Eli Manning and the Giants are looking to bounce back after a 6-10 showing last season
There’s only so much that even the most patient bosses can take, and it appears that Giants ownership is finally reaching its limit. Last season was a disaster. They’ve now suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time under Tom Coughlin. In the three years since they won Super Bowl XLVI, they haven’t made the playoffs once.
That is the failure that hovers over the Giants’ 2015 season. And any thought that John Mara still has patience with Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese was erased with his last answer in his season-ending press conference. He was asked if 2015 would be a “win or else proposition” for many of his employees.
“I don’t think that’s an unfair statement,” Mara said.
And so it begins. It’s either the end of the Coughlin era, or the Giants’ long-awaited return to prominence. And there seems to be very little room in between.
Considering all the questions hovering over Eli Manning heading into last season, his 2014 was remarkable. Last summer, he was answering questions about his injured ankle, the 27 interceptions he threw the year before, and his ability to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. In his 11th season, Manning threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns and had career high 63.1 completion percentage. His answer was one of his finest statistical seasons as he led the Giants’ offense back into the top 10.
This year they’re aiming higher — much higher — because they believe they have an offensive arsenal that compares to any team in the league. Start with the incomparable Odell Beckham Jr., the receiver who became an overnight superstar as a rookie. In 12 games he had what would’ve been a great season for most receivers in 16 games (91-1,305-12), and he did it despite being the Giants’ only viable option at times.
This season, Beckham expects to be flanked by former Pro Bowl receiver Victor Cruz, whom the Giants hope will make a full recovery from the knee injury suffered last season. And the inconsistent but dangerous Rueben Randle will be better off as the No. 3. Randle had a career-high 938 receiving yards, but his yards per catch dipped from 14.9 to 13.2, and he scored only three touchdowns. Manning also will now have a running back to throw to out of the backfield — ex-Patriot Shane Vereen — which is supposed to be a very key component in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s plan. Vereen caught 52 passes last year for New England.
The key to all this, though, is the offensive line, which could give the running game a boost and give Manning more time to find his targets. They believe they’ll be better because guard Geoff Schwartz, last year’s big free agent, will be back after an injury-plagued season. They also drafted big Ereck Flowers, who should take over at right tackle, which would allow Justin Pugh to move inside to guard.
The Giants have the potential to have their best line — and best offense — since their Super Bowl team.
It’s "Back to the Future" for the Giants after yet another disastrous defensive performance last season under now-ex-defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. There was no doubt whom Coughlin was going to tab as Fewell’s replacement — the popular Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 and was the architect of the plan that beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Of course, “Spags” had a loaded team back then that included Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan and a stable of young, talented pass rushers. This time around his cupboard is much more bare. The Giants’ entire pass rush hinges on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who got the “franchise” tag this offseason. He had a brief resurgence at the end of last season, but it could’ve been the by-product of playing some bad teams.
The team applied the franchise tag to its best defender in the offseason and reportedly had offered Pierre-Paul a $60 million contract extension, but that was before he seriously injured his hands in a July 4th fireworks accident. The damage includes the amputation of his right index finger as well as multiple fractures to his right thumb. Right now, JPP is expected to play this season, but this incident has definitely brought his future with the team back to the forefront, as he has yet to sign his one-year franchise tender, which would pay him $14.8 million this season, and the Giants have since pulled their contract offer.
Spagnuolo will bring an aggressive, attacking scheme that his players will love. He will find ways to utilize promising defensive end Damontre Moore, who is a pass-rush specialist but struggles against the run. He will bring corners and safeties on frequent blitzes, which will help a secondary that has some big question marks (corners Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are coming off injury-plagued seasons, and with Antrel Rolle gone the safety spot looks like a big, black hole).
The key to making that work, though, is the presence of one premier pass rusher to get most of the offense’s attention, and to shrug off that attention and still make his presence felt. Pierre-Paul used to be able to do that. And the Giants’ defense could be very good if he’s the old “JPP” again.
The Giants haven’t had to worry about their kicker (Josh Brown) or punter (Steve Weatherford) the last few years. Brown is as accurate as any kicker in the league, and Weatherford — who battled through painful torn ligaments in his ankle last season — is a coach’s dream, at least when he’s healthy. The coverage teams on kicks and punts were even improved last season.
It’s the Giants’ return game that’s been dreadful, which is why they over-spent on Dwayne Harris, a virtually unknown Cowboys receiver/returner. The hope is that he’ll bring the speed and explosiveness they’ve been missing in their return game since they had a healthy Domenik Hixon. It also allows them to keep Beckham off of special teams, because until Harris arrived, Beckham was looking like their only option.
Harris — who also could be a terrific gunner on punt coverage teams — will still need solid play in front of him, and the Giants think they’ve found a small army of good special teamers both in free agency and in recent draft classes. It didn’t go unnoticed that some of their free-agent additions, such as linebackers Jonathan Casillas and JT Thomas, are good special teamers too. The Giants’ beleaguered unit needs as much help as it can get.
The Giants would never use injuries as an excuse, but how can you not factor that in when thinking about how much better they’ll be this year? They had injuries along their offensive and defensive lines, lost their previous No. 1 receiver (Cruz), their middle linebacker (Jon Beason), their top corner (Amukamara), their nickel corner (Walt Thurmond) and, for a time, their No. 1 running back (Rashad Jennings). No wonder the Giants finished 6–10.
But here’s the thing: They still had a top-10 offense, and there were at least four winnable games where a little luck and health might have made a difference.
That’s why they’re primed for a bounce-back year. They are essentially getting their 2014 free-agent class back, along with their ’15 class. They are adding help to free the unstoppable Beckham from double-teams. They’ve added a better defensive coordinator who’ll bring in a more successful scheme. Barring another onslaught of injuries, this team should be much improved and remain in the hunt in the NFC East.