As franchise tags get applied and free agency looms, the offseason is underway in the NFL. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go “Forward Thinking” on all 32 teams previewing what went right in 2013, what went wrong, and what lies ahead for the offseason.
We both believed in the Giants last season. We both were proven to be idiots. There was arguably no team more disappointing than New York last season, especially when considering their horrendous 0-6 start to the 2013 season. So can they make the necessary changes to be contenders again in 2014? We begin analyzing that question below.
2013 Record: 7-9
Alex’s Prediction: 10-6
Jamie’s Prediction: 10-6
What Went Right in 2013
The defense started 2013 as one of the league’s worst, but quietly turned things around and had a very solid overall season the rest of the way. Safety Antrel Rolle played as a top 10 safety in the league, and defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul proved once again to be an excellent duo. Still, the fact that we’re singling out a defense that finished in the bottom half of the league in points allowed shows how bad 2013 really was for the Giants.
What Went Wrong in 2013
I could easily point to Eli Manning and his 27 interceptions as being the problem in 2013, but frankly, the bigger problem in New York last season was the team’s inability to run the ball. Believe it or not, the team actually improved down the stretch somewhat, but still finished 3rd from the bottom in yards per carry, and 4th from the bottom in yards per game. Andre Brown was expected to be a strong inline runner for the Giants, but missed most of the season with a broken leg and concussion issues. David Wilson, missed most of the season with a neck injury (and his career could be over). The team was so desperate at one point that they signed Peyton Hillis off the street and started him that very week, after the previously signed Brandon Jacobs got hurt. Sure, the offensive line wasn’t great, but the biggest reason the running game failed in 2013 was because of the running backs (or lack thereof), not the offensive line, Eli Manning, or any other reason.
3 Big Questions
1. Which Eli will show up in 2014?
Believe me, I am well aware of when Eli Manning is “on.” Frankly we all are, as we watched him not once, but twice, lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. But we all know when Eli Manning is “off” as well. In 2013, Manning was off. Waaaaay off. Manning led the league in interceptions with 27, and finished 35th in the league in quarterback rating. Think about that for a second. Not only was Manning not among the league’s top 32 passers, but there were injury replacements that fared better than he — such as Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jason Campbell, and Chad Henne just to name a few. Of course, there’s no one who’s dumping Manning for those guys, but in 2013 they would have been better off with them nonetheless.
So how will Manning perform in 2014? I think quite well. Expectations are as low as they can be in New York City at this point, and Manning and Tom Coughlin will both be looking to prove they still have it.
2. Will the Giants miss receiver Hakeem Nicks?
If Eli Manning can prove to be “on” in 2014, it will almost certainly come without the services of Hakeem Nicks. Nicks has been destined for free agency for over two years, and now he gets a chance to shop his services around to all 32 NFL teams. Make no mistake about it, Nicks has been fairly disappointing as of late for the Giants, but there’s still no doubting that the talent is there. The real question is whether his body can hold up after numerous nagging injuries, and whether he is willing to put in the mental work to be one of the game’s best wide receivers. In the end, I suspect the Giants will ultimately be better off without Nicks, as Rueben Randle appears more than ready to be the #2 receiver on the Giants. Frankly, letting Nicks leave at this point seems as much addition by subtraction as anything.
3. Who will be the “man” in the Giants backfield in 2014?
Andre Brown? A free agent. David Wilson? Possibly done in the NFL. Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs, and De’Rel Scott? Yeah, no need to go there. The long and short of it is that the Giants need to find a player to be the bell cow in 2014. Re-signing Brown would make sense, as he has proven to be effective at times. But ultimately the team needs to find someone more reliable and more explosive. The problem for the Giants is that this year’s crop of free agent running backs isn’t exactly known for their stability either. Ben Tate, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, and the rest of those on the market don’t exactly scream durability. Sure, any of those guys could have a healthy year and be one of the league’s best, but that’s a big question to be answered. A guy like Tate, or the Raiders Rashad Jennings could make sense if the price is right, but ultimately the team might be better served taking a running back (or two) in this year’s draft.
Biggest Needs This Offseason
There’s no doubt the Giants could use a running back that can stay healthy (something we just noted wasn’t easy to find this year), but the Giants also need help along both lines, where an infusion of youth is greatly needed (and where they certainly need to make every effort to resign defensive tackle Linval Joseph, one of the team’s few bright spots).
Is This Team Rising or Falling?
While it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Giants exceed their 2013 win total (in fact, I’d expect it at this point), this team is still on its way down from its most recent Super Bowl title. There’s no doubting the legacies of Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, both of whom may even add to their marks, but there’s simply not enough overall talent in New York at this point to be one of the league’s best. And anything less than a possible Super Bowl contender isn’t good enough in New York.