Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Diego Chargers, December 8, 2013: With a quarter of the regular season still left, unfortunately, it’s time to start thinking about how these games may impact next season.
Whether you agree with it or not, Coach Coughlin will be back. And so will most, if not all, of his staff. So the area of focus should really be on personnel and how the Giants can get better on the playing field.
How a team performs in the final stages of one season can impact the next season. For example, the early warning signs of the 0-6 start were probably there for all to see when the Giants got walloped by the Bengals, Falcons, and Ravens last season. Good teams don’t get shellacked like that, not three times in a six-game period.
The Giants are 5-1 in their last six games. Granted that record was gained against questionable competition, but New York has begun to right the ship. For the sake of the 2014 season, I think it is important to keep the momentum going in the final four games. There are a lot of players on this current roster who were not around in 2011. They have no direct personal connection to the two Super Bowl titles and the culture and expectation of winning that was created. Winning breeds confidence which breeds more winning.
When you put on that New York Giants uniform, you are expected to win.
Giants on Offense: The most important goal of the final four games and the upcoming offseason is to get Eli Manning back on track. If they don’t, then the next few years will be very similar to the 2012 and 2013 seasons…hovering around .500 with maybe a shot at the post-season if things fall your way.
How do you get Manning back on track? That’s the million dollar question. Some say fix the offensive line. Some say get a better quarterback coach for him to work with. Some say surround him with better weapons. Is family life distracting him? Is he still hungry? Was 2011 simply his career year?
It’s up to the New York Giants organization to successfully identify the problem and fix it. Everything depends on this.
Now, like the Giants’ recent six-game stretch, Eli has been better. Not great, but better. In the first six games of the season, he had a 9-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In the last six games, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 6-to-3. His mistakes (or the mistakes of his teammates – i.e., bad routes) have significantly dropped. But he’s not making a lot of big plays in the passing game. He’s averaging one touchdown pass per game. That’s not elite. That’s not difference-making. The Giants need Eli to be a difference-maker. He’s being paid to be that ($20 million cap number in both 2013 and 2014). So now that the mistakes have diminished, it is time to get back to making big plays.
Intimately connected to Eli’s lack of big-play production is the same lack of big-play production from the wide receivers. For Christ sake, Hakeem Nicks hasn’t had a touchdown since Week 14 last season. Victor Cruz hasn’t had a touchdown since Week 4 this year. Three of his four TDs came on opening night. Where’s the salsa? Rueben Randle has six touchdowns, but really more was expected from him this year. He hasn’t had more than three receptions in a game since Week 5. If Nicks is gone after this season, like most expect, is Randle an adequate replacement? These last four games will be important in helping to determine the answer to that question. Louis Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan don’t offer much. If Nicks goes, the Giants will need more help here as the Giants keep botching draft picks at the position (Sinorice Moss, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan).
Brandon Myers has played better at tight end and perhaps the Giants will re-sign him in the offseason, but he seems like just a guy to me. He has no outstanding physical traits (size, speed, overall athleticism) and certainly doesn’t scare opposing defenses with his blocking or receiving. Hopefully, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell surprise in 2014, but can the Giants really count on that? Both have a very nice combination of size and overall athleticism, but both have been non-factors this year. I’d like to get a better read on both during the next four games. I hope the Giants want that too.
Running back has been a patchwork this offseason. Andre Brown is productive when he plays but he can’t seem to stay healthy. He will also be a free agent. Will David Wilson be able to play football again? And if so, is he the right match for this team? Brandon Jacobs is done. Does Peyton Hillis have an NFL future? Michael Cox has some ability, but we won’t see him again at running back this year unless people start getting hurt again. There are a lot of questions at running back.
Fullback is set. Hopefully they recognize that John Conner is simply a huge upgrade over Henry Hynoski, who is also a good player.
This brings us to the biggest concern on the offensive side of the football other than Eli Manning: the offensive line. A good offensive line makes everyone better. If you can’t block, you won’t win a lot of football games. Justin Pugh will be a fixture at tackle, the only question in my mind is will it be at right or left tackle. He’ll stay at right tackle if Will Beatty gets his head out of his ass and starts playing consistent, quality football. Beatty ($7 million 2014 cap number) admitted this week that the pressure of living up to his contract has gotten to him. The honesty is admirable, but that’s a red flag. Can they count on Beatty in pressure situations? The way he finishes out the 2013 season is incredibly important in helping to determine the makeup up the 2014 offensive line.
David Baas ($8 million 2014 cap number) did help the Giants to win a Super Bowl, but he hasn’t been the player the Giants had hoped when they signed him because he simply can’t stay healthy. Jerry Reese compounded the salary-cap problem by re-structuring him twice. If you could guarantee that he would stay healthy, then you would want to keep him and have him start in 2014. But should the Giants really do that? Even if they part ways, because of the re-structures, it’s not going to help the Giants salary-cap wise. But it may be better simply to shed the unreliable, injury-prone player and move on.
David Diehl (free agent) and Chris Snee ($12 million 2014 cap number) are done. I will fondly remember them as two of the Giants who were around for both NFL titles. They are blue-collar tough guys, but it’s time. Kevin Boothe is Kevin Boothe. You could do better; you could do worse. Jim Cordle will be back and we don’t really know what the organization thinks of his ability.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a good read, and won’t have a good read, on Brandon Mosley, Stephen Goodin, and Eric Herman. But we will get a better read on James Brewer in these last four games. If you want to focus on anyone in the last games, watch Beatty and Brewer. Regardless, the Giants need an infusion of talent on the line.
Giants on Defense: It’s too bad that a decent defensive season like the Giants have put together has been wasted by bad offense and special teams. Perry Fewell will surely be back. But a lot of current defenders won’t be.
The San Diego Chargers will provide a good litmus test for the Giants’ defense. The Chargers are fourth in overall and passing offense, and they are incredibly tough to get off of the field (NFL’s second best on third down). QB Philips Rivers is completing an astounding 70 percent of his passes. RB Danny Woodhead is a tiny pain-in-the-ass, especially as a receiver. TE Antonio Gates is not the same player he once was, but he’s still catching a ton of passes.
Linval Joseph will be a free agent. Will the Giants be able to re-sign him? If they do, with Joseph, Cullen Jenkins, and Johnathan Hankins, New York will be in good shape at defensive tackle. If they can somehow bring back Mike Patterson in a Rocky Bernard-type role, they will be even stronger. But they may want to go with Markus Kuhn there instead.
Outside is where the question marks lie. Jason Pierre-Paul is under contract one more season. But he didn’t have a single sack in the last seven games of the 2012 season and only has two this year. Will he ever regain his 2011 form? He’ll get one more year to prove that he can. In camp, it sounded like Damontre Moore was going develop into a special player. He hasn’t thus far so we will have to see. The shoulder injury obviously set him back big time.
What to do about Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka? Tuck will be a free agent and, despite his four-sack outburst against the Redskins, has been just a guy for three seasons now. At 30, he’s not old, but he’s not a difference maker. I’d offer not much more than a veteran-minimum type deal, but I’m not sure Tuck would be able to swallow his pride and accept that. Kiwanuka just never developed into the player hoped. He’s making way too much money ($7 million 2014 cap number).
Jon Beason has been a God-send at linebacker, but will be a free agent. It sounds like he really wants to be here so I expect him to be re-signed unless his contract demands are unreasonable. Jacquian Williams is under contract one more season but everyone else will be a free agent. Beason’s presence has made Williams, Spencer Paysinger, and Keith Rivers better. They may be back too with minimum-type deals. The Giants still need to bring in and develop talent, however. They can’t just rely on Beason, who has a serious injury history.
The Giants will be in great shape at safety if they can afford to keep Antrel Rolle ($9 million 2014 cap number) and if Stevie Brown (torn ACL) can come back healthy. Those two, along with Will Hill and Cooper Taylor, form a good nucleus.
Prince Amukamara will man one starting corner spot. I can’t imagine Corey Webster and Aaron Ross will be back. Will the Giants be able to bring back Terrell Thomas at a reasonable contract? He’s still a walking medical risk. Others in the picture who may still have a future here include Trumaine McBride (free agent), Jayron Hosley, and Charles James. Adding a top-notch corner here would make the secondary a real strength.
Giants on Special Teams: Steve Weatherford has had a crazy year. He’s been terrible at times and absolutely outstanding at other times. Josh Brown actually has performed well except for a couple of games. He will be a free agent. If David Wilson plays football again, it may be best to use him as a return man and offensive role player (like the Saints use Darren Sproles).