Behind the curve. Week 10’s 4-point stance

When the New York Giants lost to their Big Apple rivals the Jets last Sunday night it dropped the G-Men to 2-8 for the season and a staggering 10-32 in the last three years since their last playoff appearance. With the Giants on a bye this week, and calls for the head of Shurmur, his coaching staff and GM Dave Gettlemen getting louder, I wanted to concentrate on where it has all gone wrong for NYG.

Date: February 5th 2012

The Giants had done it again. Four years after their improbable Super Bowl XLII victory over the New England Patriots, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning held the Vince Lombardi trophy aloft. Super Bowl XLVI, Giants 21-17 Patriots. Nobody could have predicted this would be the last playoff appearance for NYG under Coughlin, and that the rest of the decade would only see one playoff game for Big Blue.

Where did it all go wrong?

In short, poor management of the roster through both the draft and free agency is at the root of the problem. However, the Giants also appear to have failed to realise where their main assets lay and how to capitalise on them at the time.

In 2012 Eli Manning was 31 years old. He was probably at the height of his powers. He’d just completed a virtually flawless set of performances in the playoffs leading to the Super Bowl victory. However, the clock was ticking. As an NFL quarterback the Giants could have safely assumed the next 4 years would be his purple patch and after that, once in his late 30s, it could reasonably be expected to see his performance levels decrease.

In order for a QB to be successful he needs a good supporting cast. The o-line to keep him upright, receivers to catch the passes and a solid running game to keep opposing defenses honest in their approach. In all cases the Giants investments in these areas were relatively poor. Through 2012 to 2015 the Giants looked to the draft in the main but year on year the returns became worse, epitomised by the 2015 class where Ereck Flowers was taken in the first round. Flowers, rightly or wrongly, became the signature example of everything that was wrong with the Giants recruitment at that time. There were some high spots (Pugh, Richburg, OBJ) but all have since left.

When the Giants have looked to utilise free agency that too has not worked as they would have wanted. In 2014 they secured Shane Vereen from the Patriots. After one decent season his fitness and numbers never recovered. In 2016, after firing Tom Coughlin, the Giants finally went big in free agency. They retooled the defense with Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon high ticket arrivals. A defensively dominant Giants rode their luck in most games winning several tight encounters to achieve an 11-5 wildcard spot. The now notorious boat trip by a number of high profile players was a precursor to a sound beating by the Green Bay Packers. Three years and 10-32 later, the high profile acquisitions have one by one been shipped out with only Jenkins remaining (for now). This in turn has had a severe impact on their room to manoeuvre against cap space. In everything they have done the Giants have seemed to be behind the curve, allowing their roster to deteriorate and their moves to then improve the situation have appeared desperate.

Lessons Learned?

Well not really. The Giants have again been duped by the Patriots in free agency. Desperate for quality at left tackle they signed Nate Solder in 2018 and made him the highest paid offensive lineman at that time. He has consistently shown signs that the Giants overpaid. Patrick Omameh was another bought in to boost the O-line, to no avail. Before that, in 2017, the Giants signed WR Brandon Marshall from the Jets as a big target for Eli particularly to boost redzone productivity. He was a complete bust. In 2019 the Giants paid big money again for Golden Tate only to see him banned for the first 4 games for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Results in recent NFL drafts have also been mixed. From the 2017 class the only players of note are TE Evan Engram and DT Dalvin Tomlinson whereas the 2018 class (Gettlemen’s first) brought in Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez and Lorenzo Carter – all of whom should be integral to a renewed roster. The 2019 class has its high spots – Dexter Lawrence, Daniel Jones and Darius Slayton but it has not improved any area significantly. The Giants look destined for a top 5 pick in the 2020 draft and will have to use this wisely.

What next?

It will be interesting to see where the blame for this record sits once the season has played out. The Giants come back from the bye week to face the Bears, Packers and Eagles. It might be safe to assume that by the time they face the Dolphins on 15th December Big Blue may well be 2-11. The manner in which they play those 3 games plus whether they can then beat two other poor teams (Dolphins and Redskins) may determine Shurmur’s fate. There is an argument separate to that of the roster which would suggest the Giants coaching, and specifically play-calling, are stuck in a conservative dark age which has now been consigned to history by the innovation prevalent in much of today’s NFL.

However, is it the coaching or is it the strength of the roster (or lack of strength) provided by Gettlemen. The GM could argue, with some justification, that he is still sorting the mess handed to him from the mis-management of the roster during Jerry Reese’s time in charge. Pat Shurmur could argue that he needs another season to improve this very young and inexperienced roster. Defiant, if not successful, performances over the next 6 weeks may save Shurmur and his staff. A set of weak losses will definitely see a change.

The 2020 blueprint

The Giants will enter 2020 with a healthy amount of cap space (approx. $60M) to play with but a roster with more holes than swiss cheese. Almost every position group needs help. A downhill runner to compliment Saquon, healthy WRs, support at TE, O-line upgrades, a pass rush… The list goes on.

Free agency moves will need to be better value than the moves for Tate, Marshall, Solder, Omameh, Vernon, etc. and the Giants do not own a slew of draft picks so they will need to count and provide at least 2 or 3 day 1 starters.

This is not a quick fix. Given the current roster and what improvements can reasonably be achieved for 2020, I don’t see a winning record for the Giants in 2020 either. However, if they can correct the short-term mistakes of the past and look to the next 5-10 years then the 2020s can be an increasingly successful decade for Big Blue.

Look ahead to week 11 match ups – my 4 to watch

Almost a clean sweep last week – 3 out of 4. So close! Let’s see what this week brings.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns – Cleveland saved their season last week against the Bills but the Steelers are on a D driven role. Conner likely to be back to keep Steelers rolling on the ground so that and the D should be enough. Pittsburgh by 6.

Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens – Watson vs Jackson, two of the most exciting QBs to watch and I expect this one to be close and plenty of points. Ravens are so impressive. Baltimore by 4.

New England Patriots @ Philadelphia Eagles – Philly Special! The Eagles tails are up having drawn level with Cowboys in the NFC East. Patriots are out to prove the loss to Ravens was a one off. I like Philly here. Eagles by 3.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts – Colts are in reverse with several crippling injuries. For the Jags it is time for Nick Foles to step up and show why he is worth the contract and I think he will. Jaguars by 7.

Same time next week!

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