With the coach wrapping up his first season, let’s evaluate what we have seen
When Pat Shurmur was hired as coach of the New York Giants we looked at four major questions Shurmur had to answer in his new job. As the year ends, let’s update those questions and see how well each of them were answered.
What is the quarterback plan?
This was a question in January of 2018. The answer isn’t any clearer as we head to January of 2019.
Shurmur told us early in his tenure that he and new GM Dave Gettleman had a quarterback plan, but that it probably wasn’t the one many analysts or fans expected.
The 2018 season proved that.
The Giants chose to ride with Eli Manning. They chose to build around him, drafting Saquon Barkley and trying — with only partial success — to build Manning a better offensive line. They chose to jettison the potential heir, Davis Webb, drafted by the previous regime. They drafted their own potential quarterback of the future in the fourth round, selecting Kyle Lauletta.
Basically, they kicked the can down the road when it came to finding a successor.
In 2019? There is a vociferous section of the fan base that will hate the idea, but with each passing week throughout the second half of the season it seemed to become increasingly possible that the Giants could open next season with Manning at quarterback.
The Giants have not, of course, said they will do that. Both the offense as a whole and Manning’s play individually, though, have been on the upswing as the season has progressed, showing that the Giants can play good offense with Manning behind center. Even with the Week 16 shutout by the Tennessee Titans, the Giants have averaged 26.3 points per game in seven games since the bye. That would be 10th in the league overall for a full season, a respectable number.
The Manning succession plan remains murky, and everyone has a opinion regarding what the plan should be. We don’t, however, know what the plan is. We are getting more and more of an idea that the Giants don’t seem to think Kyle Lauletta is the answer. If they did truly believe in his future he would be active during games.
What we do know is that finding the right successor to Manning, whenever it happens and whenever the inevitable transition takes place, is the most important thing on the Giants’ to-do list.
It just doesn’t seem as likely as it once did that the post-Manning era will begin Week 1 of next season.
Has the culture been flipped?
Original question: How will he fix the locker room?
In that original post, I referred to the 2017 Giants as a “dysfunctional mess.” I think that is an appropriate description for the way things were.
One of the things Shurmur said at his introductory press conference was “I think what’s important is we’re going to establish the right way to do things. We’re going to establish what we want as a New York Giants football team.”
Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman have gone a long way toward changing that culture. The roster has been almost completely remade. Veteran leaders like Michael Thomas, Nate Solder and Alec Ogletree — the type of players the Giants didn’t have enough of the past few seasons — are scattered across the roster.
Shurmur goes the extra mile to build relationships with and to support his players. Thus, they respect him. He is consistent in his messages to “play for each other” and that “teams beat teams,” and players are responding. Fining Odell Beckham Jr. for his ESPN comments, whether you liked it or not, was a move other players notice. It reinforces the “teams beat teams” message and that no player is above the team.
The Giants didn’t beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, showing that they still have work to do in order to get where they need to be. The fact that they played hard in a game that had no impact on the outcome of their season, though, was a good sign that the players are listening to and playing for their coach.
Has the offense been fixed?
Original question: How will he fix the offense?
When Shurmur was hired he came with the reputation of having been a highly successful offensive coordinator for multiple teams with multiple types of quarterbacks. The Giants needed new ideas after going two full seasons without scoring 30 points in a game.
The first half of the season was a struggle. Poor offensive line play and a tendency to get away at times from feeding the incredible rookie Saquon Barkley in the running game contributed to the Giants averaging only 18.75 points in their first eight games. The Giants failed to reach 20 points four times through eight games.
The second half of the season has been different.
Barkley averaged 13.9 carries per game in the first eight games, never carrying the ball 20 times. In the second half of the season, Barkley has averaged 19 carries per game and has had 20 or more carries four times.
After throwing 40 or more passes four times in the first eight games, Manning has done so only once in the last seven while throwing 11 touchdown passes to four interceptions.
The offensive line, with Nate Solder and Will Hernandez settling in on the left side and Jamon Brown giving them help on the right, has been better. Shurmur has been expanding the playbook, with a Beckham pass for a score against the Bears, play action, getting Manning out of the pocket on occasion, misdirection and increased use of Evan Engram as he has gotten healthy.
The offense isn’t completely fixed.
The Giants need more hog mollies on the offensive line. Right tackle, center and perhaps right guard depending upon what happens with free-agent-to-be Jamon Brown are positions in flux. The Giants probably need a third wide receiver, preferably a bigger-bodied one who can play outside opposite Beckham. They, of course, need to search for their post-Manning quarterback.
Still, as the season ends, it appears the Giants have made tremendous strides on offense. It certainly hasn’t been, and isn’t, perfect. The Giants have, however, arrived at a place where they can compete in games that require them to get up and down the field and score a healthy number of points.
A good coaching staff?
Original question: Who will the assistant coaches be?
Good head coaches need good assistant coaches. When Shurmur was hired we wondered what kind of staff he would be able to pull together. To be honest, it is pretty much impossible to judge the work of position coaches. There are a few general observations, though, that can be made.
I do like James Bettcher as defensive coordinator, despite the fact that the defense has been found wanting most of the season. I believe I have been consistent in expressing my belief that the Giants just don’t have enough talent on defense — at any position. I’m not judging him until he has better players at his disposal.
I wonder how long Mike Shula will stick around as offensive coordinator. The guy has been a head coach at Alabama. He has been the offensive play-caller for three NFL teams. If he gets an opportunity with more responsibility than being second offensive fiddle to Shurmur, he probably takes it.
The rest? I wonder how good of an offensive line coach Hal Hunter is, and how good Lunda Wells, an offensive lineman by trade, is at coaching tight ends. I don’t, however, really know.
The biggest question, after one full season with him at the helm, is this. Is Shurmur the right coach to lead the Giants back to respectability, back to a point where they are consistent contenders?
My answer is that personnel decisions will have a lot to do with that. Can they get the defense, the offensive line and especially the long-term future at quarterback right? The Giants haven’t won enough games in 2018 and there have been some curious in-game decisions.
Overall, though, I have liked the work Shurmur has done. I have said before and will continue to say I believe Shurmur has the Giants pointed in the right direction.
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With the season and the year coming to a close we will soon be looking back at some of the top Giants stories of the year. We will also be going through position-by-position evaluations heading into the offseason. Be sure to look for those.
Merry Christmas, Giants fans!