Game Preview: New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons, October 22, 2018
Some regular-season games are simply more important than others. And the New York Giants ended their season on October 11th when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. Had they won, they would have very much still been alive in a mediocre to-date division. Now the 1-5 (0-2 in the NFC East) Giants find themselves ensconced in last place. Could the Giants still catch the Eagles, Cowboys, and Redskins and win the division with 10 games left? Sure. There is a ton of football still left to be played and the Giants are only two games out of first place. But it doesn’t feel like that is possible. The fans already sense it. And it seems like the players do as well. The telltale sign was not just the fact that the Giants lost to the Eagles (again), but they way they lost. With everything on the line, they came up disgustingly small.
So once again, the focus and tenor of the game previews must change. The individual match-ups no longer matter, but the big picture does. We need to take a couple of steps back and evaluate the organization, where this team is heading, and how it is being led? This isn’t fun. While the Giants haven’t officially entered Cleveland Browns territory in terms of organizational futility (yet), it is clear the Giants are now one of the doormats of the NFL. We are the team that other teams can’t wait playing against. We are the team that fills up the highlight reels for the opposition. We are the team that other fans say, “Who are we playing this weekend? The Giants? That’s a win.”
The Giants are not being well led. Ownership has made a series of catastrophic misjudgments. With each passing day, it is clear that former General Manager Jerry Reese and former Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross were not only terrible at their jobs, but they turned a 2x Super Bowl winner into a laughing stock in just five short years. Yet when ownership finally decided enough was enough in January 2016, the team fired Tom Coughlin, promoted Ben McAdoo, kept the bulk of Coughlin’s coaching staff, and retained Reese and Ross. If folks recall, the Eagles appeared to have goaded ownership into hiring McAdoo quickly for fear of losing him to Philadelphia. The Eagles, who hired Doug Pederson, are probably still getting a good chuckle over that one.
When the Giants collapsed in 2017, arguably one of the franchise’s very worst seasons in team history, ownership fired McAdoo and Reese before the season was even over. Ross was fired later. The decision to hire Dave Gettleman was telegraphed from the start, and guaranteed as soon as ownership hired Ernie Accorsi to “advise” on the hiring process. Gettleman was groomed under Accorsi and worked under Reese and Ross. He certainly wasn’t a break from the past. And at the age of 67, his hiring certainly wasn’t made with a view for the long-term. It has been suggested that he simply would be a temporary bridge until Assistant GM Kevin Abrams, who has been with the team since 1999, was ready. So right or wrong, ownership made the decision that the organization was not structurally broken and that most of the college and pro scouts were still good at their job. They came to the conclusion that if they just fired Reese and Ross, just like they had made the previous decision that if they just fired Coughlin, everything would be fine. Thus far, it looks like they have made yet another huge misjudgment. I’ll get into the specifics below. But take a quick look at the roster. I repeatedly made the point before the season that it was top heavy. It is even more so today. You have a number of big names sprinkled throughout the roster and then a bunch of castoffs from around the league. Most of these names are barely recognizable and many of them should not even be on an NFL roster.
Which brings us to the third and final glaring mistake by ownership. Once again, they believed this team was only a few roster moves away from seriously competing for a Super Bowl. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And the fact that they could not recognize this is both startling and scary.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Jawill Davis (concussion – out)
- WR Russell Shepard (neck – questionable)
- TE Evan Engram (knee)
- TE Rhett Ellison (foot)
- LT Nate Solder (neck)
- RG Patrick Omameh (knee – questionable)
- LB Olivier Vernon (ribs)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
- Quarterbacks: The Eli Manning era is over. It’s last hurrah was 2016, but the organization didn’t recognize it and still may not recognize it. In terms of championships, statistics, memorable moments, and overall class, Manning will always be regarded as one of the most important figures in franchise history. But it’s over. All that remains to be seen is when and how he officially departs. It sucks, but such is the price for how poorly the Giants were mismanaged during the last third of his career. Now the franchise must work quickly to replace him or the Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley eras will also have a tragic feel to them. What is the plan here? Oddly, Gettleman and Pat Shurmur gave all of the second-team quarterback reps from May-August to a guy who they cut. It took them that long to realize that Davis Webb was not a viable NFL quarterback? And unless you think Alex Tanney is the second coming of Kurt Warner, the Giants had better bump Kyle Lauletta up to the #2 spot soon, if for no other reason than to give him the limited number of practice snaps. The Giants must have a good read on Lauletta heading into the 2019 offseason. They can ill-afford another Davis Webb-like screw-up. The way Shurmur handled Webb and Lauletta in the summer is a huge red flag.
- Running Backs: Saquon Barkley will always be judged against the quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, probably on a weekly basis. But Barkley is the real deal. He’s a difference maker and capable of someday actually wearing that gold jacket. Personally, I’m thrilled he is a New York Giant. Wayne Gallman is a decent back-up. Why Gettleman signed Johnathan Stewart to the contract he did in the offseason is another worrisome sign.
- Wide Receivers: Any team could win with Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard at wide receiver. But the Giants do have a brewing problem with Beckham if they keep losing. And this is not so much a generational thing either. I remember when even “class acts” like Harry Carson demanded to be traded because of the team losing. Beckham is being wasted and he knows it. The rest of the receiving corps outside him and Sterling Shepard is embarrassingly bad.
- Tight Ends: Again, most teams can win with Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison at tight end.
- Offensive Line: While very few people thought it possible the Giants could fix the offensive line in one year, Gettleman and company appear to have batted 1-for-5 in the offseason. They made the disappointing Nate Solder one of the highest paid offensive linemen in football, they believed either Jon Halapio or Brett Jones could handle the center spot, they signed Patrick Omameh to a big offseason deal, and they believed Ereck Flowers may be able to handle the right tackle position. The ONLY good offseason move on the offensive line appears to have been drafting Will Hernandez. The franchise as a whole colossally screwed this up AGAIN. So the Giants will now enter the offseason once again desperately needing to fill 3-4 starting jobs (not to mention depth) and probably have to waste valuable cap space on dead money for cutting mistakes. I can’t emphasize this enough. The Giants are still making huge errors when it comes to evaluating offensive line talent.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
- Defensive Line: The Giants are also wasting Damon Harrison, who is one of the most talented interior defensive linemen in team history. Combined with Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill, these three are not a problem and form a core group to build a viable 3-4 defense around. Depth is also good here.
- Linebackers: Due to injuries or whatever reason, Olivier Vernon never lived up to the hype. He teases, but can’t be counted on. The Giants need to make a decision about him in the offseason. Roll the dice again, or take their losses and have to deal with yet another glaring hole to fill. Signing Kareem Martin in free agency to a big contract also appears to have been a mistake and throws into doubt James Bettcher’s ability to evaluate talent since he undoubtedly lobbied heavily for Martin. Signing the over-the-hill Connor Barwin, who appears to have a chronic knee issue, was another indication that management felt this team was closer to competing than it really was. The Giants need to start Lorenzo Carter. He’s the future. Inside, giving up two picks for Alec Ogletree looks like a questionable move. And B.J. Goodson has not developed as hoped. Taken overall, the Giants moved to a linebacker-centric defense yet still don’t appear to have the linebackers to make it work.
- Defensive Backs: As disappointing as the linebacker position has been, the marquee defensive backs really have let the team down. Landon Collins was supposed to thrive in this defense. He has not. Right now, Collins is still living off his 2016 season hype. Janoris Jenkins is also not playing up to his capabilities. Eli Apple has played better, but he also missed two critically-important games due to injury. The rest of the secondary is filled with journeymen castoffs. This unit has significantly deteriorated since 2016. If Jenkins were to go down, it probably would be considered the worst group in the NFL.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
- Punter: Giving up a draft pick for Riley Dixon was a mistake. They probably could have picked up a similar punter off of the waiver wire.
- Place Kicker: Aldrick Rosas may actually be the most pleasant surprise of the season. He might be here a long, long time.
- Returners: Management and coaching never addressed the kick/punt return issues that we all saw brewing since the summer.
THE FINAL WORD:
It is not outside the realm of possibility that the Giants win a few games and raise hopes again. I’m still rooting for this team to win. It’s in my DNA. But the quarterback is done, the offensive line is still a mess, and there are serious talent deficiencies on defense at linebacker and defensive back. The problem is the Giants have made so many screw ups in recent drafts that they keep trying to fix it by overspending in free agency, causing cap issues.
At some point, this team is going to have to bite the bullet, maintain fiscal responsibility in free agency, accumulate draft picks by trading away players who won’t be here when the team does eventually turn it around, and accept short-term suckitude. But at least fans will see the team attempting to build for something in the future and have hope. Right now, they are just treading water and weekly becoming a doormat for other teams. Stop trading away picks; accumulate them. There is no short-term fix.