The New York Giants are the healthiest team in the NFC East, and yet they've blown the division for the second time in four years and are likely to miss the playoffs after a miserable second half of 2012.
And while Tom Coughlin remains one of the safest and most secure head coaches in the NFL, it's now safe to point fingers at those he employs to oversee the offense and defense, both of which have failed in embarrassing fashion with the season on the line.
Things could change if the G-men wind up in the playoffs and get back on track with a January victory or two (or three...or four). But assuming the Eagles, Bears, Vikings and Cowboys don't all lose in Week 17, they'll fall short of the playoffs after owning a 2.5-game division lead with only seven games to play. And if that happens, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell should probably be let go.
Let's be clear: It's never entirely a coordinator's fault, or a coach's fault. The players have let Gilbride and Fewell down as much as they've let the players down. And the changes in New York should probably go beyond Gilbride's and Fewell's dismissals. We'll discuss this more in a week's time, but the G-men should also consider parting ways with several key veterans.
Still, it's up to the coaches to find a way to get the best out of their players. In Washington and Dallas, respectively, Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett as well as Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan have done exactly that despite seeing their rosters ravaged by injuries.
So what is Gilbride's excuse? What about Fewell?
Gilbride's play-calling has been criticized for years. They say he's too bland, not imaginative. Lately, he's taken more heat for a perceived inability to make swift adjustments based on what defenses are bringing to the table.
I like that Gilbride has usually been disciplined in committing to the run, even when Ahmad Bradshaw was really struggling last year. And I think fans naturally favor aggressive approaches to such a degree that Gilbride gets a bad rap as a result of the balance that the offense has achieved. Without a semblance of balance, they wouldn't have won the Super Bowl last year.
Here's the problem: He's got two elite wide receivers, two very talented backs, Eli Manning at quarterback and an offensive line that has shown some improvements this season. And yet this offense has gotten slightly worse on paper for three consecutive years.
Here's the bigger problem: With the season on the line the last two weeks, they've disappeared. They've converted a solid 40 percent of their third downs this season, but that number has dropped to 30 percent in back-to-back embarrassing losses to Atlanta and Baltimore. Gilbride did almost nothing to combat constant pressure from those opponents, and as a result the Giants have come away with just 14 points in two games. It's been three years since they've scored fewer points than that in a two-week stretch.
What about Fewell? As great as Eli Manning has been at times, this team has won two of the last five Super Bowls because of its defense. And while the Giants' world-famous pass rush has been disappointing all season, it has completely disappeared in this recent two-week, season-crushing swoon.
The Giants have a grand total of zero sacks and two hits on the quarterback in their most recent two losses. And going back four weeks, they have a league-low two sacks. This is a team that averaged 3.2 sacks per game in its last two Super Bowl seasons.
Now, Fewell isn't completely responsible for Corey Webster being worse than garbage in coverage and Prince Amukamara and Kenny Phillips being hurt, but he has failed to find new ways to get to the quarterback. This secondary has always sucked, but they've always been able to avoid disaster in the defensive backfield by getting enough pressure up front.
The pressure's gone now, and as a result the Giants have given up 77 points in the last two games. They have the worst third-down defense in football and have surrendered a league-worst 8.2 yards per pass attempt. Only the Saints have given up more 40-yard passing plays and, since Week 13, they've allowed more rushing yards than all but one other team in football.
Fewell has held on too long to the belief that this line was going to come out of a coma without treatment.
The players haven't been executing, but they've also looked lost more often than any other group of defenders in the league. That falls on Fewell. He deserves some credit for desperately trying to revive this group by implementing a wide array of experimental looks (such as 4-4-3 and 4-4-2-1) but he hasn't been aggressive enough up front and continues to have faith in lost causes like Justin Tuck.
Now he has a defense that ranks 30th in football and has surrendered 27-plus points in three straight games. They're not taking the ball away like they were earlier this season and they're out of position more than ever before.
In the last two weeks, they've given up 28 combined points in the first quarter alone, missing a total of 29 tackles. They haven't been properly prepared. Whatever Fewell is implementing, he's not doing it with any success.
The Giants D looks flat-out confused, and there's no excuse for that.
Tom Coughlin is fiercely loyal to his people, but I'd argue his biggest flaw is his inability to let go when the time is right. He's committed this error with plenty of veteran players, and I doubt he'd be prepared to cut bait with his coordinators only one year removed from a championship.
But this team is far too talented to be 8-7 and requiring help in Week 17 to make the playoffs. If they miss out as expected, the coaching staff has to be revamped. Gilbride and Fewell deserve the lion's share of the blame, and thus they should be the first two men handed walking papers.
It won't happen, but it should happen.
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