season.
The Giants have told us they see enough in Lauletta to be willing to use him if they need to. As for his place in the quarterback picture long term?
“That’s a decision for down the road,” Shurmur said. “We’re determining what they can do all the time.”
Point is, I just don’t think we should be obsessing over whether Lauletta plays or not. Though I know many will continue to do just that.
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