By Curt Macysyn
The Detroit Lions and the New York Giants are polar opposites when comparing NFL franchises. For example, New York has been to the Super Bowl five times (winning four), and Detroit has never even played in the big game. While the Giants exude stability, the Lions have been the definition of unstable, at least when it comes to the on-field product. Tom Coughlin begins his 11th season as head coach of Big Blue, and his counterpart, Jim Caldwell, starts his inaugural campaign with Detroit.
Even though the Giants had a stretch of 18 years called “The Wilderness Years” starting in the mid-1960s and ending in 1981, when the team did not qualify for the playoffs, that period of time may seem like nothing to the average Lions’ fan. Detroit last won an NFL championship in 1957, which was roughly the time when Tom Coughlin was in the fifth grade. From 1957 until now, Detroit has made the playoffs ten times, which computes to one playoff season every six years.
Since the Giants hired Coughlin to be head coach in 2004, Detroit has burned through four head coaches, and with Caldwell guiding the ship this year, that makes five coaches for the Lions in the Coughlin-era. But as much as the franchises’ history is dissimilar, the path that each team took last season and expectations for the 2014 NFL campaign are ironically quite similar.
The G-men stumbled badly out of the gate last season, opening up the 2013 season with an unlikely 0-6 record, which realistically derailed the team’s playoff hopes before the mid-season point. The Lions, on the other hand, put themselves in playoff contention after a solid 40-10 victory over the rival Green Bay Packers in late November. From there, Detroit faltered badly, losing its last four games, including a 23-20 nail biter to New York on Dec. 22.
The loss to the Giants ended Detroit’s playoff and also signaled the end of the Jim Schwartz-era in Detroit. Schwartz inherited an 0-16 team in 2009 and had them in the playoffs by 2011. The combustible head coach, well known for his post-game confrontation with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, was relieved of his duties after a five-year record of 29-51 (.363 winning percentage).
Coughlin begins his second decade as head coach of the Giants, as his team celebrates its 90th year of existence. The veteran head coach, who just turned 68-years old, remains the NFL’s oldest. New York has a revitalized offensive coaching staff, starting with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The 37-year old McAdoo starts his first season as an NFL coordinator, and he charged with fixing a dysfunctional offense.
McAdoo comes to New York via Detroit’s fiercest rival, the Green Bay Packers, where he learned at the hand of Mike McCarthy for eight seasons, first as tight ends coach, and then as quarterbacks coach for the past two years. He inherits an offense that was ranked 28th in total yards in the league and was dead last in the NFL in interceptions thrown with 29, six more than runner-up Baltimore. Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked numerous time and led the NFL with 27 interceptions.
For a team that prides itself on ball control, the Giants’ running game was no better, as the team ranked 28th in rushing with 1,332 yards. Andre Brown led the rushing attack, if you could call it that, with a mere 492 yards. Brown did miss the first six weeks of the season after breaking his leg in the preseason finale against the New England Patriots last year. Regardless of the circumstances, McAdoo has his work cut out for him as he tries to craft an offense that is missing key parts.
The tight end position was a big disappointment last year with Brandon Myers as starter, and the Giants chose not to bring him back. But general manager did not upgrade the position at all, instead relying on the coaching staff to make something out of Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. The preseason results seem to indicate that sticking to the status quo at tight end was a mistake.
The offensive line was a mess last year, and it went through numerous iterations. Reese did bring in one big name offensive lineman through free agency, Geoff Schwartz, but he also had two linemen retire in the off season, Chris Snee and David Diehl. Weston Richburg was drafted out of Colorado State, but Coughlin likes using rookie as little as possible, but he will have to make due in this case. Will Beatty does not yet look to be over the severe leg injury he suffered in the season finale against Washington. Free agent J.D. Walton was brought in to anchor the line after being injured for the most of the past two seasons.
Rashad Jennings looks to be a solid pickup, based upon his preseason performance. And rookie Andre Williams will provide some relief for Jennings at the halfback spot.All in all, Reese is asking the coaching staff to win games, despite obvious glaring holes on the offense. Odell Beckham, Jr. was supposed to add a dynamic dimension to the offense, and take pressure off of Victor Cruz, but he has not played due to a lingering hamstring problem. Speedster David Wilson has to retire from football because of a serious neck injury.
Unfortunately for the G-men, neither Beckham nor Schwartz will play against the Lions.
Defensively, the Giants brought in cornerbacks Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond II and Zack Bowman. The team resigned veteran Trumaine McBride, and has maturing Prince Amukamara at corner as well. Big Blue also lured defenders Robert Ayers, Jr., Jameel McClain and Quintin Demps.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason looks likely to return after spending training healing a foot injury, but overall the G-men have far too many questions entering into the first game of the season. Coughlin can only hope that the defense jells quickly, as the offense looks like it will need divine intervention to become the threat it once was. At the age of 68, Coughlin is being asked to pull a rabbit out of his hat.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.