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Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, December 24, 2006: The Giants will lose their next two games and finish the season 7-9. The Saints are loaded with weapons on offense. They love to spread the field with multiple wide receiver packages that enable them not only to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary, but also isolate Reggie Bush on linebackers and safeties. This is the type of scheme that Tim Lewis’ defense can’t handle and why so many Giants’ opponents have spread the field on New York. The Saints are not impressive defensively, but look for the Giants’ offense to shoot themselves in the foot just enough with penalties, turnovers, or red zone problems to prevent them from keeping pace with the Saints’ offense.

Why will the Giants lose to the Skins? Because the Giants’ players will still be feeling sorry for themselves after the Saints all but knock them out of the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Skins have emotionally moved beyond their disappointing season and already are preparing for next season. The Skins will be looking to play well in front of their fans and put the final nail in the Giants’ coffin. The Giants’ players certainly won’t be fighting for Tom Coughlin’s job.

Think I’m being too pessimistic? Get back to me in two weeks and tell me that I was wrong.

Excuse my language, but this season has been a fucking disaster. Really, a true nightmare. Let’s recall what has happened:

  • Remember when the schedule first came out and the big question was how were the Giants going to survive the early part of the season? Not only did they survive, they flourished thanks to a miracle win over the Eagles and a five-game winning streak, highlighted by the destruction of the Cowboys on national television in Dallas. At 6-2, the Giants were all alone in first place in the NFC East, 3-0 in the division, and had the second-best conference record in the NFC. This despite the fact that the “hard part” of their schedule was now behind them. Even the most pessimistic fan felt at this point that the worst the Giants could do down the stretch was go 4-4 and finish with a 10-6 record.
  • However, the victory over Dallas in October was costly as Osi Umenyiora, LaVar Arrington, and Justin Tuck suffered serious injuries. Then the Giants lost Amani Toomer and Michael Strahan in the Houston game and Luke Petitgout in the Chicago game.
  • From 6-2, the Giants have plummeted to 7-7, losing five out of their last six games. Due to injuries, red zone problems, turnovers, poor third-down defense, special teams breakdowns, and questionable coaching decisions, the Giants now find themselves on the verge of missing the playoffs. I can’t recall a more disappointing collapse as long as I have followed the Giants. 2004 was different because that team clearly was not as talented as their 5-2 start and the Giants made a quarterback switch in midseason.

After the loss to the Eagles last Sunday, I wasn’t terribly upset. But as the days have passed, that has changed. I’m now extremely pissed about this entire season. Let the rambling ranting begin:

  • The NFC is a joke. The best teams are the quarterback-less Bears, the defensively-challenged Saints, and a resurgent Cowboys team that was recently walloped by the Saints. The fact that the Eagles, who lost their starting quarterback, and an imploding Falcons team may make the playoffs instead of the Giants is absurd. The Giants have suffered a lot of significant injuries, but there is no way that this team should be finding itself at home when the playoffs start in this weak conference. It’s not acceptable.
  • Questionable coaching decisions (i.e., the long field goal attempt against the Bears, red-zone play-calling in losses to the Cowboys and Eagles, the unfathomable play-calling late in the Titans loss) have cost the Giants dearly. While the Giants continue to play hard for Tom Coughlin, one doesn’t get the sense that they are out-coaching their opponents. Indeed, one could make the case that the Jim Fassel-John Fox-Sean Peyton triumvirate did more with less talent than Tom Coughlin-Tim Lewis-John Hufnagel. While there was a feeling that things were getting better under Coughlin in 2005 (just like with Jim Fassel in 1997, 2000, and 2002), 2006 has been a colossal disappointment. Has the coaching change really made a difference?
  • Since he has arrived in New York, Tim Lewis’ pass defense, especially on third down, has been dreadful. Completely revamping the secondary and hiring a new defensive backs coach in the offseason has not changed matters. The Giants’ third-down defense is allowing an abysmal 44.6 percent conversion rate. While the Giants generally do a good job of defending the run, they can’t get teams off the field on third down. Lewis’ defenses do not dictate – they react. His coverage schemes are soft and easy to exploit and his blitzes never appear to confuse the opposition. Meanwhile, on offense, one continues to get the sense that the Giants are not using their talent to their fullest potential. For the first half of the season, Jeremy Shockey was an afterthought in the offense (he had only eight first half receptions in the first nine games of the season). The red zone offense has been a problem since Coughlin has arrived. And I question the way the coaching staff has handled Eli Manning. I truly believe they have put too much on his plate since last season, when he had the third most passing attempts in the NFL. They have made things too complicated for the kid.
  • For those who think the problem is only with the coordinators, consider the fact that it was Coughlin who hired them. What does that say about his judgment? On January 7, 2004, Tom Coughlin stated in his inaugural press conference as head coach of the Giants, “The first thing I am going to do is to try and provide the New York Giants with the best staff in football.” That clearly did not happen – not even close.
  • So is the answer to fire Coughlin and his staff? How do we know that the replacements will be any better? The Giants have as much luck in hiring coaches as they do with drafting wide receivers. The Giants fell ass-backwards into Bill Parcells when Ray Perkins left, and George Young almost fired him after the 1983 season. Since then it has been Ray Handley, Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel, and Coughlin. People keep mentioning Charlie Weis, but there is no guarantee that he will be a good head coach in the NFL. And there are not likely to be a lot of head coaches to be fired after this season. That means fewer candidates to choose from, and more importantly, fewer experienced assistant coaches to hire on the open market.
  • So the Giants should keep Coughlin at least one more year? The problem with that scenario is that Coughlin, without dramatic improvement in his team’s play, will be a lame duck position similar to Dan Reeves in 1996. He’s already on weakened ground due to the performance of his players and assistant coaches. Are we simply postponing the inevitable? I’m not sure I could handle another 1996 or 2006.
  • Eli Manning is better than he was last year. Last season he only completed 52.8 percent of his passes. But he did have 24 touchdown throws (and 17 interceptions). This year, against much better opposition, he has completed almost 60 percent of his throws with 22 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. However, is he going to develop into the special player that the Giants envisioned that he would become? If he does not, consider the price that was paid. What also hurts is that while Manning is still puttering along, regardless of the circumstances, Ben Roethlisberger has a Super Bowl ring. Philip Rivers may get his this season and has been voted to the Pro Bowl. And Shawne Merriman is arguably the best defensive player in football. Adding more salt to the wound is the fact that Tony Romo has come out of nowhere to elevate his entire team’s play and cause the Cowboys to surge past the stumbling Giants. Good grief…who did Giants’ fans piss off?
  • This year has been so disappointing that it has actually turned Tiki Barber into a villain by some. Tiki has publicly criticized the coaching staff twice in less than a year. He let it leak that he was going to retire at the end of the season and then called a few in the media idiots for criticizing his decision. And he appears – to some – to be more interested in his post-football career and media whoring than he is helping to turn his team around. While Barber was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl and is fourth in the NFL in rushing, he has not played as well as he did last year. There are fewer big plays.
  • This team talks too much – a continuation of the same problem that plagued the Fassel regime. The 1986 and 1990 Giants didn’t talk; they won. This group likes to talk, and worse, fails to back it up on the field. Prime culprits include Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Antonio Pierce, and LaVar Arrington.
  • Personnel issues. The Giants do need to upgrade some areas of their team. The secondary remains a problem. Gibril Wilson never regained his rookie form. Will Demps has been a huge disappointment. Corey Webster hasn’t played as well as expected. The Giants did a nice job in picking up Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters, but they could use another young corner to groom behind Madison. At linebacker, Antonio Pierce has had a down year, but he proved he wasn’t a flash in the pan last year and his previous season with the Skins. Much depends on LaVar Arrington. The Giants do have Gerris Wilkinson waiting in the wings, but another young linebacker would help. The Giants should also try to replace William Joseph at defensive tackle. Offensively, the team should pursue another wide receiver, tight end (to back up Shockey), and running back (complement to Brandon Jacobs).
  • Next general manager. Ex-journalist, wanna-be general manager Ernie Accorsi will retire soon and be free to dream and babble about Bert Jones as much as he desires. Good riddance. Don’t let the door slam you on the ass. But the Giants simply cannot afford to make the wrong decision in hiring the next general manager as everything else will flow from that decision – personnel decisions, coaching selections, cap management, etc. Is Jerry Reese the right man for the job? Or Chris Mara? Should the Giants look outside the organization?
  • Has the Giants’ Super Bowl window closed with the departure of Tiki Barber and the imminent demise of the 35-year old Michael Strahan and 32-year old Amani Toomer?

Merry Christmas! Get ready for an interesting offseason.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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