Few teams have had as frenetic a 2015 season as the New York Giants. At 6-8 and already, they are eliminated from wild card contention and hanging by a thread in the pedestrian NFC East title race.
That all depends on Washington losing Saturday night. If Washington wins, the NFC playoff field will be all but set and won’t include the Giants. Entering the season with Super Bowl hopes, it has been a wild and crazy season for Big Blue.
The Giants have had as difficult a season in terms of endings to games as anyone. They’ve lost six games in which they were tied or ahead in the final four minutes. They’ve lost three games in which they led by 10 points or more. If New York coaches and players are looking for an explanation as to why they’re on life support for the playoffs, they need look no farther than the closest mirror or turn their phone camera to selfie mode.
The Giants have talent, but, with the league’s worst-ranked defense, a solid statistical season by Eli Manning has gone largely unnoticed.
With a revolving door of offensive players making contributions to the Giants offense, Manning has put together arguably the best season of his career. Through 14 games, he has thrown a career-high 32 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions – a pace that would be his lowest interception total since 2008 despite projecting to set career highs in attempts, completions and completion percentage. His 96.1 passer rating is also a career high-water mark. It’s taken 12 years for him to reach his full potential, but despite his team being sub-.500, Manning is having the best year of his NFL life.
He has been forced to shoulder more of the load because the running game has been a revolving door and something of a joke. Rashad Jennings leads the team with just 619 rushing yards, but, up until two weeks ago, he had no more than 63 yards in any game. In the last two weeks, Tom Coughlin has committed to him, rushing him 38 times for 188 yards and a touchdown – so expect to see a steady dose of Jennings. Shane Vereen has almost as many receptions (51) as rushing attempts (56), so when in passing downs, he’ll see action. Andre Williams is a short-yardage back, but none of the three has established himself as a go-to guy, leaving the Giants lacking a player they can truly lean on to finish off games, which may explain their late-game woes.
With Odell Beckham Jr. sitting out the game with a suspension, the thinned-out receiver corps took its most significant hit to date. Already without Victor Cruz and tight ends Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells, losing OBJ is as big as the Vikings being without Adrian Peterson. His numbers are basically double those of the next players combined – 151 targets, 91 receptions for 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns. It’s hard to equate the loss of a guy with eight 100-yard games. Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks are going to have to up their game because there is almost no depth behind them. At tight end, rookie Will Tye has been thrust into a significant role due to injury. Manning has been able to survive losses of key players, but being without Beckham is a problem that may be too big to overcome.
The Giants intended to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL entering the season. The left side includes three premium draft picks from the last three drafts – 2105 first-rounder Ereck Flowers is at left tackle, 2014 second-rounder Weston Richburg starts at center and 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh is entrenched at left guard. The hope was that those three would combine with tackle Will Beatty and guard Geoff Schwartz to make the offensive front extremely imposing, but both Beatty and Schwartz are on injured reserve, pushing veteran backup John Jerry and Marshall Newhouse into starting jobs. They have the talent to get the job done, but with a struggling run game, some blame needs to be placed there.
The reason the Giants are on the outside looking in for the playoffs is the league’s worst-rated defense. In five of their eight losses, the Giants have allowed 27 or more points, including games of 38 and 52 points, allowing five touchdowns to Cam Newton and seven to Drew Brees.
The hope was to have a three-headed beast at defensive end with former first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul and former Eagle Cullen Jenkins and former Bronco Robert Ayers. However, JPP blew half of his right hand off in a Fourth of July fireworks accident and hasn’t been the same since. On the inside, they allowed Linval Joseph to leave, convinced they had adequate replacements in 2012 seventh-round draftee Markus Kuhn and 2014 third-round Jay Bromley. They haven’t been horrible, but haven’t been standouts either.
The linebacker corps is about as weak as it has been in decades for the Giants. With former Viking Jasper Brinkley in the middle, late-round second-year man Devon Kennard and former Patriot Jonathan Casillas in the starting lineup and journeymen Mark Herzlich, J.T. Thomas and Uani’ Unga as backups, this group has been exploited all season for its lack of coverage skills and overall speed.
The defensive secondary has talent, but is a hodgepodge of draft picks and free agents. The Giants have invested in the position in multiple ways – the draft and free agency. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Brandon Meriweather have been brought in to augment high in-house draft picks Prince Amukamara and Landon Collins. On paper, they’re a very strong group, but they have been gashed all season, which is why the Giants are on pace to allow more than 5,000 passing yards.
The Giants are a better team than their record indicates, but, as they tend to say in the NFL, it is what it is. You are what your record says you are and the Giants are a losing team that is effectively out of the playoff chase and they have nobody to blame but themselves. They’re a dangerous team that can’t be overlooked, but when all is said and done, they’re a team the Vikings should beat and it would seem to be poetic justice if it happens in the fourth quarter when the Giants blow yet another lead late.