Game Preview: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 10, 2017
The 2017 New York Giants season is the never-ending nightmare. We are still only 3/4 of the way through this mess. I’ve never been more ready for a football season to just end.
It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for Giants fans with the benching of Eli Manning, the firings of Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo, the promotion of Steve Spagnuolo as interim head coach, and the reinstatement of Manning as the starting quarterback. But it is important to take a step back for a moment and understand the big picture.
This past week was a cataclysmic event for one of the NFL’s flagship franchises. The last time the Giants fired a general manager was 1978. The last time they fired a coach in-season was 1976. The last time they fired a coach after so short a stay was pre-1930. The Giants just did two things they simply do not usually do and it is the ultimate indication of how great a disaster this season has been. The decline is surreal when you take into account that the Giants were 11-5 and a playoff team just one year ago and widely expected to challenge for the NFC East title in 2017.
What follows is pure uninformed opinion and speculation on my part, so take it with a grain of salt:
I believe Ben McAdoo was dead man walking after his team got embarrassed by the dreadful San Francisco 49ers in mid-November. I think Jerry Reese also had one foot out the door at this point, but ownership was looking for an excuse to keep him. An upset against the Chiefs and another embarrassing loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving followed. Then came the benching of Manning.
Regardless of how it was handled, everyone admits that ownership, management, and the head coach signed off on the move. What may or may not have surprised the Giants was Eli’s refusal to play along with their start-the-game-but-the-sit strategy (I don’t trust any public comments by the Giants here). Having McAdoo announce the move in a usual post-practice press conference setting without the owner on the premises and the GM nowhere to be seen reeked of throwing McAdoo under the bus. It was a cowardly act. And then to have a teary-eyed Eli Manning address the press throng at his locker with his teammates oblivious to the solemn nature of the moment was a PR disaster.
What I do believe is that the Giants were absolutely shocked by the level of intensity of the reaction from advertisers, fans, former players, and national and local media. It became not just a local sports story, but a national one covered by the general press. Fans put up billboards. Former players were going to show up on the sidelines of the Dallas game with Eli jerseys on just to shame the organization. At this point, I think John Mara and Steve Tisch were in damage-control mode. Revenue and reputations (ego) were at stake. They knew they were going to fire McAdoo and possibly Reese. So to temporarily stop the firestorm, they sacked both a month early (a smart PR move). Then John Mara held what appeared to be a sincere press conference. When the mob is angry, throw them a couple of heads. In the short-term, they’ve stopped the hemorrhaging, but the underlying wounds still remain.
There is a certain degree of logic in what the Giants had tried to do. The 2-10 Giants are a dysfunctional mess with a soon-to-be 37-year old quarterback who is one of the highest-paid players in the NFL and who also has been on a downward slope since his 2014-15 career revival. The coach was going to be fired and the team is going to have a top-10 and possibly top-5 draft pick with the opportunity to select one of the best quarterbacks coming out of college. Benching Manning would allow the Giants to evaluate Davis Webb as well as not encumber the new head coach with unenviable label as the guy who got rid of the legendary Manning.
But THE WAY the Giants handled this is where they screwed up. First and most importantly, they never got Webb ready (which they should have started doing in October and November). Because of that, sitting Manning to play Geno Smith never made any sense unless Reese and McAdoo were seriously considering Smith as a potential 2018 contender for the starting job. (There is a small chance Smith could still develop into a viable NFL starter, but Giants fans were never going to accept him as Manning’s replacement – that was a non-starter). Secondly, again, the PR optics were dreadful. Mara and Reese hid and threw McAdoo under the bus. McAdoo – who never learned how to deal with the press – coldly and matter-of-factly announced the benching. Eli was sadly left to address the press in a poor locker room environment.
So what? Well, now the Giants may have given their fans some short-term satisfaction in their quest for blood, the same issues remain and actually may have become more difficult. Unless you are totally convinced that Eli Manning is still a stud quarterback capable of a 2011-type season and that none of the past six years are his fault, then the Giants are left with the problem of how and when to make the transition to the next quarterback. Entering the 2018 NFL Draft, they will have no idea of what they have in Davis Webb. And the next regime is going to be encumbered with what has now become a super-charged transition issue because of the way the Giants already botched things the first time. Many of us – including myself – felt that we had seen the last of Manning on Thanksgiving. But we did not anticipate the December 4th in-season housecleaning. The good news is that we now get to show Eli our appreciation over the course of the last four games (three at home). The bad news is where do we go from here and how?
The pressure on John Mara to get this right is immense. In 2018, the Giants will have (1) a new general manager, (2) a new head coach, and (3) probably the heir-apparent to Eli. If they screw any of this up, the franchise may be in for a very dark period for a significant amount of time. They will also have to decide (4) the best way to part ways with Eli and when, and (5) whether or not to re-sign Odell Beckham.
Underlying all of this is whether the Giants remain loyal to their post-1978 organizational structure (which has brought them five Super Bowl appearances, with four wins). It is difficult to see Mara parting ways with the bulk of the scouts. As Greg from LI points out in The Forum, the Giants drafting noticeably began to decline when Marc Ross began to oversee the operation. What preconditions will be placed on the new GM? Will he be allowed to fire Ross and pick his own scouts? Will they simply import someone already comfortable with the existing structure such as Dave Gettleman or Kevin Abrams? Will they take the “interim” off of Steve Spagnuolo’s title, allow him to tweak the staff, and stay the course? That won’t sit well with many fans who suspect the institutionalized, staid thinking within the organization is a big part of the problem. But “new and fresh” faces are no guarantee of future success. As pointed out by Fatman in Charlotte, Dan Reeves and Ben McAdoo were outside faces. What matters is not the type of changes made, simply that THE CORRECT changes are made.
Things can get better. But they can also get worse. Much worse. John Mara faces a historical crossroads and new chapter for the franchise his father bequeathed to him.
THE INJURY REPORT:
Seventeen players are on Injured Reserve, most notably WR Odell Beckham, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Dwayne Harris, OC Weston Richburg, OG D.J. Fluker, LB Jonathan Casillas, LB Keenan Robinson, and CB Janoris Jenkins. Eight others have been waived from IR since October.
- RB Orleans Darkwa (illness – questionable)
- RB Wayne Gallman (hip – probable)
- WR Sterling Shepard (hamstring – questionable)
- WR Travis Rudolph (hamstring – questionable)
- OL Justin Pugh (back – out)
- OL Chad Wheeler (concussion – questionable)
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul (finger – questionable)
- DT Damon Harrison (elbow – probable)
- LB B.J. Goodson (ankle – out)
- CB Eli Apple (hip/back – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Yes, it will be great to see Eli Manning back at the helm so we can show him our proper appreciation. But the problems remain. The offensive line remains in shambles, especially with Justin Pugh still not playing. (Incidentally, it is looking more and more like the Giants will need to let Pugh walk… the concussion/back issues are major red flags for a player who simply can’t seem to play a whole season). And the NY running game has noticeably declined since the physical D.J. Fluker was placed on IR. Eli will have a gimpy Sterling Shepard (hamstring) and Evan Engram to throw to but not much else as this is clearly the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL.
The Giants are averaging less than 16 points per game and an offensive “explosion” for them must now be considered 20 points.
What makes me angry is the Giants were given a tremendous opportunity to evaluate Davis Webb before the 2018 NFL Draft. They botched it and now it is too late. After Sunday, there will be only three games left and Webb still hasn’t been bumped up to the #2 spot.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants need to be very careful in their evaluation of Steve Spagnuolo. They like him. He’s a nice guy. But he was a very uncompetitive 10-38 as the head coach of the Rams. His defenses have been up-and-down throughout his coaching career, and despite showing some life recently, the Giants defense is a major reason why the team is 2-10 this year. Keep in mind the off-field player issues with the defensive backs (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple) have all been on his side of the ball.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
If Tom Quinn survives the 2017 purge…
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Interim Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo: “It’s our hope to unite, restore and find a way to win football games. When I mean restore, you know, restore Giant pride. It’s hard to be real prideful when you don’t win a lot of football games.”
THE FINAL WORD
I know what most Giants fans want – they want Eli Manning to come out of the tunnel with the crowd roaring in approval, and for him then to carve up the hated Dallas Cowboys. The problem is reality. Many Giants fans have already sold their tickets – many going to Dallas fans. And Eli is still a 36-year old quarterback on the downside of his career, encumbered by a pitiful supporting cast. And while injuries were not a factor/viable excuse for most of the season on defense, they are now becoming one in the back seven.
Now comes a statement that is going to be difficult for many to accept: from a strategic perspective, it is not good for the Giants to win any of these last four games. The short-term, feel-good gain will mean nothing moving forward. But it could significantly damage the team’s draft position and steer ownership towards false conclusions.
Stand up and cheer for Eli. Pray he plays well. But I’ll leave it at that.