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Pat Shurmur’s seat shouldn’t be hot, but questioning how far he can take the Giants is fair

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Coach has drawn fire after Sunday’s awful loss

Buffalo Bills v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

“Watching some of the decision-making last night, knowing that’s not the first time we’ve kind of scratched our heads at what Pat was thinking I wake up today thinking really for the first time wondering if the Giants have the right coach for the long term.”

This is something I said Monday while chatting with Patricia Traina on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast.

So, let’s talk about Shurmur, the job he’s doing as head coach of the New York Giants, and whether or not his seat on the Giants’ coaching throne is — or should be — warming up.

Let’s start here.

Shurmur is 7-16 during his tenure as head coach of the Giants. There have been plenty of low points, especially during last season’s 1-7 start. In my view, though, Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals was the low point of the Shurmur era with the Giants.

Why?

Developing team or not, this was a game that had to be won by the New York Giants.

The Giants had every advantage. The Cardinals were not a more talented team. The Giants were at home. The Cardinals had to fly across the country for a 1 p.m. ET game, historically a problem for West Coast teams. Arizona has a rookie quarterback and a first-year NFL head coach. The Giants had 10 days to rest, study and prepare for Arizona. The Giants had their most complete offensive group in several weeks on the field with Golden Tate, Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram in the lineup.

Yet, they looked unprepared and unsure on defense, and pretty much incapable of executing anything that resembled quality on offense.

If you’re inclined to make the case that Shurmur, now 17-39 as an NFL head coach, is in over his head in that capacity you could, should and probably would use Sunday’s miserable effort as Exhibit A.

Is that, however, fair?

It’s easy, and natural, to react — to overreact — to the last thing we saw. Fans obviously do that. Media members do it, too, to be honest. The job is to be as fair and objective, as analytical, or as “big picture,” as you can be. Still, the last thing you saw is going to be the first thing on your mind and the most influential.

So, a few days removed from the debacle of a loss that reflected more poorly on Shurmur and his coaching staff than probably any of the other 15 losses over the past season and a half let’s try to assess what we have learned and speculate on the path forward.

I have always answered the inevitable “hot seat” questions about Shurmur by saying, no, I do not believe he is on any sort of hot seat. Nor do I think right now that he should be. I still believe Shurmur will be the Giants’ coach the remainder of this season, and unless something changes dramatically, next season as well.

Shurmur has done some good things with the Giants. He helped restore a sense of professionalism to an organization that was in disarray when he arrived. He has overseen a total re-construction of the roster that, despite the 2-5 record, does seem to have left the Giants with a talented young core they can build with. He held the Giants together despite last season’s rocky 1-7 start.

Shurmur has a well-deserved reputation for having gotten the best out of a wide variety of quarterbacks from first-round picks to undrafted free agents. He has been a vocal supporter of Daniel Jones since the day the Giants drafted him, and that quarterback background would seem to make him a good choice to oversee the development of the franchise’s most important player.

Still, you have to win some games. Especially ones like last Sunday that you absolutely should win. Shurmur knows it.

“We live in the real world. The real world is you need to win football games, and I understand that. I’m well aware of that,” Shurmur said on Monday.

So, why hasn’t Shurmur won more?

To be brutally honest, the answer before Sunday was generally that the team he has been coaching has not been good enough. The game against Arizona was the first time in his tenure I looked at a game and thought a loss was directly on Shurmur and his coaching staff.

We’ve been over the way Shurmur botched the last 4:29. It’s not the first time Shurmur’s decisions in what you might call “close and late” situations have been highly questionable. Two weeks ago against the New England Patriots, he punted down two touchdowns with seven minutes to go. Against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, he failed to involve Saquon Barkley in critical back-to-back third-and-2 and fourth-and-1 plays with the Giants turning the ball over.

I’m not doing an exhaustive study or recap of every “close and late” decision by Shurmur, but it’s an area where he needs to be better. Whether he can or not is a good question. He’s been in coaching for 30 years now, so it’s not like he hasn’t seen pretty much every scenario and been involved in these decisions before.

“I think you keep it all into consideration from analytics, to feel, to the players,” Shurmur said when asked about analytics and decision-making. “Handing Saquon the ball can be a really good thing. We had executed some long third downs, we executed a fourth down in the game. I think you just trust the players all the way through it. You try to make decisions that are best, and I think we all as coaches understand when things don’t work out, you are open to criticism. When you don’t win games, you’re open to criticism. We get that. The only thing you can do is get back to work and try to win the next one. I think that’s the real deal.”

The Giants’ offense is also perplexing. Twenty-three games into his tenure I’m not sure we know exactly what Shurmur’s offensive philosophy is. What does he want to hang his hat on? The use, and occasional misuse, of Saquon Barkley is often frustrating. Rather than finding better ways to use Barkley’s tremendous receiving skills, he is averaging two fewer catches and two fewer yards per catch this season than last.

As I’ve said many times, the success or failure of Shurmur’s tenure is ultimately going to come down to his ability to develop Jones. It’s not fair to draw a conclusion about that after five games, just like it’s not fair to conclude that the coach has to go because of a poor performance last Sunday. We’ve all had bad days at the office.

Off what we have seen in 23 games, though, it is fair to wonder if — ultimately — Shurmur will prove capable of taking the Giants back to the top and making the critical decisions that can determine winning or losing the biggest of games.