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Giants-Jets first look: With questions rising about him, Pat Shurmur really needs a victory

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Losing to the 1-7 Jets would open the door to an avalanche of criticism

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants vs. New York Jets in 2019 was always going to be a big deal.

MetLife Stadium, New York City and New Jersey bragging rights for players. Young quarterbacks in Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold each franchise hopes will be their guy for the next decade meeting for the first time. Saquon Barkley vs. Le’Veon Bell. Giants and Jets fans, who share subways, trains, cabs, buses, offices, coffee shops, etc., sharing a stadium and screaming at each other for four hours.

Two franchises in similar places, the Big Brother Giants and Little Brother Jets, trying to fight their way out of seasons-long periods of presenting their respective fan bases with bad products.

As we head into Sunday’s matchup, it still means all those things. The outcome, though, might mean a whole lot more. Both head coaches are under fire from increasingly hostile media and fan bases, and for Sunday’s loser things are only going to get hotter.

The Giants have a five-game losing streak, reeling at 2-7 through nine games for the second straight season. The Jets are 1-7, just lost a game to the previously winless and trying to lose Miami Dolphins, and every week seems to bring some new and bigger embarrassment to the Jets.

It might take a miracle for the Adam Gase era to last into a second season with the Jets. He probably never should have been hired in the first place, and he’s making a mess of things.

You’re not reading this because you’re concerned about the state of the Jets, though.

You’re reading this because you are concerned about the Giants, and in the context of where we’re headed here whether or not Pat Shurmur is the right head coach to develop this young team and lead the Giants back to prominence.

The fire around Shurmur doesn’t appear to be nearly as hot as the one around Gase. Nor should it be. The Giants are losing, but they don’t feel like a team or an organization that is anywhere near the mess that the Jets are.

Still, considering the current state of the Jets a loss on Sunday would be rock bottom for the Giants during Shurmur’s tenure.

In the wake of Monday’s loss to Dallas, when the Giants turned a 1-point deficit entering the fourth quarter into a 19-point defeat, players were asked for the first time I can recall whether or not they still had faith in Shurmur.

The question was always answered in the affirmative, as you would expect. What the players said, though, really doesn’t matter.

The Giants need a victory. If for nothing else, to give everyone a chance to breathe.

“For everyone… For everyone in this organization at the facility, the players, coaches, front office, everybody… We need it, and we’re going to find a way to get it,” said defensive back Michael Thomas.

“Winning effort” but “losing execution”

In reviewing the loss to Dallas, this is something radio analyst and former Giants linebacker Carl Banks offered during a podcast via the team’s official website. He said the Giants are playing with “winning effort” but also with “losing execution.”

I find that to be a perfect description for the current state of the Giants.

For the second straight year, the Giants are 2-7 after nine games. They care deeply and they play hard, aside from the occasional Janoris Jenkins ‘business decision.’

Yet, they do too many things to themselves that cause losses. Golden Tate called them “knuckleheaded things” and said the Giants were “undisciplined.” Evan Engram said they were “small things.” Michael Thomas referred to “young mistakes.” Jabrill Peppers called them “mental mistakes.”

The Giants lead the league by miles in snaps played by rookies, so there are going to be some mistakes.

They lead the league in giveaways, once again by a lot, with 22. Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has been responsible for 16 of those.

They are tied for league-worst in 40+ yard passing plays allowed with 11, and third overall with 38 passing plays of 20+ yards allowed.

Blown coverages, penalties at inopportune times, turnovers that take points off the board and give points to opponents, questionable in-game decisions, strategy and personnel usage have continued to plague the Giants.

The beginning of the Daniel Jones era injected life into the franchise and brought two victories. Five straight losses, three in games that were winnable (Arizona, Detroit and Dallas) have sucked the air out of the balloon. Especially since some combination of the same mistakes keep happening week after week. The Giants are too often beating themselves.

The Giants are not coming apart from the inside like they did under Ben McAdoo. They haven’t quit playing for Shurmur. They just aren’t playing well for him. You can tell that waiting for the young players to figure it out is wearing on the veteran players.

“It doesn’t matter about the age, we have a job to do and we have to do that job to the highest level, to your best ability. Like I said, we are professionals, there’s no NFL in Europe, there’s no other league like the NFL, you have to be the best,” Jabrill Peppers said Monday night. “I always like to say a surgeon can’t come back to a family and say my bad. I know it’s not life and death like that, but that’s how you have to hold yourself and your level of work. We have just have to cut back on the mental mistakes and play complementary football.”

“Right now, young team, but there are no excuses. Young team, guys making mistakes, some big plays toward the end. Have to find a way to finish and not make those same mistakes. It’s growing pains, but we’re going to get it,” defensive back Michael Thomas said. “Just have some young mistakes right now. We have to learn. Once we, as a team, get rid of those young mistakes that are happening, the growing pains, we’ll be fine. We’ll be playing winning football. That’s it.”

Is Shurmur the right coach?

The Giants organization desperately wants him to be. It is a conservative organization that values stability. It’s right, overall, to do so. Teams that change head coaches every couple of years are generally teams that stay in long-term losing cycles. The Giants don’t want to become one of those ever-changing teams.

It’s fair at this point, though, to seriously begin to examine the question of whether or not the Giants have the right guy. When Shurmur made the switch to Jones, which I have clearly said was the right move to make, I also said it was fair to start the clock on Shurmur’s tenure as Giants coach. Largely, Shurmur is going to be judged by whether or not he successfully turns Jones, and by extension the Giants’ young roster, into a winner.

There are troubling signs.

We keep talking about whether or not the Giants are making progress. Co-owner John Mara and GM Dave Gettleman have framed the 2019 season around that idea. In one respect, I believe progress has been made. The roster Shurmur is working with still has too many holes, and the Giants have had some key injuries, but I believe this is a deeper roster than the Giants were working with a year ago.

Yet, it’s difficult if not impossible right now to build an argument that the Giants are getting better on the field.

We have talked about the turnovers. The defensive mistakes. They keep happening. We still don’t have a clear idea what the Giants want to be on offense, and they still don’t seem to have a clear idea of the best ways to maximize the efficiency of their best player, Saquon Barkley.

When Shurmur was hired he talked about having learned from his previous stint as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

“I wish I knew then what I know now. I think when you’re doing anything for the first time, there’s things that happen that you adjust to that if you’ve done them before, and I’m being a little bit vague here. Some of it’s really not specific. But obviously once you’ve done it before, you have the resources, and you’ve made those decisions. You’ve made those calls. You’ve done the things that you say if I do that again, I’ll never do that again. And I think I learned that.”

Part of that was, I think, learning to delegate more responsibility. Maybe he is better there.

Go back and look at his two seasons in Cleveland, though, and they are rife with complaints about game management, play-calling and personnel usage. The same issues we are seeing this season.

I don’t think there has been a single decision made by Shurmur this season that you can say directly cost the Giants a game. There have, though, been a plethora of questionable ones that have made things more difficult on his players and contributed to losses.

Those things make you wonder if Shurmur, now 17-41 as a head coach, is growing and developing as a coach the way his young players need to grow and develop. Or, if he will prove to be the right leader to grow and develop them.

The more I think about it, the more appalled I am about the way the Giants handled the end of the first half Monday night. Also by Shurmur’s explanation.

To review, the Giants led 12-10 when they got the ball at their own 26-yard line. They had missed opportunities for points and Dallas had just scored a touchdown, but the Giants had a lead for the first time in five weeks. And they were about to take that lead to the half in a game no one had given them a chance to win.

The bare minimum responsibility for the head coach right there is to make sure your young team, which would be getting the ball to start the second half, got the confidence boost of taking that lead into halftime.

So, run the football. Force the Cowboys to burn their timeouts. If you have to kick the ball back to them, make sure that happens without time for them to do anything constructive.

Instead, the Giants got aggressive. Predictably, with an inexperienced and turnover-prone quarterback, that ended badly. Two incompletions and a bad interception allowed Dallas to escape with a halftime lead the Cowboys didn’t deserve.

I didn’t like Shurmur’s response when asked about it post-game. Here is the relevant part:

“So, you don’t want that (the turnover) — right? The flip side of it is you just take a knee and go into the locker room, but we wanted to give our guys a chance. But we can’t have the bad things happen.

“We had 50 something seconds to go. Go play. Why not?”

Well, why not? Because being overly aggressive put your young team in a position to allow something bad to happen — something that was easily preventable.

You don’t hand a toddler the same responsibility you hand a young adult, and in many ways that’s an apt analogy for what the Giants are right now. They are an impetuous toddler just trying to figure out what they can and can’t do.

The coach, and the entire coaching staff, have to recognize that and handle them accordingly.

I’m not ready to give up on Shurmur. Like his team, though, he needs to show signs of progress. One of those would be in beginning to show through his decision-making that he actually knows what he is working with and how to utilize it.

Oh, and he needs to coach his team to a victory on Sunday against the Jets.