Let’s peel back some more layers on some of the most common theories behind the Giants 2018 struggles to see if those arguments actually hold water.
Ever since the Giants 2018 season ended, there have been any number of opinions put forth regarding what went wrong.
While many will look at the final record as being the biggest indicator of just how “far” the Giants as a franchise progresses from year to year, which is the bottom line, digging below the surface of some popular myths outlined below reveals a whole other layer which can help clarify just exactly how far the Giants may or may not have come.
The Giants “built” the team around Eli Manning
On the surface it might look that way given all the resources the Giants put toward the offense vs. the defense in 2018.
But that’s also an incorrect assumption unless you happen to believe that the talent that was “built around Manning” can’t also help Manning’s successor.
Seriously, does anyone think the Giants are going to dump guard Will Hernandez, running back Saquon Barkley, left tackle Nate Solder, and newly re-signed receiver Odell Beckham Jr. once Manning rides off into the sunset?
By building up the offense now, they’re not just trying to help Manning, they are also trying to create an environment where when the next franchise quarterback comes along, he’ll have a world of experience and talent around him combined with a head coach who is known for being able to adapt his offensive system to the strengths of the quarterback.
The Giants didn’t improve from last year
The Giants 5-11 record would certainly support this belief, as after all, the league is a results-oriented business.
The record, though, is only part of the equation.
The 2017 Giants had, for what it’s worth, hit rock bottom not just in terms of their 3-13 record, but in terms of the culture.
I’m even reluctant to refer to that group as a “team” given the tension that existed in the locker room combined with the total breakdown of leadership from the coaching staff.
A former member of the 2007 Super Bowl championship team once offered a wonderful summary of why that team came together despite not being one of the most talented in the league at the time.
He said, “We have 53 guys and over a dozen coaches all taking the same bus home at night.”
When it came to the 2017 team, you had anything but cohesiveness; rather it was a group of individuals and coaches all of whom never got on the same page — and it showed in the product on the field.
Shurmur and Gettleman both made a strong effort to ensure that all 53 players and members of the coaching staff were on the same bus going home at night. As a result, there was no in-fighting, no quit in the locker room, even when the season was, in retrospect, lost under the weight of a 1-7 start.
Some skeptics will point to the Cleveland Browns and lament how that franchise finished with a better record (7-8-1) than the Giants (5-11). There’s no question that the Browns appear to finally be on the upswing and yes, they snagged their franchise quarterback in 2018.
But they also did a better job in building up a defense that, among other things, finished seventh in third-down conversions allowed (the Giants were 26th); third in forced fumbles (the Giants were 20th); and 22nd in sacks (the Giants were 30th).
To be fair, the Giants were at a little bit of a disadvantage when it came to rebuilding the roster. While Gettleman knew he had to sweep out the dead weight — that part was easy to identify — where he was at a disadvantage was that the Giants didn’t have a full coaching staff in place until around mid-February.
That meant that any evaluations he had done were based on what he knew and not necessarily on what the coaching staff was looking for in terms of scheme fit, specifically on defense, which Gettleman, who both with the Giants and with the Panthers was part of franchises who predominantly played a 4-3 defense, admitted created a bit of a guessing game for him.
“Last year was not easy because we’re moving to that 3-4 look – that type of 3-4 that (defensive coordinator) Jimmy (Bettcher) wants to play,” Gettleman said. “There’re different style players on it, and you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. We have a better understanding of what the coaches are looking for.”
So yes, the Giants won-loss record wasn’t much better than 2017, but to suggest that this team isn’t headed in the right direction is a short-sighted take that glosses over the circumstances.
If, however, the Giants finish with another 5-11 (or worse) record next season that’s not driven by major injuries across the landscape, then it becomes fair to question whether Gettleman is the right man to fix this franchise.
One other thought on this point. Gettleman has caught some flak from the fan base for being optimistic (or dishonest, depending on your viewpoint) because he didn’t immediately declare that the team was in a rebuild mode.
Actions speak louder than words. Given that he turned over more than 60 percent of the roster, should there have been any question as to what he really thought about the team he inherited and the direction it needed to take?
Eli Manning the constant in the Giants struggles
To be crystal clear, Manning most definitely could have played better — everyone on a 5-11 team could have.
And while one could argue that Manning has been the lone constant in the team’s decline from a Super Bowl champion to a pitiful mess, that argument doesn’t fully consider the repeated failure of the front office to fix the offensive line or to put a solid running game on the field, both areas that have also been a consistent issue on offense.
Say what you want about Manning being a statute (he’s not a statue, though no one is going to mistake him for the second coming of Fran Tarkenton), but the bottom line is that no matter who the quarterback is, he is going to need a strong supporting cast around him.
Yes, a mobile quarterback might extend plays with his legs, but if receivers don’t catch the ball, if the running game isn’t there to draw an extra defender into the box and create one-on-one matchups for the receivers, and if an offensive line is going to spring random, multiple leaks on every play, that quarterback isn’t going to be able to get much done by himself.
While some view Manning’s lack of mobility as a detriment, it’s also played a big role in his avoiding serious injury over the years. And isn’t it ironic that the one thing the majority of people have agreed on is that if something were to happen to Manning that the Giants season likely would be over anyway?
There is no disputing that the Giants need to get the next franchise quarterback on this roster sooner than later as Manning cannot play forever.
In terms of timing, I still believe that won’t happen until 2020, at which point the Giants are likely to follow a blueprint similar to what the Chiefs did with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes — a blueprint that also included upgrading the talent on both the offense and the defensive sides of the ball.
Eli Manning only beat backup quarterbacks
Four out of five of the Giants’ wins this season came against backup quarterbacks, but let’s make something clear: the quarterback faces the opposing team’s defense, not the other team’s quarterback.
So let’s look at the defenses Manning and the Giants offense beat this year and where those defenses ranked in some key statistical categories.
(The number in parenthesis represents where that defense finished in the league rankings at the end of the 2018 NFL regular season.)
The Giants beat two playoff bound offenses that finished in the top-10 league wide in the major playoff categories.
A year ago, who knows if they pull that accomplishment off? So to say the Giants didn’t improve from 2017 to 2018 even with all their issues as previously noted, is not a fair analysis.
Also worth noting — the Giants averaged 103.1 rushing yards per game–better than what both Houston and Chicago allowed per game; New York’s 23.1 points per game also exceeded the average points per game allowed by three of the teams they beat.
The Giants offense shouldn’t be given a pass for the team’s won-loss record, but the numbers in the above table would contradict the narrative that the Giants offense only beat backup quarterbacks.
Now let’s flip the numbers and see what the opposing offenses did against the Giants defense.
Four of the five teams ranked in the top half of the league for sacks allowed. Four of the five teams the Giants beat also ranked at or near the bottom half of the league in average passing yards per game; three ranked in the bottom half of the league in average rushing yards per game; and two ranked in the bottom third of the league in average points scored per game.
Overall it’s not major progress but considering that it took years for the decisions made by the prior management regime that ruined this franchise, it’s going to take more than one year to rebuild it.