By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New York Jets, December 24, 2011: The Giants are lucky. Damn lucky. This team has lost five of its last six games. For most NFL teams, that would spell doom. Their seasons would be over. But after 14 games and a .500 record, the Giants still control their own destiny. They can still win the NFC East and host a playoff game if they win their last two games. It’s unbelievable when you actually think about it. So don’t think of this team as cursed or down on their luck. The opposite is true. They are damn lucky.
Why is this team so frustratingly inconsistent? Everyone has their own opinion. My view is this team – and 2009 and 2010 teams – simply are/were not that good or well-coached in certain key areas. All three teams fell victim of high expectations generated from strong first-half starts. But it’s important to keep in mind that 2010 and 2011 teams were not preseason favorites. For example, even usually optimistic fans were predicting the 2011 Giants would finish anywhere from 7-9 to 9-7. Right now, it looks like those fans were right on the mark, but they seem to have forgotten their original predictions.
Media and fans need to take a step back and really look at the talent on this team. Where are the Giants truly strong? In my opinion, the strong elements of the team are the quarterback and the young (and because they are young, inconsistent) receiving corps. Except for a couple of hiccups, Eli has had a great regular season. His best ever. Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard have been unexpected miracles. Hakeem Nicks is one of the better receivers in the game. And Mario Manningham – despite continued mental lapses and a troublesome knee – still draws respect from opposing teams. Ironically, special teams have been pretty good too, anchored by the solid performance of both kickers.
But everywhere else, the Giants have been average at best or well below average at worst. The offensive line in transition never really came together. The blocking at tight end and fullback have also been inconsistent and often poor. The running backs don’t really scare anyone and Bradshaw’s wheels are broken again. Defensively, outside of JPP, the much-hyped defensive line has been a bust for yet another season. The linebackers remain unproductive. The secondary is paper thin and really vulnerable once the Giants go to their nickel and dime packages. The safeties never seem to make plays on the football. Some of these problems have to do with injuries. Everyone knows about Justin Tuck, Terrell Thomas, Jon Goff, Osi Umenyiora, and Prince Amukamara. Injuries to these players have hurt. But season-ending injuries to lesser-known players have also had an impact. The loss of Justin Tryon and Michael Coe forced an unprepared Amukamara into the lineup early. Marvin Austin could have helped a pass rush that is now only a one-man show (JPP). And overall – as I’ve complained about before – who are the defensive leaders of this team?
So the Giants have a QB and some receivers. They are average or weak everywhere else. And folks wonder why the Giants are inconsistent??? Those who say coaching is what makes the Giants average or weak at other positions don’t have a lot of credibility. Another coach isn’t going to miraculously regenerate Tuck, Umenyiora, Thomas, Goff, Bradshaw, Beatty, and Baas nor give veteran experience to Joseph, Williams, Amukamara, Sash, Ballard, and Hynoski.
Eli and the young receivers keep the Giants afloat. They keep the team competitive and have brought the team from behind in six of the team’s seven victories. That’s both a blessing (evidence of resiliency and a very good quarterback) and a sign of structural problems (“good” teams don’t have to come from behind in almost every game in the 4th quarter). When the QB and the receivers play average football (see the Redskins game), the Giants lose. Why? Because the rest of the team isn’t good enough to take up the slack. That’s not opinion; it’s fact.
I should have seen the Redskins game coming. The Giants were coming off of two emotionally-draining games against the then-undefeated Packers (who they almost upset) and Cowboys (one of the great come-from-behind wins in team history) to play a dog at home and before the much-anticipated game against the Jets. I’m sure there are many in Las Vegas who knew the Giants were a dangerous pick in this spot. And again, Eli is carrying this team. No quarterback can play perfect football for a 16-game schedule. Not even Aaron Rodgers as we saw last week or Drew Brees against the Rams. When your passing game is off, you better have a good defense. The Giants don’t.
The Giants peaked in 2007 and 2008. They won one NFL title in those two years and might have won a second had Plaxico not shot himself and the defensive line not started to wear down. In 2009, the Giants had arguably the worst defense in the NFL. That was not just coaching (Sheridan); the Giants were terrible up the middle at DT, LB, and S that year. In 2010, the Giants surprised everyone with a strong season that was sabotaged with an epidemic of injuries to the wide receivers and offensive line. In the end, the Giants were down to their fourth-string center and signing guys off the street to start as Manning’s key targets. 2011 has been a year of transition, hampered by injuries to many key players and an unusually heavy reliance on rookies and second-year players. The defense and running game have been in steady decline since 2008. Talent, injuries, inexperience, and coaching have all been the problems. It also must be said that declining talent is not the responsibility of the head coach, but the general manager. Jerry Reese’s hands are dirty in this mess too. He’s made some really questionable decisions in free agency.
Which brings us to coaching. Coughlin’s Achilles heal in New York has been his historically poor performance in picking coordinators. John Hufnagel, Tim Lewis, and Bill Sheridan were the wrong hires. It appears Perry Fewell isn’t working out either. Though better this year, Tom Quinn’s special teams are rarely “special.” Coughlin did hire Kevin Gilbride, who has done wonders this year despite the problems with the blockers and running backs, and Steve Spagnuolo. Bill Sheridan was hampered by talent issues on defense (remember the garbage players at safety?) and so has Perry Fewell. But Sheridan was obviously over his head and the fear now is that Fewell is too. It seems like each week the Giants are breaking new franchise records for defensive ineptitude and that started last season against the Colts, Eagles, and Packers. It’s one thing to get beat; it’s another to get embarrassed.
If the Giants lose to the Jets on Saturday, the team will miss the playoffs for the third year in a row. The team will also have lost six of its last seven games and may lose seven of its last eight. Under those circumstances, the pressure on ownership to make a change will be immense. It’s always easier to fire the coach than the players. So the fate of not just the Giants’ season, but the fate of Tom Coughlin, may very well rest on the outcome of this game. This fact makes a dramatic game even more dramatic…New York versus New York…Christmas Eve…playoffs on the line for both teams…the fate of a Super Bowl champion head coach. This game is HUGE. It may determine the direction of the franchise for the bulk of the rest of the decade.
There are a lot of reasons why I can see why the Giants will lose this game. Again, outside of the quarterback and receivers, the Giants just aren’t very good. Losers of six of their last seven, the team has no momentum. The defense is one of the worst in the NFL. With David Baas returning, the Giants are going to mess with their offensive line probably at the wrong moment (remember how this worked out last year when the injured O’Hara returned to the starting lineup before the Eagles game?). And it the football Gods could simply torment us by having obnoxious Jets fans with low self esteem rub our noses in it as Plaxico Burress’ fourth touchdown reception wins the game in the final seconds and idiots start claiming Mark Sanchez is better than Eli.
But there are three reasons why I think the Giants will win this game. First, Eli Manning. Second, the Jets just aren’t that good. And three, the football Gods are going to toy with our emotions one final time. We’ll win this week for no other reason than the 2011 Giants are setting us up for one final gigantic letdown in Week 17. And it will put ownership in a more difficult dilemma of what to do with an 8-8 team that just missed the playoffs for the third year in a row.
But regardless of what transpires, just keep this in mind: the Giants are damn lucky to still be alive and to be still controlling their own destiny. If they don’t win the final two games, they truly are not deserving of a playoff berth. And players, coaches, management, and most importantly, ownership, needs to recognize that and make some changes.