Looking Back and Forward: The New York Giants Year in Review, 2014-15

Giants Team Photo, 2014, credit: giants.com

Giants Team Photo, 2014, credit: giants.com

It’s been a while since my last post on the Neon Idols, and even longer since my last NFL post in which I – poorly – predicted areas of the draft. Nonetheless, as a Giants fan it’s been another disappointing season, and I felt it would be cathartic to break down the team’s successes, failures, and potential future. It was, a bit.

Successes

The usual – and understandable – first port of call when discussing the successes of the G-Men’s season has usually been the team’s 1st Round Draft pick, Odell Beckham Jr. The genetically gifted wide out has set the league alight with an acumen for route running and uncanny ability to make acrobatic, game-changing catches, and has broken both franchise and league rookie records, despite missing the first four games of the season. Beckham has the potential to be an All Pro, multi-time Pro Bowler and leading NFL wide-out at his current trajectory, and his presence on the field will continue to bolster the team’s success for as long as he is with the team.

"The Catch", credit: BBC

“The Catch”, credit: BBC

Beckham is not the sole beacon of light for the team going in to 2015. OBJ is simply the crown jewel in a collection of draftees and young players on the team who were given game time thanks to Big Blue’s slew of injuries this year. Rookie running back Andre Williams struggled at times when carrying the load of injured free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings, but also had a couple of real break out games with well over 100 yards rushing. Also on the offense, especially given the untimely and upsetting injury to Victor Cruz, made the emergence of receiving threats in the surprisingly dependable Preston Parker, flashy Tight End Larry Donnell, and often frustrating prospect Rueben Randle who seemed to finally play to his potential with a couple of monster games towards the end of the season. Indeed, Ben McAdoo’s Offense has taken hold generally as the season has gone on, improving by leaps statistically though still occasionally leaving points on the table. For a phase that team President John Mara said was broken at the end of the last season, it has improved a great deal and is cause for quiet confidence in the future.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side, injuries to the talismanic Jon Beason, increasingly stellar corner Prince Amukamara, and free agent acquisition at Safety, Walter Thurmond, among others, significantly weakened Perry Fewell’s defense. Thankfully, some young studs stepped up with impressive performances under difficult circumstances, with ballhawking Quintin Demps, Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and especially excellent value fifth-round pick, Devon Kennard who added well to the team’s dynamic pass rush in the second half of the season. That, on top of the expected success of Jonathan Hankins at Defensive Tackle, means that, despite the troubles of the Defense this year, there is reason for hope in the future of the team.

Areas of Improvement

The Defense is the biggest and most immediate area of concern for the Giants. Injuries are a legitimate excuse for some of the woes on defense, but that does not take the spotlight off of it given the handicap it has been all season. Consistently giving up big plays, especially on 3rd down and being porous in crucial situations (Dallas’s game-winning drive in the second game against the Cowboys and the ease with which the Jaguars were allowed to come back later on being the most heart-breaking examples). To add to that, the Giants have struggled against the run and have been ground down in many games because of that. When the team is struggling against the run and giving up too many drive-saving plays is a devastating combo.

A contributing factor to the difficulty the team has had running the ball has been the ever-shifting O-Line, an issue the team has had for more than just this year. Will Beatty was on a trajectory to be released as soon as the move became cap-friendly, but this year has gone a long way to solidify his continued place at Left Tackle, while Justin Pugh built on his rookie year to solidify the Right Tackle spot. The interior line has struggled more though with rookie lineman Weston Richburg doing well at points but taking his time to adjust to the Left Guard position position as a natural Center. That, with well-paid Guard Geoff Schwartz getting injured and relying on John Jerry at the other slot caused extensive difficulties for the line, eventhough it grew stronger as a bond was allowed to form.

Special Teams has been another area of weakness for the G-Men, giving up several special teams touchdowns and not creating much in response. Save from a couple of successes with surprise onside kicks, the Giants have lost the special teams battle consistently and as a result, giving up field position and putting the struggling Defense in even harder predicaments.

Big Questions

Coaches
By the end of the loss to the Jaguars, I regretfully had the opinion that Tom Coughlin should probably be moved aside with dignity. However, after the relative push of the team and the obvious fire they played with despite having no shot at the playoffs, as well as the early connection Coughlin seems to have with Beckham, it became clear that it still wasn’t time for Coughlin to go. McAdoo’s job was secure by the end of the year, leaving Perry Fewell in the spotlight after his Defense were the biggest area of deficiency on the team. Though it seems Antrelle Rolle is keen to fight for Fewell as well as Coughlin, I am still of the opinion that a change may be required at this position if the right candidate becomes available. I also think Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn should be replaced given the shambles the special teams phase suffered this year.

Jason Pierre-Paul
I love JPP and own his jersey, but if you’d have asked me after around the first half of the season, I was starting to wonder whether it would be worth bringing him back. JPP finished with double-digit sacks, as well as consistently playing the run well, being a leader for the team, and being a passionate member of the Giants family. That said, I am troubled still by JPP’s future prospects. His late season flourish in the backfield is eerily reminiscent of Justin Tuck’s from last year and it would be more reassuring if he had done it consistently throughout the year, rather than mostly confined within five games. That aside, I am now convinced he should come back, but it needs to be for a reasonable price. The name will attract many suitors and I’m sure one will be willing to pay up to $10 million a year for him – if JPP wants that sort of money for four or five years, I would be worried about giving that to him. The talk as of now is that the Giants could franchise him for the year guaranteeing that sort of pay for the year. I’m not keen on that because it is still too much money in my opinion, but it could be a gamble that pays off, financially at least, forcing either JPP to prove his worth, or maybe guaranteeing a more realistic contract thereafter.

Pierre-Paul and Rolle will be two big cap questions for the Giants this year. Credit: nydailynews.com

Pierre-Paul and Rolle will be two big cap questions for the Giants this year. Credit: nydailynews.com

Antrel Rolle
Antrel is another of my favourite Giants players, and another huge off-season question for Big Blue. He has been the Giants most skilled, durable, and inspirational defensive player for a while now, being our lone Pro Bowler from last year. Rolle, however, has had something of a down year by his admittedly high standards, and is in some ways an even harder decision that JPP. Rolle is a huge part of the team’s identity, but if this season is the start of a slide in performance as he gets older, giving him a significant contract could be a mistake. That said, for the same reasons, Antrel may not attract the same attention he would have a year ago, so it is more likely the Giants can keep him for a reasonable price, especially because Rolle seems emotionally attached to the team.

Victor Cruz
Cruz’s injury against the Eagles sucked the life out of the game, and, briefly, of the franchise. Seeing Vic go down was heart-crushing as he is one of the great success stories of the franchise’s recent history. Odell Beckham’s emergence satiated this sense of loss with his incredible play, but as we look ahead to the future of the receiving corps. The big question surrounding Cruz is whether he can return to field at full speed or close to full speed. If he can, he can possibly look to a big comeback year opposite OBJ. If not, the future is less certain.

Rueben Randle
Rueben Randle is also in the spotlight, but for different reasons. Randle is a young receiver who has disappointed staff and the fans with an apparently lethargic approach to the position. Randle was benched a couple of times apparently for reasons of dedication and he really didn’t seem to rise to the opportunity in terms of receptions once Cruz went down. However, Randle really seemed to switch on in the last few games, using his height and strength to turn in dominating performances in his last few games. So the question surrounding Randle going in to next year is what Randle we will get next year. Randle can’t afford another season of hit and miss play if he wants to stay a Giant, but if he can play like the monster of the last two games more consistently, he could be part of a monster receiving corps starring Beckham Jr and Cruz, making the Giants passing offense amongst the most dangerous in the league.

Jon Beason
Last year, Beason was credited with a big part of the team’s face-saving resurgence which earned him a contract this past off-season. Unfortunately, some of the injuries which lowered his trade value have come to haunt him this season, and he has struggled to stay on the field for any amount of time. In the mean time, Jameel McLain stepped in to the middle linebacker slot and did an admirable job as a natural leader in a way which perhaps made the loss of Beason less noticeable and therefore makes his role in the team a big question. If he can prove himself fit, he will be a cap-friendly leader for the team alongside McLain, but if there are any questions, he may struggle to stay on the roster.

PThis is a difficult question mainly because Thurmond got injured so early in to his Giants tenure. Before his injury, he was solid without being spectacular. He still has the rub of the Seattle defense he came from, but at this time, I am not terribly anxious for Thurmond to stay in blue. I imagine he will be available for a good price after a year on the shelf, and I would be excited by his role in our secondary and the depth he would provide, but I believe the decision on Thurmond will be based on the team’s other free agency targets; if cap room is needed, Walter maybe allowed to walk.

Off Season Priorities
It is difficult to say precisely at what phases of the off-season that these moves will have to be made because it depends on the state of the free agency market, which in turn forms the team’s draft board, but between those two phases and the resigning of Giants talent, there are areas that Big Blue needs to bolster or improve on.

The biggest area of interest is the Offensive line. I think Beatty, Richburg and Pugh are guaranteed places, but the whole interior line is fluid going forward. We know Richburg has a spot, but will it be at Guard or his more natural Center. Ideally, Richburg would secure Center and leave the two Guard spots up for grabs, but that depends on what happens with J.D. Walton, who largely did a fine job on the center. So, through competition, free agency, and the high end picks of the draft, the O line has to be secured to anchor the team.

The Defensive trench is also another area of priority. Hankins is a lock, but aside from that, it is an area with a few questions. Cullen Jenkins has done a great job, but is rising in age while Mathias Kiwanuka is another player who is definitely slowing down. Especially if we assume JPP stays, pass rush should be solid with the impressive play as Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore, but the starter at Left End will be up for grabs, and the line will need bolstering generally through the off-season.

The Linebacker corps is in motion currently, though Kennard and McLain seem deserving of starting spots. The question will be whether Beason will start, and if not him, then who, be it Pasinger or unrestricted free agent Jacquian Williams, or a new recruit. However it turns out though, a bit more depth would certainly be welcome, especially if Beason can’t play.

Finally, especially with Rolle’s future up in the air, the safety spot is one that will require attention during the off-season. Even if Rolle stays, questions remain whether Thurmond, Brown or Demps can start consistently. If a talented safety is available during the off-season, it could be a wise addition to the team either as a starter, or as a depth addition for a secondary which seems plagued by injury throughout the last few years.

Overview

I have written with a surprising amount of positivity for a team which finished with a 6 & 10 record, but that record deserves to bring with it much criticism, especially after somehow not bettering the 7 & 9 record from the similarly shambolic 2013-14 season and indeed, taking a backwards step in the W column. While I have echoed the support of the Giants staff for the coaching staff, another losing season in 2015-16 will necessitate change – it’s a cliché but this next season really is must win. Nonetheless, I feel that there is room for positivity in the Big Blue Nation. If we can replicate the positives and potential from this past season and translate it to next, with fewer injury problems and more consistency of personnel and performance, the Giants could be an offensive juggernaut with at least a solid defence. The NFC East will be as competitive as ever though. The Cowboys have built for a solid future and will retain most of their playmakers, and likewise with the Eagles, though they will need to solve their QB question; even Washington, especially with a healthy RGIII will be poised to improve. With the right personnel decisions and a bit of fortune though, there is no reason why New York shouldn’t improve and be competing for a playoff birth.

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