Sep 142004
2004 New York Giants: A Slightly Different View

By Reporter/Photographer David Oliver

The Giants losing to the Eagles does not necessarily presage the dawn of a nuclear winter, or a return to the football of the 70s. It was a bad match up for Game 1, as the TV mavens at NFL Central thought they might have Eli Manning to showcase. Instead they got an entire network of ex-players focusing on the Curse of Terrible Tommy. BBI seems upset with this focus, but keep in mind, these guys are ex-players, and Tommy, whatever he is, has never been known as a players’ coach. The only comments I intend to make on this fiasco go to the mewing of the fans about the “spoiled players” and how the “media” is making up stories or running with complete canards – this from an audience who has absolutely NO knowledge of what is actually happening. What we are seeing is only the tip of this iceberg. There is a deep-seated unrest, throughout the League, with coaches from an old-school background. Discipline is only a small part of this rebellion – it goes more to the point of mutuality of respect. A large part of the ethos of these young men is respect, whether you and I like it or not. It is in part economic, in part racial, and in part generational. Some players have no problem with old school coaching; others have a big problem. In the end, one or the other goes.

I am currently reading General Tommy Franks’ autobiography (which I wholeheartedly recommend). General Franks cuts to the core of the entire issue of leadership and building a winning team, in his discussion of loyalty. He makes a constant refrain of the important lesson he learned early in one of his commands that loyalty extends both ways. When you become mother and father, counselor and leader of any unit with an organizational goal of success, you MUST take into account the troops. You must go the extra step in knowing what is in their hearts and minds, and you must show them that you care and that you will not only teach and guide, but you will also nurture. I can’t speak to what is in Coach Coughlin’s heart. And I have lived a life of discipline – if I was expected 5 minutes early, I was there 10 minutes early (hearken back to my mini camp write-up; I drove from Virginia and made sure that I was the first person on the field); if I entered a meeting where an old buck didn’t think much of a staffer who got up to go to the men’s room, I would rather piss in my pants than get up and leave early. That’s how I was raised. On the other hand, much of what I have heard and been told smacks of something other than mere bullshit discipline problems. My only concern is that as a Giants’ fan, this thing will carry on, because you and I know that the Maras do not easily fire their personal choices, but we also know that these same personal choices also do not deliver.

It appears that there is a tendency to rationalize away failure on the part of those we like, and to denigrate too easily those we do not like. Coach Coughlin appears to be a man and a coach who can revitalize the offensive side of the ball, just as Coach Fassel could work wonders with a QB. Both are about equally successful, but ultimately failed coaches for almost antithetical reasons. One has been accused of running a country club; the other of being a tyrannical prison warden. Neither depiction is wholly accurate. But there is a commonality. The last team of Coach Fassel was sloppy; but people choose to overlook the cast of characters that was on the field for the final eight game stretch. The first part of Coach Coughlin’s tenure is also characterized by sloppy play, whether vanilla or not, and with a different cast of characters, mostly those brought in by the current coaching staff. When football players are confused by the scheme, or give a lackluster effort, it is not always the players. We’ve been over this ground too many times before. On defense, what we saw against the Eagles was scary. Go back to the hiring of Coach Coughlin; I wrote then that the Giants had to act fast, that they needed to make this hiring within a week after the close of the season. Everyone on the planet who knows the Giants knew that Coach Coughlin was the man. But the Giants hesitated, whether it was out of political correctness, or a last ditch fight by the Chief Wig, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Coach Coughlin lost his choice of Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams (now with the Redskins), and therein lies the tale of Sunday’s game.

The personnel on the Giants are ill-suited for a 3-4 defense. I stand by my earlier statement that this might be the worst linebacking corps in a decade of Giants’ play. Individually, each player might be great at his position, but as a unit, they showed no cohesion. The front line also showed that you cannot build a unit of starters with everyone else’s journeymen or castoffs. If DE Keith Washington is starting after game 3, this defense will be a failed unit, now and at the end of the year. Defensive tackles Norman Hand and Fred Robbins will be good only against lesser units, and they won’t be playing many of those this year. The less said about the secondary, the better. But even if I cannot fault the schemes, or make the rationalization that this unit has not played together, I cannot rationalize the missed tackles, the arm waves, the running from this side of the field to the other, as players’ faults in a system run by a disciplinarian who allegedly laughed at the performance of last year’s scrub team. If that play was the result of poor coaching, then Sunday’s effort against the Eagles is likewise the result of poor coaching.

On the offense side of the ball, the Giants are a better than good team. The skill players are there, the QB position is a strength, and the line will be consistent and formidable as it works itself into shape. I don’t think Shaun O’Hara is a real strength at center and I am hoping that Lucier takes this job soon. Luke Petitgout has to work on some things. Otherwise, they will only get better. Tiki Barber has shown that once again, this offense is his; now Jeremy Shockey has got to knock off the rust.

It was really distressing to watch the game, not because I thought they could win, because they really were outmatched, but because the play was sloppy and disorganized, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. This is something we were assured would not happen. OK, so it was a bad match-up for Game 1. Now comes the Redskins game, and this is a game that the Giants should win. If Robbins and Hand are anywhere near as advertised, Portis will not have his 64-yard gallop to open the game. Once the run is neutralized, the Redskins can be controlled. As formidable as the ‘Skins defense looked against Tampa, it should be no match for the firepower the Giants can bring on offense. This is show time; Coach Coughlin and the new look Giants are having their unveiling before the home crowd. A win on Sunday and we will see-saw throughout the year, as most everyone expected and will accept. But should the Giants not beat the ‘Skins, it is possible they will not win a game this year.

The thing that people forget is that Coach Coughlin was not brought in to muddle around for a couple of years. He was brought in to win. If ever there was a situation for a coach to show off his system, to let the fans and the owners and the players and the rest of the League see that he can still win, then this is it. If we are going to be allowed to focus on football for the rest of this season, and if we are not to be bombarded with an ever-increasing crescendo of bullshit “why we hate the Coach articles”, the time is now.

The Giants will win on Sunday.

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