The New York Giants were 11-5 last season. They were the bane of the Dallas Cowboys life as they beat them twice during the regular season and looked for all the world like a team that could do damage in the playoffs.
Then they went to Green Bay with their #2 defense and got smoked by Aaron Rodgers 38-13. Odell Beckham’s trip to Miami got the blame, but there were many factors, including Rodgers’ own brilliance, for why the Giants came up short in Lambeau Field that day.
This season though, things are a little different. The Giants have started 0-3 after losing handily to Dallas and Detroit and then losing a heartbreaker against Philadelphia on Sunday. As always, the New York media have been ruthless in their criticism of the Giants.
They are right to be angry though. A lot of the same faces that were so good last season are back this year. They added Brandon Marshall and exciting rookie Evan Engram in the offseason. It was meant to be the year they were contending for another Super Bowl, but it's not even October and the season is already done. Who is too blame?
The two-time Super Bowl MVP has thrown at least one interception in every game so far, but outside of that his stats are good, which is something that has been true for a long time.
Through three games Eli has completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 825 yards, four touchdowns, and 7.1 yards per attempt. That sounds pretty good! A lot of those yards come from the 77-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard on Sunday though, and the completion percentage is helped by a whole lot of checkdowns to Shane Vereen in Week 1.
The other issue is his movement. Eli has never been a read-option quarterback, but his pocket presence and footwork was good enough to elude pressure and get the ball away. It's not any more.
This season has seen Eli hit the top of his drop and stand there, and that's it. He is a stationary target for pass rushers this season and it has resulted in a monster 6.4% sack rate, up from 3.4% last year. Some of that isn't on him (and we'll get to that), but a good deal of the pressure that comes on Eli now is because he isn't able to step away and maintain accuracy, so he has to stand in and try to throw from there.
The mustachioed head coach has been in charge for 20 games now, and the offense has seemingly gone downhill since he took over.
The Giants run game is uninspired, with a lot of draws in shotgun and dives. There is very little invention with pulls, traps, or really anything to help cover up the deficiencies with the offensive line.
McAdoo was brought in with a mind to getting the most out of Eli Manning and the passing game, and while his first year as offensive coordinator, in 2015, saw Manning hit a career-high 35 touchdowns and a low 14 interceptions. By 2016 though, with the added pressure of a head coaching job, the lack of evolution in the Giants passing game led to a decline in production.
Points were down 26%, yards were down 11.2%. The only play they really had was Odell Beckham making plays after the catch. In 2017 it's really no different.
The offense is sluggish and predictable. The Giants lean on slants, which with corners respecting Odell Beckham's downfield speed can work, but while they are high-completion passes they force you to make every single one, and as we saw on Sunday, one tip can lead to a turnover.
McAdoo's game management also came under scrutiny this week with poor clock management and poor decision-making on fourth downs. His offense has become dull and ineffective, and even Beckham's odd celebrations can't make the games watchable.
One of the biggest on-field reasons for the offenses struggles is the offensive line.
Ereck Flowers, Brett Jones, Weston Richburg, John Jerry, Bobby Hart, and Justin Pugh have all been poor this year in nearly every facet of the game.
Let's start with Flowers, who is under the most scrutiny as the left tackle. The first-round pick in 2015, Flowers has started all-but one game since he arrived in New York and while he was reasonable in his rookie season he's been going downhill ever since. This year his pass protection has been truly woeful, and on the inside things have been little better.
On the other side Bobby Hart has been poor, Weston Richburg hasn't been getting the kind of movement he once did in the interior. One of the reasons the Giants have to throw such quick routes like slants so often is because the offensive line can't maintain a clean pocket regularly, and it's dragging Eli and the rest of the offense down with it.
In 2016, Steve Spagnuolo's defense was a monster. It ranked #2 in DVOA, with the fourth best passing defense and the second best rush defense. Against #1 receivers they were the best defense in the NFL. They allowed just 17.8 points per game (2nd) and 339.7 yards per game (10th). By any metric they were exceptionally good.
2017 they have taken a step back. That regression was expected after they made such a massive leap from 2015, but it has been deeper than anyone really though.
Johnathan Hankins' free agent departure has had a big effect the run defense, which has gone from allowing 3.6 yards a carry last year to 4.5 yards a carry this year. Points per game has jumped too, up to 23.3 so far this season.
That alone is enough to scupper a defense, as we saw with both the Detroit and Dallas games. Those offenses were able to consistently pick up yards on the ground, and it force Landon Collins out of coverage, it opened up space for receivers and the play action game, and suddenly, despite very few other changes in personnel, the defense looks very different.
The true culprit
This is Jerry Reese's 11th season as general manager, and during his tenure the Giants have won two Super Bowls. That would normally immunize a GM from scrutiny, but a 88-75 record during his reign equates to a 8.64-7.36 season. That does not imply a general manager who has put together good rosters for his coaches.
Reese has put together a roster for Ben McAdoo that is bereft of offensive line talent. He has struggled to hold onto talented players that he has drafted like Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins, while he has missed wildly on players like David Wilson, Ereck Flowers, and Prince Amukamara.
You can credit him with the picks of Odell Beckham and Landon Collins, but the decision to acquire more receiving talent over options in the trenches has backfired miserably this season.
Just three 0-3 teams have made the playoffs, and not one since 1998. This season is already done for Big Blue, and while Ben McAdoo faces a firing squad, and is busy trying to throw Eli Manning under the bus, the real culprit for this year's disappointment is sitting in a box on game day, wondering why all these players he collected aren't turning into a team.
McAdoo may be on the hot seat, but the focus should be on Reese.
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