By Curt Macysyn
The New York Football Giants have not played many important games since their victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. But given the NFL salary cap and free agency, the task of keeping talented teams together has become challenging; just ask the Seattle Seahawks. Then again, the New England Patriots have owned the AFC East division for the better part of this century, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers always seem to be in contention for a championship.
How far have the Giants fallen?
Well this week, CBS Sports and USA Today have the Giants ranked 24th in the NFL. And that’s the good news. ESPN and Yahoo Sports have the Giants in 26th place. NFL.com thinks Big Blue is the 25th best team in the league, while Fox Sports ranks them 27th.
None of the rankings, obviously, are anything to write home about, and that position does not figure to change drastically over the course of the remainder of the 2014 season. What becomes more demoralizing is the fact that no one considered this campaign to be a rebuilding season for the New York Giants. Over the off season, Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese almost turned over 50 percent of the roster, and committed over $114 million, after what was thought to be a nightmarish 2013 season.
Long-time Giants’ contributors like David Diehl, Chris Snee and Brandon Jacobs retired. Other important players like Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph and Hakeem Nicks left via free agency.Still others like Brandon Myers, David Baas, Corey Webster, Andre Brown and Keith Rivers did not fit into the Giants’ future for one reason or another, and with good reason.
For the most part the roster purge was necessary because the team had become loaded with players who were non-performers, as evidenced by its record. But fast forward to today, after the great roster purge of 2014, the same dynamic appears to be rearing its ugly head again.
Former New York Giants’ head coach and Hall of Famer Bill Parcells was famous for saying, “you are what your record says you are.” And that saying could not apply more to any team than it does to the 2014 New York Giants (3-7). On Sunday, quarterback Eli Manning almost doubled his interception total for the season, throwing five picks in the 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Manning’s performance was celebrated by rookie linebacker Chris Borland, who claimed that the Giant’s signal caller had “happy feet.” In the past, Borland’s comment might have been more muted, as the rookie, who has not played a full season in the NFL, may have been more respectful of a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
But then again, these are the 2014 New York Giants, who have to be considered a must-win game for playoff contenders, joining the Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins as the league’s doormats. Another league doormat, the New York Jets, happen to be the Giants’ co-tenant at MetLife Stadium, and the teams seem to share a philosophy about building a roster.
That philosophy seems to include gaping holes on the roster that the general manager thinks can be plugged by sheer luck or stellar coaching, or maybe a combination of the two. For example, Reese and company brought back injury-prone linebacker Jon Beason, who promptly went out and injured himself again at a position where the team has been trying to hammer a round peg in a square hole for years. Some of the recent revolving door moves included bringing in Keith Rivers, Aaron Curry, Greg Jones and Phillip Dillard, none of whom were going to make fans forget Gary Reasons, let alone Carl Banks or Lawrence Taylor.
This year the jury is still out on big money free agents Rashad Jennings, Geoff Schwartz and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and from a talent standpoint, those guys are clearly an upgrade from 2013. But they have not been able to produce for the G-men due to injury, and now it is too late for any of the three to contribute in a meaningful way except for some hollow victories, possibly, over the last six games.
An interesting side note to the Schwartz injury was that the big lineman was activated this week, and the Giants released rookie linebacker Justin Anderson to make room for him on the roster. Another offensive lineman, Charles Brown, curiously remains on the roster, even though head coach Tom Coughlin indicated that Brown’s play was “not very good” as he replaced an injured Justin Pugh on Sunday. It begs the question, why?
There are several other players, in addition to Brown, who have not proven their NFL-worthiness on this roster. Cornerback Jayron Hosley has been a major disappointment as a third-round draft pick. Tight end Adrien Robinson continues to take up a roster spot, even though he plays sparingly if ever. And tackle James Brewer, another Reese draft pick, has only made the injury list in his time with the team.
To the extent that Schwartz returns to the starting line-up, the Giants have a choice to make. Do they put veteran John Jerry back onto the bench or rookie Weston Richburg? In terms of developing talent, Richburg should play because he represents the future, and Jerry does not. Also Jerry has a (-14.2) grade from Pro Football Focus, while Richburg’s grade is (-12.2), so from that standpoint Richburg is marginally better. Let’s see what happens.
Recently, the Baltimore Ravens cut two cornerbacks who were part of their rotation, because of unhappiness with their play. The fact that the Ravens are in a playoff fight made that decision even bolder, but the early returns show that it may pay off for them. Up the New Jersey Turnpike, the Giants keep sending out the same players, and talk of improving their execution. It has become the same mantra after every loss, we need to execute better. Perhaps better players would help in the execution department.
The continued poor play has been supplemented by poor coaching. The three fade patterns on first and goal on the four-yard line against the 49ers on Sunday exemplified coaching stubbornness. Bill Parcells could pull off bold coaching moves because he knew when he had the horses, and perhaps more importantly, when he did not. The Giants’ Super Bowl XXV win was a testament to Parcells’ ability to maximize player production and his acute understanding of the strengths, and weaknesses of his football teams.
Onside kicks and fourth down attempts do nothing for a team’s morale, let alone a fan’s morale, if they are simply hollow attempts to show confidence in your troops. The Giants got lucky on the onside kick, and their attempt at a fourth-down conversion on Sunday was another case of false bravado. Their offensive line once again exudes disarray this year, so the thought that they would muster the will to push back against the 49ers’ defense was another in a long line of wishful thinking calls this season.
And the poor coaching may be a manifestation of poor roster composition, because most analysts who have watched the Giants this season believe that the roster is devoid of talent. Basic computer terminology states, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Dr. Phil always says, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”, and from that standpoint, it would be good to see the roster purge begin during the current season. The fans of Big Blue deserve better than the current state of affairs that the team finds itself in again in 2014.
For more Giants news and updates, visit Giants Central.
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.