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Carolina Panthers 38 – New York Giants 35

I’m Mad as Hell

Your move Mr. Mara.

The 2015 New York Giants nightmare of a season is just about over, unless the football gods want to get in one more last kick to the nuts by dragging this out another week. Regardless of the team’s final record, it is brutally clear this team is poorly constructed. They play hard, but they simply are not good enough.

One of the strengths of the New York Giants organization for the last 36 years is they are not impulsive. There have only been three general managers and six head coaches employed by the Giants during that timeframe, including two short tenures by Ray Handley and Dan Reeves. There was immense pressure to fire Bill Parcells after the 1983 season and Tom Coughlin after the 2006 season, moves which probably would have cost the Giants all four of their Super Bowl titles. Meanwhile, both George Young and Ernie Accorsi retired under their own volition, meaning the team has never fired a traditional, modern era GM.

John Mara and Steve Tisch don’t want to fire Tom Coughlin, a man who will go down in history as one of the team’s top three head coaches in addition to Steve Owen and Parcells. They are conscious of the fact that firing Coughlin after the 2006 season would have been a huge mistake and that the 2015 New York Giants are an undermanned squad that has been competitive in every single game. This is an improvement over the 2012-14 Giants who were on the receiving end of a number of humiliating blowouts.

Seven of the Giants’ eight losses have been by a total of 21 points, and six of them have been by four points or less. But therein lies the danger. Mr. Mara may not be seeing the forest through the trees. Despite having a franchise quarterback who is playing some of the best football of his career and one of the NFL’s most explosive skill players, this team is not getting better in a league and division filled with mediocrity. The Giants are on track for their third losing season in a row, fourth non-playoff season in a row, and sixth non-playoff season in seven years. As great as the 2007 and 2011 campaigns were, one gets the sense that poor talent acquisition and coaching wasted chances at more glory. Numerous offensive and defensive coordinators as well as positional coaches have been fired. And due to poor drafting and an inordinate number of serious injuries, the roster has rotted.

The defense is once again dead last in the NFL. Dead last. This has become the norm for a franchise that prided itself on defense throughout most of its history. They can’t stop the run, they can’t rush the passer, and they can’t cover. When a game is on the line, they wilt under the pressure. Many of the starters would be backups or wouldn’t even be on the 53-man roster of many other teams. The offense is in better shape because of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and a recent investment in the offensive line, but it has talent issues at well on the right side of the offensive line and the other skill positions. In short, General Manager Jerry Reese has done a horrible, horrible job of acquiring talent.

As for the coaches, they are quality men with a proven track record of success either with the Giants or on other teams. In many ways, they are a victim of Jerry Reese’s poorly-run operation. But in a bottom line business, the team has become too accustomed to losing. Tom Coughlin’s edge seems to be gone. Even under the new CBA rules, practices are not tough. Instead of an angry “no medals for trying” attitude we get “we played hard.” Players freely admit their confidence is shaken. A culture of mediocrity and defeat has gripped a franchise only a few years removed from an NFL title.

The Giants are clearly at a crossroads. They can stay the course, hope Jerry Reese and his staff draft better and make better decisions in free agency than they have. They can hope that a soon-to-be 70-year old Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and Steve Spagnuolo can take those new pieces and create a better product and somehow reverse the recent cultural demise. Or they can do what they have done in recent years and serve up some scapegoats to appease those thirsting for blood, firing a position coach, or maybe even reorganizing the personnel department.

Less likely, but what should be considered is an entire organizational enema. It is indisputable that the chief reason for the team’s demise is the failure to acquire sufficient talent. There have been too many bad draft picks and too many poor free agent decisions. The occasional success does not erase the fact that the Giants are not getting enough good players. All three levels of the defense are a joke. Offensively, the team can’t run the football and has no one who scares the opposition other than Manning and Beckham. It’s a two man team. How can John Mara not see that? The Giants are no further along on their “rebuild” as when they started after the 2012 season. They got Beckham and improved the offensive line, but the defense has completely fallen off of the cliff. It can’t be fixed in one offseason.

If the Giants are going to make a change, the time is now. Losing has become too easy for this franchise. The coach is approaching retirement age. Most of the roster is completely disposable and therefore malleable. They can completely change their offensive and defensive systems because of that. If there is any doubt within the organization about Reese, then he should be let go too. You don’t want to get into a situation where Reese hires a new head coach and is then fired himself a year later. Getting rid of Reese may seem too reactionary, but Reese has been truly terrible at his job.

General Observations from the Game

The Odell Beckham shenanigans obscure what ended up being a great game. It was expected that the undefeated Carolina Panthers would make short work of a flawed Giants team. With 4:34 left to play before halftime, the game was tied 7-7 as both teams had scored once off of long touchdown marches and each had punted the ball away four times. Then came a disastrous sequence. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped a pick-6. Three plays later Rashad Jennings fumbled the ball away at the New York 46-yard line. Three plays after that, on 3rd-and-1, the defense lost track of Cam Newton’s favorite receiving target, tight end Greg Olsen, as he ran untouched 37 yards for a touchdown. The Giants went three and out. The Panthers made New York pay by driving 72 yards for a commanding 21-7 lead. In the matter of minutes, a close game got out of hand.

The beat down that was expected by many continued in the third quarter. The Giants went three-and-out twice while the Panthers added two more touchdowns to go up 35-7 with 5:32 left in the 3rd quarter. The game was over.

But then began New York’s dramatic comeback as they rallied to tie a game from a 28-point deficit for the first time in their entire team history. Within the span of 15 minutes, they scored four touchdowns, including a dramatic 14-yarder from Manning to Beckham on 4th-and-5 with 1:46 to play. MetLife Stadium went nuts. The Giants only needed one more defensive stop to get the ball back in regulation or send the game into overtime. But for the seventh time this season, the Giants’ defense was unable to make that stop late in a contest with the game in doubt. Carolina kicked the game-winning 43-yard field goal with no time left as the Panthers easily gained the 49 yards and four first downs they needed to win the game.

Offensive Observations

Too little too late. As I’ve said for weeks, the Giants need Eli Manning and Odell Beckham to play near-perfect games in order to win. Beckham dropped a 52-yard touchdown on the team’s first drive, got foolishly caught up in a personal battle with Josh Norman, and was a complete non-factor until late in the 3rd quarter. Not counting the give-up play right before halftime, the Giants first nine possessions resulted in one touchdown drive, one turnover, and seven punts (four of which came after three-and-outs).

The offense does deserve credit for the furious comeback effort with four straight touchdown drives of 64, 66, 14, and 66 yards against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. Manning ended the day 29-of-46 for 245 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception – the latter partially caused by the pass rush combined with Hakeem Nicks falling down. Manning’s numbers would have been even better had not for a couple of missed opportunities deep to Beckham, including the drop.

The Giants finally got Shane Vereen back into the passing game, as he caught 8 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. Beckham almost redeemed himself on the day with two 4th-down conversions, including the game-tying 14-yard touchdown that was also set up his 40-yard catch-and-run. Will Tye chipped in with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Rueben Randle caught a 27-yarder touchdown but that was due to a breakdown in the Panthers’ pass defense. His other three catches only went for 20 yards.

Jennings’ fumble overshadowed what was sadly the team’s first 100-yard rushing performance by a single ball carrier this year. He ran the ball 16 times for 107 yards (6.7 yards per carry average), including a 38-yard touchdown run. Vereen chipped in with 29 yards on four carries (7.3 yards per carry) and Andre Williams 21 yards on six carries (3.5 yards per carry). The offensive line performed surprisingly well given the quality of the opponent. Manning was not sacked and only officially hit four times. The team rushed for an impressive 161 yards against what had been the NFL’s #4 run defense.

Defensive Observations

The defense has been so bad for so long that we have become accustomed to seeking out minor victories such as forcing four punts in Carolina’s first five possessions and preventing points in four 4th quarter possessions. Bullshit. The defense still gave up three first half touchdown drives, including two in the last 3:30 of the half. It then gave up two more touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter. Two of the 4th quarter “stops” were a blocked field goal after a 62-yard drive that should have put the game away and an unforced turnover. In the end, Cam Newton became the first player in NFL history to run for 100 yards, pass for three hundred yards, and throw five touchdown passes. It will likely be his signature performance of his MVP season.

To be honest, I don’t have the heart to discuss this unit in detail. Pointing out bright spots on this defense is like picking out your favorite entree at the Golden Corral. The linebackers and safeties are a joke. The highly-paid cornerbacks laid an egg. The best defensive lineman is playing with one hand. Every Giant fan knew Carolina was going to score in the final 1:46. We knew it. They knew it. Needing a late stand, the defense has faltered against the Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Patriots, Redskins, Jets, and Panthers. They are dead last defensively despite not having to face a slew of top quarterbacks or offenses. It’s a sad day when Giants fans wish their defense could be “as good” as the Browns, Colts, and Jaguars or any other team in the NFL

Without their bell cow running back Jonathan Stewart, the Giants knew they had to stop Cam Newton on the ground. They didn’t. Instead, he had his best rushing day of the year. The defense also knew it couldn’t let the Panthers’ mediocre group of wideouts do much damage. Instead, “stalwarts” such as Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown, and Devin Funchess caught 15 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olsen chipped in with 79 more yards and a touchdown. Newton ended the day with a 116.9 quarterback rating. The New York Giants no longer know how to acquire defensive talent or coach them. This has been problem for years now.

Special Teams Observations

The 36-yard punt return by Ted Ginn set up Carolina’s final touchdown. Dwayne Harris was kept in check. The blocked punt by Rodgers-Cromartie was a momentary game-saver.

Coaching Observations

It’s clear the coaching staff is saddled with a weak roster. It’s a tribute to the coaches and players that all but one of the games have been competitive. That said, the coaching staff shares the blame. As mentioned in other game reviews, there have been questionable decisions from the head man. In this particular contest, his original choice to punt on 4th-and-2 trailing 35-7 was a curious one. Eli correctly waived off the punt team to keep the comeback alive. Despite Coughlin’s and Ben McAdoo’s protestations to the contrary, this game was more evidence that there has been too much running back by committee and not enough of a focus on Jennings and Vereen. Spagnuolo has made some odd personnel choices late in games such as having Craig Dahl cover Josh Reed out of the slot against the Redskins and Uani ‘Unga cover guys like Jason Witten of the Cowboys and Greg Olsen of the Panthers.

Tom Coughlin should have benched Odell Beckham. His decision not to seems to suggest that he at least believes he is coaching for his football life. Coughlin knows that without Manning and Beckham, this team is beyond dreadful.

Cram it in your Cramhole Award

Josh Norman, Cortland Finnegan, and many of the Panthers defenders are tools, and Norman sounds like a little bitch. But Odell Beckham allowed him to get under his skin and it impacted the entire team. It may have cost his 52 teammates a playoff spot and his coaches their jobs. The game is not about individuals, no matter how good you are. Now it’s up to Odell to decide whether he will learn and grow from this incident. He should use it to fuel an even greater fire and lift his entire team in years to come.

(Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 20, 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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