Dec 072015
 
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New York Jets 23 – New York Giants 20 (OT)

Overview

If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived? – Fox Mulder

We need to take a step back and look at the big picture. The specifics of what transpired in this particular game are not as important as the fact that they keep happening. Structurally, this team is broken. And until those structural problems are rectified, I find it doubtful that this team will achieve the type of status that all fans hope for: perennial playoff contender.

Though technically still alive for the playoffs, we all know this season isn’t going to end well. Five unbelievable, late-game, heart-breaking losses have left this team shell-shocked. They are still fighting and competing (credit the coaching staff and the character of the players) but they are finding novel and painful ways to lose each week (blame the coaching staff and quality of the players). Despite what they say publicly, this team lacks confidence. They expect to lose. It was almost a given that the 4th-and-2 play would fail, that the offense would not run out the clock, that the defense would collapse, and that the kicker who had not missed all year would miss. A culture of losing is very difficult to eradicate. To do so often requires drastic measures.

The Giants are on their way to their third losing season in a row and fourth non-playoff season in a league and division populated with bad and mediocre football teams. With the demise of the Cowboys and Eagles, the Giants were all but handed the NFC East. They refused to take it despite multiple opportunities. In the last four seasons, the Giants are 9-7, 7-9, 6-10, and now 5-7 with four games to play. This team is not getting better. At best, it’s treading water in some areas; but in many ways, it’s getting worse. For a team that has unofficially been “rebuilding” for the last 2-3 years, that’s disturbing.

Look, it’s not a shock that the Giants have a losing record with four games left to play. Before the season, many fans felt this was an 8-8 team at best and many predicted a 6-10 or 7-9 season. Fans recognized the defense was devoid of talent and it would take time to learn the new defensive system. The offensive line was in transition. They knew the offseason injuries to Will Beatty and Jason Pierre-Paul would have an impact. But what fans did not expect was a team that would be among the league’s most injured for the sixth year in a row, a defense that would once again be dead last in the NFL, a running game that would remain among the NFL’s worst, and an offense that would be relegated to the Eli Manning-to-Odell Beckham connection. The fans did not also know what opportunity would be handed to the Giants in the division. Had you told New York fans that the Giants could all but wrap up the NFC East by beating the Redskins at the end of November, they would have gladly signed up for that scenario. Instead the Giants found themselves trailing a mediocre Redskins 20-0 in the 4th quarter.

Something is wrong.

The first instinct among many fans when their team fails is to fire everyone. Fire the coach. Fire the general manager. Dump the players. Usually this is an overreaction and often it is unrealistic. It’s part of the blame culture that we now find ourselves in. If my Sundays are going to suck, heads must roll and damn the real-life human cost. But after four disappointing and at times excruciatingly painful seasons, with the oldest head coach in the league, with injury-riddled rosters year after year, and a talent-acquisition process that appears to be malfunctioning, the time has come to make some sweeping changes. Professional football is entertainment. The product the Giants have put on the field is not remotely entertaining. An Odell Beckham one-handed highlight does not compensate for yet another loss.

Coaching Staff

They all need to be fired. I feel badly for them and their families. But it’s time. Tom Coughlin is easily one of the top three head coaches in franchise history. He won two NFL titles (1/4 of the franchise’s championships) with teams that only had a handful of impact players. Both playoff runs were miraculous. And his talent- and injury-depleted 2015 team has remained competitive in EVERY game this year except one. Six of the team’s seven losses have been by a total of 18 points. Coughlin has no agenda other than making sure the New York Giants are winners. It’s the only thing that drives him. He may end up in the Hall of Fame someday.

But Coughlin turns 70 next year. This team does not appear close. Very questionable game-management decisions have been an issue in almost every one of the team’s close defeats. As cruel as it sounds, one must question if his mental faculties are slipping. His mantra has been “Finish” but he himself has let his team down by not “finishing” the game with smart coaching decisions. With under 9 minutes to play, you kick the field goal. You make Ryan Fitzpatrick score 14 points. Keep in mind the Jets had only managed 10 points on offense at this point. It doesn’t matter if the Giants would have lost too had they kicked the field goal, you have to play the percentages. These type of questionable goal line and running-out-the-clock play calls have plagued New York all season. Even in the opener, Eli took the blame for telling Rashad Jennings not to score. However, it’s incumbent on the coach to remind his quarterback what the situation is and what needs to be done. That didn’t happen.

What about the assistant coaches? First, if you bring in a new head coach, you should allow him to pick his own staff. Everyone. Don’t encumber him with someone else’s assistants. Second, while Ben McAdoo has been a godsend in revitalizing Eli Manning’s career, he doesn’t appear to be a very good offensive coordinator. I expected him to grow and improve as a play caller and he hasn’t. McAdoo has yet to manufacture a viable running game. And the efficiency of his West Coast short passing offense seems to be regressing. Steve Spagnuolo? The Giants are dead last in defense. The fact that started under Perry Fewell and has continued under Spagnuolo suggests an obvious talent issue, but dead last is dead last. And this defense simply cannot stop even mediocre offenses from driving the field late in games. It’s been an issue in every close loss. In the last three Jets’ drives on Sunday, the defense gave up 212 yards of offense. To Ryan Fitzpatrick. To be blunt, these guys aren’t out-coaching anyone. Teams seem to know what the Giants are doing on offense and defense.

Really, the only two strong arguments for not firing this coaching staff are (1) is there anyone out there who is obviously more qualified?, and (2) the clock is ticking on the franchise quarterback. These are both valid concerns. But do they outweigh the other negatives at this point?

Players

Due to quality of the player, draft investment, and/or salary cap considerations, the only ones who are safe are Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Johnathan Hankins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Landon Collins, and Brad Wing. Even with a new coaching staff, Jay Bromley and Devon Kennard probably get another shot. Maybe Robert Ayers. There is absolutely no guarantee that Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara will be back. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s not looking so hot either.

And because player personnel is an issue, this goes hand in hand with the opportunity to change the entire coaching staff. A new coaching staff won’t necessarily be stuck with a lot of players from the past regime. Indeed, on the defensive side of the ball, for the first time in over 20 years, the team can actually consider if it wants to shift back to the 3-4 defense.

Training/Medical Staff

The never-ending debate: Are the Giants’ training/medical personnel partly responsible for the team’s poor run of bad luck on the injury front? On the surface, it sounds like more scapegoating. But the fact remains that the Giants are statistically one of the most injury-prone teams for the sixth year in a row despite radical roster transition. The team has readily admitted publicly that it has a problem. The Giants have changed their practice schedule and adopted new training and monitoring techniques to no avail. Both young and old players are getting hurt at an alarming rate with calf injuries, torn pectoral muscles, hamstrings, and knee and ankle issues. There was a case of staph infection that ended a career of a tight end, and a starter on the offensive line who was lost for the year due to a weight lifting accident. Two players who were said to have minor calf injuries never played due to season-ending surgeries. Is it simply year after year bad luck? The strength and conditioning program? Poor diagnosis and treatment? We keep saying the injury luck is bound to change but it never does.

The Giants are an incredibly loyal operation. But if coaches and players can be fired, why not training and medical staff? They should be evaluated on their performance as well. Time may have passed by Tom Coughlin, but it may also have passed by Senior Vice President of Medical Services Ronnie Barnes who has been with the team for decades.

General Manager, Player Personnel, and Scouting

The Giants have suffered from a lot of bad luck in the injury department. A plethora of career-ending and career-impacting injuries to many of the team’s best young talent has wrecked the roster. But General Manager Jerry Reese, Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Chris Mara, Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross, Director of Pro Personnel Ken Sternfeld, and their staffs have done a horrible job of constructing this roster. There are a bunch of players starting or playing vital roles on this team that wouldn’t even make other teams as backups. There are holes all over the place on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. And the holes seem to be increasing rather than diminishing. The new narrative has been that the Giants are finally drafting better now. Not that much better. Odell Beckham has been the only impact player this team has acquired via the draft in recent years. You can fire coach after coach, but if you don’t acquire and retain good players, you won’t win. Period.

The problem with firing the General Manager and the rest of the player personnel staff is that if you do that in conjunction with firing the coaching staff, there is very little structure and continuity left in place. It would be a monumental organizational and cultural change for the Giants to start from scratch here. It is very unlikely. That said, will the results really change all that much on the playing field if those in charge of acquiring the players are not very good at their job? Also, the Giants have gotten into the nasty habit of making changes a year or two too late. They should have fired Perry Fewell earlier than they did. If Tom Coughlin is let go, they waited too long there as well. What if Jerry Reese’s job performance doesn’t improve, but he is allowed to hire a new coach? Then the next general manager is left with someone else’s coaching staff or having to fire that staff. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a 35+ year old quarterback who you can’t trade.

Conclusion

The bye was supposed to be the panacea for the 6-game sprint to the finish. A win over the Redskins would have all but given the Giants the division. Now, barring a miracle finish, it’s hard to see the team retaining a 70-year old coach who has missed the playoffs four years in a row and who has suddenly turned into one of the poorest game managers in the game. Public relations plays a role here too. The mob is seeking blood and the easiest head to serve up is the head coach. They’ve already fired the offensive and defensive coordinators in recent years. There are no more scapegoats. But – to be blunt – despite the great job Coughlin has done to keep this team competitive, he has dug his own grave this year. It’s a bottom line business and he’s made the wrong decision time and time again.

It’s very doubtful the Giants will make any changes to their training/medical and player acquisition staffs. But they should. They have failed miserably. If you are going to hold coaches and players accountable, then you should hold front office staff members accountable as well. The problems in both of these areas has been ongoing for most of this decade.

Quarterback

Not good enough. Eli Manning was out-played by another mediocre quarterback for the second week in a row. The offense only really generated 10 points on the last two drives of the second quarter. That was it. For all intents and purposes, the Giants offense amounted to a 72-yard pass to Odell Beckham and a 45-yard pass to Will Tye. It may be unfair that Eli has to carry this team, but he has to. The Giants were 0-for-3 in the red zone and 4-of-15 on 3rd down.

Running Back

Not good enough. The head coach and offensive coordinator continue to insist on getting everyone involved yet no one stands out. It is beyond comprehension why this team has stopped trying to get the ball more to Shane Vereen (4 rushes for 13 yards, 2 catches for 7 yards).

Wide Receiver

Not good enough. It’s the Odell Beckham show and nothing else. Yet despite his 6 catches for 149 yards, Beckham could have done more against a secondary that was missing two of its top corners. He dropped two potentially game-deciding catches. They would have been tough, but like Manning, the team needs him to make those plays. Even Tom Coughlin admitted on Monday he has no idea what is going on with Rueben Randle (2 catches for 22 yards), who messed up on the poorly-executed 4th-and-2 play. The other three receiver had 3 catches for 20 yards.

Tight End

Not good enough. Undrafted rookie free agent Will Tye (3 catches for 70 yards) is progressing and his 45-yarder late in the 2nd quarter led to the Giants’ last offensive points of the day. He also had a 25-yarder early in the 3rd quarter, but that was the end of his productivity for the game as a receiver.

Offensive Line

Not good enough. Cohesion is a problem as players keep leaving the line-up due to injury. Marshall Newhouse missed the game and Ereck Flowers was forced out due to a high ankle sprain. He had issues in pass protection before he left. Justin Pugh, who just returned from a concussion, had to shift to left tackle and Dallas Reynolds came off of the bench to play left guard. Rookie Bobby Hart started at right tackle, John Jerry at right guard, and the still-gimpy Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) at center. The interior trio struggled run blocking, and the pressure Reynolds allowed on the 4th-and-2 play was a big factor in the play’s failure. Hart and Pugh were OK given the circumstances and the quality of the opposition.

Defensive Line

Not good enough. While Jason Pierre-Paul (6 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defense, and 1 fumble recovery) and Robert Ayers (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 1 pass defense) had their best games of the season, the line and the entire defense failed to rise to the occasion on each of the last three drives. Cullen Jenkins also had a sack. The 15-yard scramble by Fitzpatrick on 4th-and-6 was a killer.

Linebackers

Not good enough. The Jets killed the Giants with passes to the running backs out of the backfield with 13 receptions for 113 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-15. Jasper Brinkley did force the only turnover of the day for the Giants. But Chris Ivory also gained 47 rushing yards on just 10 carries.

Defensive Backs

Not good enough. The Giants were counting on cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara to shut down the Jets’ only two consistent receiving threats: Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Instead, Marshall and Decker caught 20-of-25 passes thrown in their direction for 232 yards. Amukamara, who seemed to be pointing fingers at others after the game, should have looked at himself for dropping a sure interception and then giving up the game-tying touchdown with 27 seconds left in regulation.

Special Teams

Not good enough. Tragically. Despite Dwayne Harris’ 80-yard punt return for a touchdown and 43-yard kickoff return in overtime, what will be remembered is place kicker Josh Brown missing his only field goal attempt of the season to date in overtime.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

I love the man, but it’s got to be Tom Coughlin. Your offense has possessed the ball for 11 minutes and 21 seconds. There is less than 9 minutes in the game. The opposition only has generated 10 points. You kick the field goal and go up 13 points. He also sent the wrong message to his defense that had been doing alright up to that point.

(New York Jets at New York Giants, December 6, 2015)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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