John Fennelly, Lead Writer
Since Tom Coughlin took over as Giants head coach in 2004, the Giants have finished in the top 10 in total offense six times and finished twice more in the top 15. In 2013, the Giants dropped to 28th in overall offense (19th passing, 29th rushing).
The sudden drop in production and success can be attributed to a number of factors. Injuries, age, poor planning, lack of depth and dearth of talent due to failures in the draft all converged on the Giants last summer. They opened the season with six straight defeats but managed to recover thanks to a soft schedule that saw them play a string of teams who were without their starting quarterbacks.
They finished 7-9 but there was no avoiding the obvious – an overhaul on the offensive side of the ball was needed…
Scoring: 18.1 PPG Rank: 28th – 2013 saw the lowest point output in the Coughlin Era, after ranking in the top 10 every season since 2008. Only four teams ranked lower: The Jets, with a rookie QB, and the Texans, Jaguars and Bucs – all who drafted in the top seven in last week’s draft.
Turnover Ratio: -15. Second-worst in the NFL after Houston (-20). The Giants committed a league-high 44 turnovers, (29 INT, 15 fumbles). It could have been worse had the Giants not amassed 29 takeaways of their own. Eli Manning set a franchise record with 27 INTs.
Completion Pct: 57.3% – Tied for 28th in the league. Inexcusable when you have a QB with a cap number near $20 million and a Pro Bowl receiver surrounded by No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks.
Passing TDs: 18 – Tied for 27th in the NFL. By far the lowest output of Manning’s career.
Receiving TDs: WR Hakeem Nicks had 56 receptions but none in the end zone. Rueben Randle led the team with six, and Victor Cruz and TE Brandon Myers scored four apiece.
Passer Rating: 67.6. Another inexcusable showing. It was next to last in the NFL. Only the Jets were lower, at 66.6.
Sacks: Eli Manning was sacked 39 times, a career high, as compared to just 19 times in 2012. Curtis Painter was sacked once, raising the team total to an even 40.
Rushing: Ranked 29th in the NFL in yards gained and were also 29th in YPC with 3.5. The Giants also fumbled 12 times on rushing plays, losing seven.
Third Down Pct: 32.7% (30th in the NFL). The Giants went 6-for-12 in fourth down attempts. For the record, they finished 27th in the league in first downs.
Red Zone Efficiency (TD only): 47.2%, which was good for 30th in the league. By comparison, big brother Peyton’s Broncos had a RZ percentage of 72.7.
So, what happened?
Injuries, injuries and more injuries. The Giants led the league in starter games lost to injury with 91, with 26 of those games along the offensive line. By Week 17 they were down to just three of the eleven opening day starters on offense.
It’s a miracle that this team finished 7-9. They actually could have had an even better record had they not thrown their two games against Dallas in the trash and let the Bears off the hook in Chicago.
The offense moved slowly. From the inception of the play and the deliverance of it to the huddle, to the execution. OC Kevin Gilbride and his staff regularly took too long to call a play and get it into Eli, forcing him to hustle to get the team lined up and giving him less time to audible. As the season went on and the faces changed, it’s widely suspected that many of the players on the field did not know their assignments on many plays, hence the miscommunication in the passing game.
Eli also called way too many time outs as a result, crushing any momentum the team had built. They also committed eight false starts, fourth highest in the league.
The offensive line had a rash of injuries. All-Pro guard Chris Snee (hip) was lost for the season, as was center David Baas (knee). The Giants countered with players such as Jim Cordle and James Brewer, who were overwhelmed at times. To add the to the misery, OT Will Beatty had a sub-par season. As a result, the Giants offense was sluggish and out of sync for most of the year. Manning was under constant pressure and the rushing attack screeched to a halt. Not having fullback Henry Hynoski for the entire season didn’t help, either.
It’s difficult to call the rushing game an attack at all. Andre Brown and David Wilson were supposed to split the carries, but that plan was quickly scrapped when Brown re-injured his leg before the season and missed the first eight games. Wilson lasted only five weeks before being shelved with a potential career-threatening neck injury. The Giants turned to Da’Rel Scott, but he stayed true to form by getting injured in his first taste of duty.
The team had no choice but to bring back Brandon Jacobs and sign veterans Jon Conner and Peyton Hillis. Those players infused some life back into the offense and were shortly joined by Brown in Week 9 to stabilize the rushing game.
The passing game was littered with a slew of disconnects and breakdowns. Manning was not sharp and made far too many risky throws. Nicks was productive, but he never quite seemed to be the same player he was before his injuries. Randle was inconsistent, running incorrect routes and even looking confused at times. Cruz had to deal with extra defenders blocking his routes and limiting his ability to break off long gains.
Brandon Myers was brought in to take over the TE duties. He proved to be a below-average blocker and a station-to-station receiver. Myers never clicked with Eli and missed on some big plays which cost the Giants in several games.
What’s being done to fix the offense?
Coaching: OC Kevin Gilbride retired and Coughlin fired old cronies TE coach Mike Pope and RB coach Jerrald Ingram. He hired Green Bay assistant Ben McAdoo to replace Gilbirde, and brought in Danny Langsdorf as the new QB coach. Craig Johnson was hired to coach the RBs. The overhaul didn’t stop there. Sean Ryan (QBs) was moved back to WR coach, replacing Kevin Gilbride, Jr., who will take over the TEs. OL coaches Pat Flaherty and Lunda Wells are the only mainstays from 2013.
McAdoo’s system will be a Giant-sized version of the west coast offense. The general impetus will be to put pressure on the defense by adapting an “up-tempo” pace. Eli has always performed well in a spread-out, no-huddle environment. It will keep him focused through simplification and hopefully help him maintain sharpness with shortened pass routes and higher-percentage throws.
Langsdorf will be a refreshing voice in Eli’s ear, keeping him on task, helping him to cut down on mistakes and avoid taking too many risks. Johnson will bring a new wrinkle to the team’s running backs, emphasizing both the rushing and receiving aspects of the game.
Flaherty is one of the game’s top OL coaches and will be charged with the task of integrating the old with the new. Gilbride, Jr. is considered one of the league’s top young coaches and is being given the difficult task of not only following in Pope’s footsteps, but making something out of an under-performing unit. Ryan is back handling the wideouts, where he helped Victor Cruz become a star a few years back.
Quarterback: The mission this offseason is to get Eli some much-needed help, which management did by getting him new coaches, new players and and a risk-proof strategy. Now it is up to him to break his old habits of locking his eyes on receivers, telegraphing passes and trying to fit throws into unreasonable windows. He also must take his leadership role more seriously and be more demanding of his teammates.
Offensive Line: This has been the area pundits have been pointing at the most as the main culprit of the downfall of the offense, but things are looking up.
In free agency, Jerry Reese signed the massive Geoff Schwartz to play LG, JD Walton to play center, and veteran starters Charles Brown and John Jerry to supply some depth. In the draft, Reese grabbed Colorado State center Weston Richburg in the second round. Richburg is perfect for McAdoo’s system – a mobile lineman that can pull and get to the second level. He can play guard as well. The plan is for Richburg to take over the center position.
Returning are Justin Pugh, who started all 16 games as a rookie at RT. He has gained ten pounds over the offseason and is gaining both confidence and skill with each game. Will Beatty’s season ended with a broken tibia and his status for 2014 remains uncertain. If he’s healthy, he’ll start at either left or right tackle.
Chris Snee plans to return for one more season as the elder statesman. His hip appears to have healed and he will either start at RG or provide backup. The starting lineup, if all goes well, will be: LT Beatty, LG Schwartz, C Richburg, RG Snee and RT Pugh. With veterans like Jerry, Brown and Walton, the Giants’ line will be back in business in 2014.
Running Back: A complete retooling. Brown and Scott are gone. Former Raider and Jaguar Rashad Jennings and NCAA rushing champ and Heisman finalist Andre Williams are in. Michael Cox and Hillis are both returning. David Wilson has yet to be cleared by doctors. Hynoski has re-signed to challenge Conner at fullback.
The Giants traditionally keep four RBs and on FB. All questions will be answered should Wilson not be cleared by training camp. Jennings is both a productive rusher and receiver. Williams is a hammer that gains positive yards. However, his receiving skills need to be honed. Hillis is a tough runner whose best asset is receiving the ball via short passes. Cox is a big runner with a lot of potential and is valuable on special teams. If Wlison makes it back, he’ll be relegated to third-down duty.
The Giants needed more versatility and durability in this unit and it looks like they’ve gotten it. Jennings is a multi-pronged weapon that will see the majority of the snaps. Williams will get his shots in as well, softening the defense while shoring up the short yardage and goal line packages. Coughlin should have no issues with this group. Everyone, with the exception of Wilson, blocks well.
Tight End: We will find out shortly if Reese is right about Adrien Robinson. It appears to be his job to lose. He’ll be pushed by Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells and Xavier Grimble in training camp. Kellen Davis is a proven blocker and short-yardage and red zone option.
Gilbride, Jr. will try to unleash the speed of Robinson and the size of Donnell. If that looks to be too tall a task, they could go with the other two players. Fells has produced in a previous life and Grimble was reportedly misused at USC and could end up being a pleasant surprise.
A veteran, most notably Jermichael Finley, could come into the mix this summer should things not work out among this group. No matter who gets the job, the TE is integral to the offense and someone must produce at this position for the Giants to be successful.
Wide Receiver: The team’s No. 1 – Hakeem Nicks – is gone, off to Indianapolis via free agency. The Giants decided to use the draft to replace him by taking Odell Beckham, Jr. with the 12th overall pick. Beckham is a dynamic player who, like Nicks, simply makes plays. He runs solid routes, has big hands and has a 40-inch vertical leap.
Beckham will line up in Nicks’ spot, but could also line up in the slot, if needed. He will take the pressure off Cruz and Randle, which is key. Cruz performs better from the slot and Randle struggles to get separation in double coverage.
The depth is solid with Mario Manningham returning and Jerrel Jernigan becoming more of a known quantity. Mario is not quite 100% so his participation is questionable at this point. Trindon Holliday was brought here to return kicks but can also play wideout, if needed. Former UMass product Julian Talley has been quietly waiting his turn and could factor into the mix.