It’s the midpoint of the 2019 season, the New York Giants have lost four straight and they made a hotly-debated trade this week. So, nobody should have any questions about what’s going on. Right? Well, this week’s Big Blue View inbox says otherwise. So, let’s open up the mail and see what we can help with.
Joshua Berman asks: Who has contributed more value: OBJ for the Browns, or Big Dex, Peppers and X-man for the Giants?
Ed says: Oh, this is a loaded question just begging for me to shred Odell Beckham Jr. and the Cleveland Browns. Listen, the Giants are 2-6. The Browns are 2-5. Neither team can be thrilled at the moment, and I’m going to try not to throw stones.
What I will say is you could have predicted from miles away (like the distance from East Rutherford to Cleveland) how things would go for the Browns if they struggled.
They are rife with distractions, including Beckham recently expressing dissatisfaction with how often the ball is coming his way. Rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is showing signs of frustration with Beckham, and might be over his head with all the egos on that team. Beckham is averaging a career-low 4.9 catches per game, 1.7 receptions below what he averaged with the Giants, and catching a career-low 55.7 percent of the passes thrown his way. The only “shot” I will take here is to say that, just maybe, Eli Manning wasn’t the issue. Beckham’s production since his fabulous 2014 rookie season has pretty much been in a steady decline. We’ll see if he turns that around.
As for the Giants, I can guarantee they are happy with the decision to move on and eliminate the distractions. I think they are also happy with Dexter Lawrence, Jabrill Peppers and Oshane Ximines, and think all three can be part of the solution for their struggling defense.
Marcus Mewborn asks: Pat Shurmur has been catching some flak for his play call and game management. Do you believe that at some point he has to think about giving up play calling duties and focus on managing the game more? Was this an issue with his time with the Browns as well?
Ed says: Marcus, this is something Patricia Traina and I talk about all the time. I know Pat is big on the idea that Shurmur needs to give up the play-calling and focus on managing the game, an area where we know he has left himself open to criticism this season. I’m not so sure.
Truth be told, I have always preferred the Tom Coughlin CEO type head coach to the new-fangled Kliff Kingsbury/Doug Pederson/Sean McVay types who are offensive coordinators with a head coaching title and have little to nothing to do with the defense. That’s part of why Ben McAdoo failed with the Giants. He never had a relationship with the defensive players, and that’s part of why he lost the locker room.
I want a head coach who coaches the whole team.
Shurmur calls the plays on offense, but I do think he tries not to tunnel in and just be an offensive guy. I think that is Shurmur had been able to bring Kevin Stefanski, now offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, with him or convince Brad Childress to come with him he might not have taken on the play calling.
Shurmur had no previous relationship with Mike Shula — GM Dave Gettleman did. Besides, questionable play-calling is one of the reasons Shula got let go by the Carolina Panthers.
I think Shurmur might do that eventually — or even be forced to do it by Gettleman and ownership — but if that’s going to work he might need a different offensive coordinator.
When it comes to the in-game decisions, I’m just not a fan of letting the analytics you study during the week make the decisions for you. Use your common sense and 30-40 years of football experience to tell you what the right thing to do is.
As for his time with the Browns, I’m not sure about his in-game management while in Cleveland.
Bryan Camacho asks: I don’t understand why the team either doesn’t think about or refuses to use Elijhaa Penny as a lead blocker, specifically in the running game? He gets more special teams snaps than offensive ones. The Giants seem to always have a fullback on their roster, but the last time they properly utilized one was Henry Hynoski. I don’t expect him on the field for every snap, but you would think it would be more than 20 percent offense. If it doesn’t fit Shurmur’s scheme, then why is he on the roster?
Ed says: Bryan, the reality is that the NFL as a whole and not just the Giants is moving farther and farther away from a fullback being a really significant offensive piece. There are teams that don’t even carry one.
Penny has played 90 offensive snaps this season, or 17 percent of the plays. That’s actually an increase from the 12 percent he played a season ago. Some of that, we know, came while he was filling in for Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman at running back.
Having a fullback gives you an option. Teams like to spread the field and create matchup issues, though. Can you really do that with a fullback on the field rather than an extra wide receiver?
I’m old school and I like having a fullback on the field, too. There are teams like the Ravens, Vikings and Saints using one a fairly significant amount of the time. I don’t know the answer to this, but I wonder how much is actually related to the Giants giving Barkley his preferred alignment. I don’t believe he ran behind a fullback at Penn State.
Matthew Santos asks: The one question I have is why don’t the Giants get a safety or someone to help with the dangerous wide receivers.
Ed says: Matthew, thanks for the question. It’s obvious when you watch the Giants that their secondary hasn’t been good enough. Let’s not, though, say they have not spent significant capital trying to fix it.
The Giants drafted three defensive backs among their 10 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, including trading up from the second round to the first to get DeAndre Baker because they thought he was the best cornerback in the draft.
They let Landon Collins go and brought in Jabrill Peppers in the Beckham trade, believing Peppers could become a better coverage player than Collins was. So far, that’s probably been a wash but Peppers is still two years younger than Collins.
The Giants replaced Curtis Riley at free safety with Antoine Bethea. That’s a position that still needs to be upgraded long-term, and we’re all waiting for rookie Julian Love to get an opportunity there.
I guess the answer is that the Giants are trying, but shut down corners and All-Pro free safeties don’t grow on trees.
Demetri asks: Does Gettleman pay too much (Williams, Solder, Stewart, etc), and get too little (Harrison, Apple, Beckham, etc)?
Ed says: Generally, I believe the answer to that is no. I think it comes down to really understanding how free agency and trades usually work in the NFL. In free agency, you almost always have to overpay if you are chasing players at the top of the market. In trades, you almost never get in return what a fan might consider equal value for a player.
Yes, the Giants overpaid Nate Solder. No doubt. He was, though, the best offensive tackle on the free agent market and the Giants had to have one. They had no choice. They had to pay what it took to get him.
The Jonathan Stewart signing was a bad one. I think everybody, Gettleman included, knows that.
The returns for Damon Harrison and Eli Apple come down to this — something is better than nothing.
My personal view is that the Giants did quite well in the returns for Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon.
The Leonard Williams question
I received the “why did the Giants trade for Leonard Williams?” question in about a half-dozen different forms, some with a whole lot more vitriol than others. I offered some thoughts on Williams here, and also in a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast.
Let’s go through it again, and perhaps expand on some of my thoughts here.
First, yes, I expected the Giants to be sellers at the trade deadline. I figured they would add draft capital by moving cornerback Janoris Jenkins or linebacker Alec Ogletree if they could find takers. I never really thought Nate Solder, Golden Tate or Evan Engram were going anywhere.
So, sure, giving a third-round pick in 2020 and fifth-round pick in 2021 that can become a fourth-rounder if Williams signs long-term with the Giants was a bit of a surprise to me.
Still, Gettleman is nearly two full years into his tenure as general manager. At some point don’t you have to actually start building instead of just constantly tearing down. I took this move as the Giants taking a chance on a still-young-enough player who has under-achieved the past couple of seasons but still has skills and versatility the Giants could benefit from. Gettleman probably also understands that the best version of Williams is likely to be far better than anything he could draft with either of the two picks he surrendered.
Let’s acknowledge that there are curious things about the move.
First, there is no guarantee Williams will be a Giant beyond the end of this season. I have said before that the Giants certainly don’t see Williams as a rental. You don’t give up two draft picks for a rental when you are a 2-6 team not going to the playoffs. There is, though, the possibility that Williams will walk away from the Giants at season’s end. I don’t believe that will happen, but if it does Gettleman obviously ends up with egg on his face.
Second, you wonder what this says about the long-term futures of Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill. It wouldn’t shock me if the Giants looked to move Tomlinson, a Reese era draft pick who is a run defender with limited to no pass rush value, during the offseason.
In the end, I think this was Gettleman rolling the dice on a player he thinks can make the Giants’ defense better beyond 2019. We’ll see if it pays off.