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Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (March 26, 2014)

Tom Coughlin – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants, January 3, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
This is the end of yet another utterly miserable and meaningless season. The Giants remained relevant until early December only because of the crappy state of the rest of the division. Despite four heart-breaking, late 4th quarter losses, at 5-5, the team was in complete control of its fate heading into a decisive game against the Washington Redskins on November 29th. Eli Manning vs. Kirk Cousins. Nevertheless, the Redskins took a commanding 20-0 lead and held on for a victory that would propel them to a division title. The game was reminiscent of key divisional failures against the Redskins (December 2012) and Cowboys (November 2013). Once at 5-4, the Giants lost five of six games with their playoff hopes very much alive. Atrocious defense, an inconsistent running game, red zone failures, untimely special teams breakdowns, questionable game management decisions led to a season of agony as the Giants lost seven games by six points or less.

This Giants-Eagles regular-season finale has a very eerie feel to it. Chip Kelly has already been fired. Tom Coughlin may “retire” immediately after the game. No one knows how the players on either team will respond. How they do will probably decide the outcome. Because of that, a win or loss here is virtually insignificant (see the Giants 42-7 beat down of the Eagles in Andy Reid’s last game in December 2012…the only Giants home victory against the Eagles in the last eight years).

What did the Giants accomplish in 2015? Aside from stat padding by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, not much. And even Beckham managed to tarnish what had been his stellar popular image. Four consecutive non-playoff seasons. Three consecutive losing seasons. Dead-last defense. Horrible 4th quarter collapses. Two blowouts. Over 20 players on Injured Reserve. Let’s just get this thing over and get the few cornerstone players on the team out of the game healthy.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Dwayne Harris (back/shoulder – questionable)
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (concussion – out)
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (ankle – questionable)
  • S Craig Dahl (concussion – out)
  • S Cooper Taylor (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Moving forward, the Giants are obviously in better shape personnel-wise on the offensive side of the ball. Despite turning 35 on Sunday, Eli Manning is playing some of his best football and shows no signs of slowing down. Odell Beckham is one of the game’s true impact players. The offensive line has three good players to build around. Will Tye has flashed as a respectable #2 tight end at the very least. Shane Vereen is one of the game’s better third down backs. But the Giants still need a lot of help here. Can (or should) the Giants count on high-priced, injury-prone Victor Cruz, Will Beatty, and Geoff Schwartz next season or move on? If the Giants prefer Flowers at left tackle, Beatty is probably gone regardless. Cruz may never be the same player again. And aside from Beckham, the cupboard is pretty bare at wide receiver as Rueben Randle has proven to be a coach killer. The Hakeem Nicks encore was downright ugly. Dwayne Harris is a #3/#4 type. Wide receiver is a huge need on this team. So is offensive line unless Schwartz rebounds in big way and Bobby Hart turns out to be a surprise. Hart will start on Sunday against the Eagles and he may be the most important player to watch in this game. Even if Tye develops into a player, the Giants need more help at tight end as Larry Donnell regressed. While Rashad Jennings is capable at running back, he’s nothing special. Andre Williams was a huge disappointment in this system.

The Eagles’ front usually gives the Giants more problems than any other opponent. Will Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Jerry, and Hart put on their big boy pants or skirts on Sunday?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
32nd in defense. 419.3 yards per game allowed. Almost 6,300 yards allowed. The Giants have given up over 6,000 yards four times in their history. And those four years were 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. The defense is an absolute train wreck and it has been for years. It’s not all due to the changing state of the game.

The Giants are facing an absolute defensive rebuild. Because of that, now would be an opportune time to switch to a 3-4 defense if they choose to do so. Despite a shaky rookie season, the coaches are optimistic about safety Landon Collins. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped two potentially game-altering interceptions but otherwise had a very strong season. Despite a disappointing season before he ended up on Injured Reserve, Johnathan Hankins is a versatile talent who can play in any system. Everyone else is a question mark. Depending on their salary demands, it may be wise to let former 1st rounders Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara walk. JPP is permanently-damaged goods who may not respond well to a big contract. Prince is an injury-prone player who likely wants to be paid like a top corner but isn’t one. Jay Bromley probably sticks around at least one more year but all of the other defensive tackles are disposable. Defensive end Robert Ayers has flashed but he hasn’t proven to be a very tough player and is also a free agent. Defensive end, linebacker, and safety are an utter mess. Depending on if Amukamara returns, corner might be as well. There are players starting on the Giants’ defense that would struggle to make Practice Squads on other teams. There is no way the Giants can fix this unit in one offseason.

The Eagles are Jekyll and Hyde on offense depending on the play of their quarterback and offensive line at a given moment or game. Again, the Giants seem to bring out the best in them.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The special teams played much better this year but still had untimely breakdowns that contributed to painful losses. There were big punt returns by the Saints, Patriots, and Panthers. Josh Brown had his second very strong season, but for the second year in a row picked a bad time to miss his first kick, leading to losses (Jaguars in 2014 and Jets in 2015). Dwayne Harris did return a kickoff and punt for touchdowns. Brad Wing was a nice pick-up.

The Eagles’ special teams are outstanding and were a big factor in the team’s upset victory over the Patriots. Darren Sproles has two punt returns for touchdowns this year. Last year in the Meadowlands, the Eagles blocked a punt for a touchdown, a play that turned the game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on his future with the Giants: “Do I want to come back? I don’t know if that’s a great question right now. What I want to do is win a game on Sunday, that’s the bottom line for this group right now. I always have the competitive spirit. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to figure it all out when it’s over. Right now, let’s stick with the game and let’s go win a football game.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The closest season to this one that I can recall was BBI’s first season in 1995. That year, the Giants lost seven games that were decided on the final drive of the game. In six of those games, the Giants were either tied or leading at some point in the 4th quarter. Sound familiar? While the 1995 Giants had Dave Brown at quarterback, the team could run the football and play defense.

I despise the Eagles, but it may be best for the Giants to lose this game. By doing so, the Giants not only avoid a road trip to Seattle in 2016, but they could very much improve their draft position. My most important concern is to get Manning, Beckham, Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Harris, Vereen, DRC, and Collins out of this game healthy. The most important player to watch is Bobby Hart.

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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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