As Always, it all Comes Down to Eli

The Giants needed another running back and they got one. They needed an offensive coordinator suitable to their offense and they got one. But if the team's offseason has proven anything, it's that the Giants are barely better off than when David Akers kicked that season-ending field goal three months ago in Philadelphia.

The dreariest sight, of course, is the man in charge. Tom Coughlin got a modest contract extension despite his team crashing in mid-November and barely resurfacing the rest of the season. You have to figure ownership saw no plausible alternative to Coughlin, though Jim Mora, Jr., and a few others would have been fine with me.

Anyway, we are sentenced to at least another year with Coach Curmudgeon, so why not make the best of it. That means, not unlike the coach himself, looking on the bright side of things. And let's face it, Coughlin made two sound coaching moves by changing Kevin Gilbride's role from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator and replacing defensive coordinator Tim Lewis with Eagles linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Gilbride will oversee a more balanced offense than the pass-happy John Hufnagel, perhaps cutting down on Eli Manning's opportunities to screw things up. That's the theory anyway, and it's steeped in logic, though the vision of Manning as a "game manager'' is rather humorous considering former general manager Ernie Accorsi's whatever-it-takes method of acquiring him. Just think, Manning could be, literally, a rich-man's Trent Dilfer circa 2000 with Baltimore. All the Giants need is a Ravens-like defense and the Super Bowl is theirs.

Gilbride did a nice job calling plays in the final two games. But it's worth wondering if Gilbride's play-calling can improve Manning when Gilbride's specialized coaching of the quarterback resulted in uneven progress. If Gilbride had minimal success improving Manning's mechanics and fundamentals, how will they change with him as offensive coordinator?

That leads us to new quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer. Not quite consistent with the team Web site's description as "a long and distinguished NFL coaching career," Palmer nevertheless has a few trophies in the case. Most recently as Cowboys quarterbacks coach, he played a role in Tony Romo's emergence. Palmer has had a skillful hand in the careers of Drew Bledsoe and Mark Brunell as well.

As for the glass-half-empty side of things, Palmer also coached Tim Couch amid a miserable two-season stint as head coach of the Browns in 1999-2000. Palmer was fired after guiding the team to a 5-27 record. He then made his way to the start-up Houston Texans. Palmer made it through three full seasons before getting the ax following week two of the 2005 season. David Carr was averaging 66.5 yards passing and Houston had been outscored 49-14 when Palmer was sent packing.

So it's difficult to predict whether Palmer can make a breakthrough with Manning. If not, it will be time to admit that Manning's little more than an over-hyped quarterback with slightly better than average NFL skills.

Manning should have the benefit of a solid running game despite Tiki Barber's departure. Brandon Jacobs isn't quite ready for the responsibilities of being a feature back. He will be much more effective with the addition of Reuben Droughns, who will keep Jacobs fresher and hungrier. As a bonus, chances are neither one of them will repeatedly complain to the media about their coaches a la Barber.

The most questionable offseason moves were releasing left tackle Luke Petitgout and linebacker LaVar Arrington. Petitgout is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career until he got hurt. The Giants are placing a lot of faith in David Diehl after he played well at left tackle the final two games of the season. But can Diehl do it across a 16-game schedule and, Lord willing, the playoffs? And the depth of the line, a clear strength, takes a hit with Petitgout's departure.

Arrington's effectiveness was limited by Tim Lewis' bizarre defensive schemes emphasizing the use of Arrington in coverage. The only guess is the Giants figured Arrington couldn't get back to being an above-average backer because of injuries.

The Giants tried to improve at the position by making a run at Denver's Al Wilson. But Wilson reportedly failed the physical. What else in the way of offseason moves? Not much. The team did little to endear itself to Jim Finn by signing Houston fullback Vonta Leach to a four-year, $8 million offer sheet, later matched by the Texans. And we thought the Giants needed a cornerback.

Perhaps the draft will represent new GM Jerry Reese's coming-out party. But there's a better chance the team's fate in 2007 will be a reflection of its offseason coaching moves, not personnel moves. The biggest question in the spring is the same question as in the fall: Can anyone make Manning better?

Can Eli make himself better?

* * *

The NFL competition committee, of which Giants president John Mara is a member, recently sent a batch of rules changes to owners for their approval or dismissal. Each proposal needs 24 of 32 yes votes to become a rule.

One of the better proposals was an automatic 5-yard penalty for players spiking the ball on the field. There are few displays of sheer arrogance and bad sportsmanship than players spiking the ball. It has happened more and more the past few seasons, both as shows of celebration and fits of disappointment.

But all it does is slow down the game and give witnesses another reason to label players as self-indulged brats.

On the flip side, the committee and team owners need to modify penalties for excessive celebration. There are all kinds of celebrations following touchdowns – some classy, some classless; some silly, some stupid. But they are mostly fun and innocent and something that most fans look forward to seeing. This idea of officials itching to throw flags because of an extra dance or a team celebration is ridiculous.

The committee also did a good job ensuring that no penalties are subject to replay. This one would essentially ruin the flow of the game, already a problem because of instant replay and its challenge system.

The Giants Beat Top Stories