Giants’ season wrap: Looking forward, not back

January 9, 2022

We have been searching for a word or phrase that bets characterizes the season and what comes to mind is ‘well, that was a waste of time!’ Bad enough that the Giants finished a dispiriting 4-13, but that they really didn’t accomplish any of the season’s ancillary goals for all the losing. Of course, the main goal for the season was to find out what they had in QB Daniels Jones if he was provided with an improved offensive line, along with some real weapons at the skill positions. Instead, the OL was its usual shambles and the skill position players spent most of the season in the trainers’ room. The end result is that the Giants don’t know much more about Jones now than they did at this time last year, with the clock ticking toward his potential free agency. But more than on that later.

As we noted at several points during the year, this has been a weird year to analyze, like really weird. In fact, we kind of broken it up into three distinct phases. The first was the first three games in which the Giants really had to go 2-1, if not 3-0, if they were to have any chance of contending this year given the brutal middle portion of the season. Those three games were all against beatable opponents (with two at home) and one would have expected the Giants to come out with all guns blazing. Instead, they played those first three games about as conservatively, passively and reactively as possible and let all three opponents off the hook. And that’s almost entirely on the coaching staff, and especially Joe Judge who sets the tone.

What made those first three games so important was that the middle of the Giants looked to be pretty daunting with a series of games almost all against contending teams that included road games at Dallas, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. And while it wasn’t always artistic, the Giants inexplicably went 4-4 and had climbed back into at least the fringes of the playoff picture with a relatively manageable final month and a half on the schedule.

And then Daniel Jones got hurt. Initially, there was this almost romantic hope that back-up Mike Glennon, who had a 2-12 record as a starter at earlier stops in his NFL career, would somehow raise the level of his game over those final 6 games. He didn’t! It wasn’t even close. He was awful and so was Jake Fromm, a practice squad player who had never played a down in the NFL, who the Giants plucked off the Bills’ practice to back-up Glennon. However, the sad fact is though that with QBing that dreadful the Giants never had a chance and anybody who even tries to analyze the season with those final games included is either being disingenuous or is a football idiot!

So, at least in our minds (where we are in fact true legends) we’re really talking about a 4-7 season (that probably should have been 5-6 if it weren’t for that silly offsides call that turned a win in Washington into a loss). Still, it’s not where you want to be, but hardly the disaster that it ended up being. And for us we’re kind of back where we were at the beginning of this season when we were cautiously optimistic that with the additions to the skill positions the Giants would be way more competitive this year. And that’s kind of where we are right now: kind of cautiously optimistic heading into next year.

For that to happen, though, several things have to happen. First, the Giants have to get their skill people healthy and on the field. The expectation this year, of course, was that with the addition of star free agent signee Kenny Golladay and first-round pick Kadarius Toney, along with the return from injury of Saquon Barkley that Daniel Jones would finally have some weapons to work with. Instead, Golladay and Toney both missed almost all of training camp, as well as the start of the season, and while Golladay did finally play in the second half of the season he never looked healthy. Indeed, the fact that he was still being listed as questionable the Friday of the week that he finally did return for good might be the most telling clue. Meanwhile, Toney was often electric when he did play, but in the end barely played at all. And, of course, Saquon’s story of coming of that ACL in 2020 has been well documented, but give him another full off-season of rehabbing and we’ll see.

We’d also love to see the Giants take a WR like a Jameson Williams of Alabama or USC’s Drake London with one of their two top picks at this year’s draft. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be a popular suggestion at all among a lot of readers who will argue that the ‘Giants have too many holes to fill!’ to take yet another receiver. However, we just don’t believe anybody ever wins championships simply by filling holes. Indeed, the Super Bowl winners are seldom the team with the fewest holes in their roster. Super Bowls are won by teams with the most dynamic playmakers who make game-changing plays. And right now the Giants just don’t have many players in that category. Plus, even with the addition of Golladay, who in reality is #2 mid-range target type guy, and Toney, who’s more a gadget receiver you try to get the ball to in space, the Giants still don’t have a true #1 receiver with the big-play ability to scare other teams into adjusting their schemes.

The second thing we need to see from the Giants going forward is a major attitude adjustment on defense. And we don’t mean by the players, but from the coaches. You just can’t win in the NFL playing so soft and passively on defense all the time. Sure, you may cut-down on big plays, but in the end you’re going to lose the battles of turnovers, field position and time of possession just about every week, if you are going to allow opposing QBs to complete 75% of their passes every week. And it just has to be soul-crushing for the players to sit back and play reactive football all the time.

Maybe you would be forced to approach that way if you had nothing but street free agents on your defense, but the Giants actually have some pretty good players on that side of the ball including Leo Williams, Dex Lawrence, Az Ojulari, Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, Adoree Jackson, Xavier McKinney and Logan Ryan. Obviously, they’d like Williams, Bradberry and Martinez to play like they did in 2020, plus they are almost guaranteed to be adding 1-2 edge rushers with early picks at the 2022 draft to augment the pass rush. But they have too many decent players to be a bottom third type defense that struggles to get off the field on third downs.

And it kind of goes without saying that the Giants need QB Daniel Jones to be the second-coming of Phil Simms and not Dave Brown. We made the argument a few days back that the key moment of the Giants’ turnaround in the 1980s wasn’t the hiring of George Young as G.M. or even the section of Lawrence Taylor in 1981; it only came in 1984 when Simms – in his 6th year – was finally able to establish himself as a legit franchise QB. Can Jones be that guy? Who knows, but his 2021 season certainly looked better and better every snap the Glennon/Fromm duo took. And the truth of the matter is that in his tenure with the Giants Jones has had virtually no weapons to work with all the while operating behind a rather chaotic offensive line so how does anybody really know.

Ah yes! The offensive line. In case anyone hadn’t noticed it wasn’t very good this season. And we can pretty much guarantee that the new G.M., whoever he is, will be addressing the situation early and often in their first few months on the job. However, we’ve long been in the camp that offensive lines seldom win or lose games and we believe that while the OL wasn’t very good this year in reality it didn’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with the Giants’ ultimate record. At least the impact of the OL paled dramatically in comparison with the lack of production (well availability) from the skill position group and the lack of a pass rush from the defense (not to mention the horrible play at QB over the final 6 games).

In fact, we’ve made the case – more times than we should have had to – than when you actually look at the last decade when the Giants supposedly ‘wasted Eli’s final years as a result of their terrible offensive line’ is just so much hokum that falls into the category ‘ just ‘cause everybody says it doesn’t make it true!’

In fact we actually did a little research earlier which showed that there was virtually know statistical difference between Eli’s cumulative stats in the Super Bowl years 2007-2011 and the final 5 years of his career. Like none. At all! There was some year-to-year variation but it was correlated almost entirely with whether Eli had quality targets or not. Eli, for example, actually had the best three-year run of his career between 2014 and 2016 when he had a healthy Odell to throw to. You can look it up.

So why were the Giants so bad in that period? The defense, which was ranked in the 30s more often than not in that period, was just plain lousy. Period! Interesting that the one year the Giants did throw some resources at the defense – 2016 – they actually made the playoffs. Which may be a bit of a clue about how to get back there.

That said, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise here – or a disappointment – if the Giants end up taking an OT with one of their two first round picks at this year’s draft. However, it would not be because they wanted to simply upgrade the OL, or because Solder and Peart were not very good this year. It would be because they want to start running more 4- and 5-receiver sets and you really want a couple of very good OTs protecting the edge. And good OTs are hard to find, especially outside the first couple of round.

Needless to say, the Giants will also have to address the interior of the OL which could need as many as three news starters, though, that would presumably come through some combination of later round draft picks, mid-priced veteran free agents and possibly even a trade or two. However they do it, one thing we have been preaching over the past couple of years is that, in many ways the best thing the Giants could do for their oft-beleagured OL would be to add a deep threat or two (see above). Over the past couple of years, for example, opponents have routinely been bringing 8-9 and even ten guys up into the box because they just aren’t concerned about the Giants beating them over the top. And I don’t care how good your blocking is, if there are that many guys that close to the LOS it’s going to be difficult to run the ball, not to mention accounting for all the blitz possibilities.

Of course, the Giants are almost certain to be looking at a new management team going forward, although we are actually kind of agnostic when it comes to G.M.s. Dave Gettleman gets kind of a bum rap when people complain about his draft picks, his free agent signings and/or his trades as he doesn’t make the picks, the trades or sign the free agents. Clearly, he’s involved in all those decisions, but the Giants are a multi-million dollar operation in which all those kinds of decisions are corporate-level decisions that involve input from multiple departments. That said, it clearly was time for Gettleman to go; his act had gotten thin and he just didn’t put a good face on the Giants any more.

We are also usually pretty agnostic when it comes to coaching which just may be the most overrated job in football. Give Daffy Duck good players and you’ll win games; give him chopped liver and he’ll sound like, well Daffy Duck! However, whether you have good players or not, the essence of coaching is to try and figure out what talents your players have and then scheme to maximize those skills. And whether one thinks the Giants had some talent this year or not, we saw precious little in the way of figuring and/or maximizing by Joe Judge and his staff this year whether in the way of trying to get the ball in space to guys like Saquon or Evan Engram or trying to find a way to free up people to rush the passer.

On that note, it’s been interesting watching what Dallas is doing with Micah Parsons who leads all rookies in sacks this year. They literally line him up in a different place on literally every down; RDE on one play, the other end on the next, then move him inside. They also have him looping and/or delaying all to try and get him a lane to the QB as he’s not all that big. In contrast, the Giants take Az Ojulari, who for the record, is the 3rd leading sacker among rookies, and line him up at LDE and ask him to physically beat an NFL OT that is going to outweigh him by 60-80 pounds on every play. And I hate the Cowboys more than I hated cod liver oil as a kid.

Bottom line is that the draft is in just over 100 days away. Time to get back to work.