The 2013 New York Giants entered the season with high hopes and a division that was ripe for the taking. But then an 0-6 start effectively knocked them out of the running for the postseason before the campaign was halfway home.
So what went wrong? How did this proud organization miscalculate its standing so badly? And what do the Giants have to do to get back on track in a 2014 NFC East that most would likely still say has no obvious dominant team?
Ed Valentine, editor in chief of the Big Blue View, joined us to share some thoughts on what went wrong and what fixes are needed in the year ahead. Here’s what he had to say:
Zoneblitz: The Giants started 0-6, then rebounded to finish 7-9. How would you assess the 2013 season?
Valentine: The only way to assess the season is to call it a huge disappointment. The Super Bowl was at MetLife Stadium, and the Giants thought they had assembled a team capable of making a run at becoming the first host team to win the Super Bowl. They BADLY miscalculated, relying on some veterans who didn’t have enough left and some younger players who did not pan out.
Zoneblitz: In the last five years, the Giants have a Super Bowl title and four missed playoffs. What do you think of the decisions to bring Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese back? Any reason to believe their time in New York nearing an end?
Valentine: From my point of view, there was no reason to overreact and fire Coughlin or Reese. The only people who wanted that scenario were panicked fans with the unrealistic idea that things will be perfect all the time and that a Super Bowl title should be the outcome every year. Coughlin and Reese are among the best in the business at what they do, regardless of last season.
I do think it is realistic to believe Coughlin’s time is near an end. He is the league’s oldest coach, he has a two-year deal that might be his last contract, and I don’t think it would stun anyone if 2014 turned out to be his final year.
Zoneblitz: What happened with Eli Manning in 2013? Is his performance due to a lack of healthy weapons or is there more to it?
Valentine: Let’s first establish what Manning is, and is not. He never has been, and never will be, the picture of technical perfection and awe-inspiring accuracy. He’s a gun-slinger — way more Brett Favre than Peyton Manning or Joe Montana. He’s never afraid of risk and will often try to make low-percentage plays — sometimes to his and the Giants’ detriment, but also sometimes paying huge dividends.
As for 2013, I think it comes down to a simple word — Trust. I think Manning lost trust in everything around him. The offensive line was terrible, got him beat up and gave him a case of happy feet. There was no running game. There were all sorts of problems with receivers and running backs either not being where Manning expected them to be or not making plays when they had chances. When you have no trust you rush, you make bad decisions and bad throws. Ultimately, Manning’s fundamentals broke down.
Zoneblitz: The offense as a whole dropped to 28th in both points and yards in 2013. What happened and what has to be done to fix it?
Valentine: I think I detailed a lot of that in the answer above. First and foremost the Giants need to improve the offensive line. They hope they have gone a long way toward doing that with the free-agent signings of Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton. They hope Chris Snee can be healthy, and Will Beatty returns to form after an off year.
Also, of course, there will be a rebuilt offense with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo replacing Kevin Gilbride.
Zoneblitz: David Wilson was a disappointment and then an IR casualty – what is his recovery status and where does he stand with the signing of Rashad Jennings?
Valentine: Wilson had neck surgery, and right now his status is uncertain. The Giants hope he will be able to play, but they aren’t counting on it or structuring their offense to suit him. That’s why Jennings is there — to be the featured back. Whatever Wilson gives them will be looked at as a bonus.
Zoneblitz: A couple years ago Hakeem Nicks looked like a star. The last couple he’s been pedestrian. Will the Giants miss him and how will they replace him?
Valentine: I think the Giants have been missing Nicks for the past two seasons. It’s been a looooong time since he gave them play resembling what you need from a No. 1 wide receiver. The Giants will hope Rueben Randle becomes a front-line receiver. They have seemed pretty much uninterested in the receivers available on the free-agent market. I would expect wide receiver to be an early draft priority.
Zoneblitz: The last two offseasons have seen Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph all leave off of a D-Line that thrived in championship years on depth. How will the Giants replace those players?
Valentine: The Giants prepared for the possible exit of Tuck by drafting Damontre Moore a year ago. They prepared for the expected departure of Joseph by drafting Johnathan Hankins. First and foremost they will expect those two players to step into key roles. I would also look for low-cost veterans to be added to provide depth and, if the right player is available in the draft they might add a player there, as well.
Zoneblitz: While the offense would appear to have been the biggest issue in 2013, the defense did give up 39 more points in 2013 than 2012. What else didn’t work? Have the Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond III signings addressed the issue?
Valentine: The number of points given up is misleading. The Giants gave up three punt return touchdowns, and had — I believe — six fumbles or interceptions returned for scores. That said, they have upgraded the secondary dramatically. They need a bounce-back year from Jason Pierre-Paul, and adding a pass-rusher in the draft wouldn’t be a stunner.
Zoneblitz: The Giants have added Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton to the offensive line. Is the line set or is there more to address?
Valentine: Well, I think the Giants are still in the free-agent market for depth, especially looking for an experienced guy who can play both tackles. In the draft I would think center might be addressed since Walton is a gamble. Offensive tackle is a first-round possibility. I think Giants’ fans would pretty much welcome the addition of any offensive lineman the Giants choose to draft.
Zoneblitz: Where is this team at? Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington have not dramatically separated themselves from New York in the East to this point. How far are the Giants from again being playoff contenders?
Valentine: The NFL is so balanced you are never far from the playoffs. Shoot, even after starting 0-6 last year the Giants could have gotten in with a couple of breaks down the stretch last season. I think Philly is the favorite. The Giants still have work to do, but if the pieces come together they could be very good in 2014.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see New York do in the draft and the rest of free agency?
Valentine: In free agency there won’t be any more big splashes. Mostly, the areas they need to address are to add depth on both lines. I think they might have addressed wide receiver of tight in free agency already if they were going to.
The only thing I will say about the draft is I think the Giants have missed on too many high-risk, high-reward guys in recent years. Given a choice I would prefer to see the Giants make ‘safer’ choices this time around.