Before the New York Giants face the Chicago Bears on Sunday, here are some things I think as the season enters its final six weeks.
Can Pat Shurmur make a strong closing argument?
Pat Shurmur sounded a lot like a coach campaigning to keep his job when he spoke with media on Thursday.
“This can be a little bit of an endurance test sometimes as you try to build a winner,” Shurmur said. “I think the important thing is to just keep coaching and just keep doing all the things you think are necessary.
“At the end of the day we all realize as coaches that you need to go win football games.”
Shurmur hasn’t won nearly enough games with the Giants, going 7-19 in his 16-game tenure.
I keep saying this, but the Giants shouldn’t be 2-8. They should be two or three games better than that. Question is, how much of this season’s disappointment will the organization lay at Shurmur’s feet, and do they believe he is the right guy to lead this young, developing team back to prominence.
Here’s more case-building from Shurmur. Notice how he takes a question about managing expectations with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and applies it to his entire roster.
“When you’re developing a young quarterback, yeah, there are bumps in the road. There are mistakes that happen that you’ve gotta get cleaned up. Each guy is different. Obviously you’d like to put a guy in, you’d like to have him help you win games and move forward and get better and not make any mistakes,” Shurmur said.
“That’s the ideal world, but we know as we’re working with young players, this is a young crowd. We’ve had 25, bordering on 25 first- and second-year players that have either started or contributed significantly this year.”
Bottom line is that you have to show progress. Can we argue that the Giants, who have lost two home games (Cardinals, Jets) in which they were favored and have a number of young players who don’t appear to be improving appreciably, are progressing?
Not right now you can’t.
Will that change over the final six games? We’ll see.
Here is something else the Giants need to consider.
There is widespread agreement that if Shurmur stays on for a third season, the Giants must at least shake up the coaching staff underneath him. There are some who aren’t sure about the quality of Shurmur’s current assistants, but it’s not going to be easy to find proven, top-shelf assistants to work for Shurmur in 2020.
If Shurmur returns, he will be looked at as a coach on the hot seat. A guy who has to win to keep his job, and that will almost certainly be true. How many top-tier assistants, the sought after guys with choices, are going to want to put themselves in situations where the coach could be one-and-done, meaning they would be looking for work and moving their families again in a year?
That fact will inevitably shrink the candidate pool, and it needs to be a consideration.
Let’s all worry for Sterling Shepard
The doctors have cleared Shepard to play. He is a football player, and he wants to do that. It’s ultimately his life, his career, his decision. Still, I agree with what Lawrence Tynes said to me during a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast:
“Part of the equation is 2-8, right? For me as an organization I would sit him. I would do what’s best for him. I just don’t want him going out there playing with any kind of fear which is probably natural after having a couple this year. Then the recurrence two or three weeks after is probably scary.”
I really wish the Giants and Shepard would have just agreed to shut it down for the season. The Giants did that a couple of years ago with Weston Richburg.
If something happens to Shepard the rest of the way I won’t blame Shurmur. He’s coaching for his job, and he’s going to use the best players the medical staff makes available to him to try and win a couple of games and save that job.
Shurmur said you “just roll with it” when the doctors tell you a guy can play.
“When you’re on the field playing, all of the players are at risk for injury. That’s just the reality of this sport. It’s a physical sport,” Shurmur said. “The reason we all played it and do play it and coach it is we like the physical nature of it. Unfortunately, sometimes injuries are part of it. If he’s up and going, he’s going to go.”
Just cross your fingers and hope this doesn’t backfire on Shepard. Being there, as a whole person, for his young family is more important than any football game ever will be.
Russell Shepard still pushing
I was at the Giants’ practice facility on Thursday, and saw the first few minutes of practice — the only portion media is allowed to see.
There is no music these days. The only voice that really rang out during the warm-up and stretching part of practice was that of veteran wide receiver Russell Shepard, who was off to the side but loudly trying to pump up his teammates.
The scene gave me an appreciation for what Shepard brings to the table, and made me wonder if coaching is in his future. It probably should be.
A wide receiver first?
It wouldn’t be my first choice, but is it really crazy to think the Giants might use their first pick in the draft on a wide receiver? That was one of many topics Chris Pflum and Joe DeLeone recently discussed with Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan.
Yes, my preference is always to build from inside to outside. Yes, I believe a dominant pass rusher and a young tackle are high priorities. What if neither of the top players at those positions — defensive end Chase Young or offensive tackle Andrew Thomas — are available to the Giants? Or, what if someone like Jerry Jeudy of Alabama is on the board and the Giants have him rated more highly than Thomas?
It is pretty apparent watching the Giants play that they could use another big-time receiver on the outside. Darius Slayton might become their No. 1, but they still need more. He is playing Sunday, but there have to be questions about the future of Sterling Shepard. Golden Tate is a good player, but you wonder if the Giants might dangle him to try and acquire draft capital. Evan Engram? As much as you love the talent, he has missed roughly 20 percent of the games he has been eligible for. That makes him tough to count on or plan around.
Taking a wide receiver with what will likely be a top 5 pick isn’t my favorite scenario. I can’t, however, call it nuts and just dismiss the idea.
Thoughts on DeAndre Baker
I am troubled but not incredibly surprised by the report from Jordan Ranaan of ESPN that rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker has been a “handful” this season.
Baker was an incredibly successful collegiate cornerback at Georgia. He wouldn’t be the first guy to come into the NFL thinking that he had this figured out and that his collegiate success was automatically going to carry over if he just showed up and did what he had always done. I will never forget a former Giant draft pick who never met expectations telling me once that he thought he was simply going to walk in the door, be handed a starting job and go from there.
Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. Everyone in the league is incredibly talented in one way or another. Sometimes, players with less talent end up having better careers than players with more talent. That’s because the NFL is all about preparation. It’s a job. It’s about how well you study. How seriously you take meetings. How invested you are in learning the playbook. How diligently you practice. The talent differences are so slight that it’s often the guys who work the hardest Monday thru Saturday who have success.
It’s pretty apparent that Baker really didn’t come to the Giants with those really solid preparation habits. The question is whether or not he can develop them.
Tynes told me the other day that players in the locker room will cut a teammate before the coaching staff or organization does. It makes me worry about Baker. He’s an introverted guy. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. In the times I have been in the locker room throughout the season I’m used to seeing him alone at his locker or on a couch. I don’t really recall seeing him involved in much banter with his teammates.
It just make me wonder if he’s a little isolated. If he is, and I’m not by any means in the room often enough to know that is the case, it’s problematic.