The New York Giants were not supposed to see it go down like this. Not by a long shot.
ESPN's Football Power Index simulated the entire 2019 season in early September and the team was projected to finish 7-9. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said before the beginning of training camp that a successful campaign would be marked by "improvement."
“You would like to think that guys like Saquon (Barkley), Will (Hernandez), B.J. (Hill), Lorenzo (Carter) and RJ McIntosh are going to make a significant jump,” Gettleman said. “It’s about just to continue improvement. I’m not going to put a record on it. It’s not fair, and it’s not fair to the kids.”
It is probably a good thing Gettleman and company did not put a record on measuring success because the odds are pretty high this team would not come up short. Last year, the Giants finished with a 5-11 record. Barkley, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, helped the offense average 23.1 points per game under first-year head coach Pat Shurmur. It was, at the very least, a step up from Ben McAdoo's second and final season in New York — which saw the team go 2-10 before firing McAdoo and finishing the year at 3-13.
This year, the Giants currently sit at that same pivotal 2-10 mark in the second year of another head coach and New York, in just about every significant measure, has regressed. The team is 25th in scoring offense (16th last year), 25th in offensive yardage (17th in 2018), 29th in defensive points allowed (23rd in 2018), 26th in defensive yardage (24th in 2018), 31st in the NFL in turnover differential (13th in 2018) and 29th in overall point differential (22nd in 2018).
With four games left to play, the Giants are just about out of time to swing the pendulum back around to mark any significant momentum.
Who is to blame for the mess in New York? The Giants will need to answer this before they set out to fix the problem. Here are a few good places to start.
Co-Owners John Mara and Steve Tisch
John Mara and Steve Tisch will need to bear some responsibility. The two hired Gettleman in December of 2017 and ultimately made the decision to hire Shurmur the following month. Anyone who read the tea leaves on Shurmur's track record would see a poor candidate to serve as a team's head coach. After two seasons with the Cleveland Browns in 2011-12 and a 9-23 record, he was fired. But Mara and Tisch saw … something else.
''He has an outstanding track record in developing young players, and it is clear his players respond to his guidance and direction,'' the co-owners said at the time. ''We interviewed six talented and qualified candidates, and we feel like Pat, with his vision and experience, is the right person to lead our team.''
The Giants’ track record for replacing coaches has been faulty and that falls to the feet of Mara and Tisch as much as anyone else. Gettleman has made some surprise moves along the way but potentially firing two coaches after just two years each indicates this team does not have any inspiring direction from the top down.
Ownership is responsible for establishing that direction and vision and as a result, they shoulder significant blame in New York's punchless season.
General Manager Dave Gettleman
Gettleman is a part of the systemic failure in New York for electing to shuttle away established players and failing to provide appropriate replacements. Odell Beckham Jr.? The team signed Beckham to a five-year, $95 million contract extension with $65 million in guarantees in August 2018. Fast forward to March of 2019, Beckham was traded to the Cleveland Browns, promptly burning a $16 million hole into the Giants' pockets in the form of dead salary cap.
The issue here is not necessarily trading Beckham. Instead, it was who the Giants chose to replace him. New York's featured wide receivers entering this year were Golden Tate (signed in free agency) and Sterling Shepard. It was a roll of the dice — one that did not pay off. As promising as rookie WR Darius Slayton is, he is no OBJ. And the loss of star power has hindered the Giants' pass game. Daniel Jones' adjusted yards per attempt this season (6.1) is the third worst of qualifying NFL passers and Jones is 23rd in the league in passes netting more than 20 yards (28) despite being 13th in pass attempts this season.
However, Gettleman can only shoulder so much of the blame. After all, he inherited a team at the end of 2017 that was up against the peak limits of the salary cap with much of that money already committed to underachieving players such as Eli Manning, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Gettleman has been forced to induce a cap reset while simultaneously trying to win. It is going about as well as expected. His tenure will inevitably be measured by the successes and failures of first-round quarterback Jones, who has had some promising flashes but is also responsible for 21 turnovers in 10 starts.
Head Coach Pat Shurmur
Where to begin? The Giants are 7-21 under Shurmur's direction, and over that time span, they have seen promising young talents like Will Hernandez, Saquon Barkley and Lorenzo Carter enter the fray and fail to do the one thing Gettleman said they would be measured against: improve on their 2018 resumes. Shurmur's game management has not been particularly good, which is further exacerbated by his refusal to yield offensive play-calling duties.
Shurmur was hired based on his work with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 — a statistical anomaly of a season that saw Case Keenum look like a franchise quarterback and the Vikings make a push to the NFC Championship game before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, who were led by Nick Foles, another signal-caller tutored by Shurmur.
But not all good play-callers make good CEOs. And good head coaches? They are more CEO than they are X's and O's. Deliberation, communication and cooperation are the names of this game and the Giants seem to be failing on all fronts with Shurmur at the helm. He has won none of his six challenges this season, he is failing to make proper substitutions and has made some baffling game management decisions, like using all his timeouts to get the ball back just before the half against the Packers — and then running out the 0:40 remaining on the clock anyway.
And then there are the soundbites in post-game press conferences like:
“This is a historically young team that’s going out there and competing against some really good football teams. We’ve got to do what we have to do to win games and I understand that. They also are developing. At some point, we’ll be good enough to win.”
“Well the turnovers today were the interceptions, right? The first one was against two-man. He just tried to fit it in. Today they weren’t fumbles, right? And then the one he just overthrew. And then the last one there he threw a nine-ball to (Darius) Slayton, and I thought (Slayton) was in a position to make the catch. So these were throws, they weren’t fumbles.”
For the record, fumbles and interceptions both as possession killers and in September, the Giants had the eighth youngest roster in the NFL. Historical, indeed. Shurmur, like Giants’ ownership in deciding to hire him, seems to lack conviction or direction. And that is a problem.
Quarterback Daniel Jones
For all of the memes, jokes and shots the Giants have taken in drafting Jones with the sixth-overall selection in the 2019 draft, Jones has not played particularly bad. The turnovers, though? Woof. He has 21 in 10 starts to constantly put the Giants in bad positions on the football field. Jones is slow on his reads and holds the ball entirely too long at times. He is tied for the sixth slowest average release time in the league (2.88 seconds) with 22.2 percent of his throws (the third-highest rate in the NFL) being launched into tight coverage. It is no wonder why ball security is problematic.
Jones will have plenty of time to grow. He has got his warts and imperfections, some of which he will need to eliminate from his game if he is going to live up to the top-10 status he was drafted at.
But ultimately, if the Giants were looking to be competitive, they did the right thing on pulling the plug on an admittedly ragged-looking Manning. At least Jones has the enthusiasm of youth and the ignorance of inexperience to try throws so crazy that every so often work.
Injuries to Barkley (three games missed), Kareem Martin (11 games), Tate (five games), Shepard (six games) and Evan Engram (four games) have had a significant impact on the Giants. That is not great luck.
However, New York also has the fourth-highest positive margin in penalties called (plus-22 in their favor through 12 games) without bringing advantageous results. That is not a failure in luck. The Giants currently own the NFL's seventh easiest schedule, so one cannot blame the schedule makers for a lack of wins for Big Blue.
The Final Verdict
Each of the Giants’ biggest culprits have been outlined, but who owns the greatest claim of credit for New York's disastrous 2019 season? In order of most to least blame:
- Shurmur for failures in team direction, play-calling, game management and general qualifications.
- Giants ownership for hiring Shurmur after an outlier season in 2017 as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator.
- Jones for being asked to learn on the job despite his flaws and a failure to illustrate ball security.
- Gettleman for failing to appropriately brace the team for the loss of a superstar in Beckham.
- Lady Luck for absorbing significant portions of the Giants' skill player availability this season.
How do the Giants clean up this mess? Be sure to check back tomorrow, as TDN analysts Kyle Crabbs, Joe Marino and Benjamin Solak outline a plan to fix this team.