After unexpectedly claiming a second Super Bowl in five seasons, the Giants failed to improve upon their nine-win regular season in 2012. A 9-7 record was enough to clinch the NFC East title the year before, but in 2012, it left the Giants out of the playoff picture.
The Giants had missed the postseason for the fourth time in five years. It was disappointing.
According to Giants general manager Jerry Reese, it was also unacceptable. Before training camp kicked off, Reese put everyone—himself included—on notice. Another subpar performance would not be tolerated. A playoff bid was mandatory; a countdown to the Super Bowl, which will be held in MetLife Stadium in February, was installed outside the Giants' locker room.
A few quick months pass and it already looks like the Giants will be out of contention well before that countdown ever reaches its expiration date, as New York has given the term "disappointment" a whole new meaning in 2013.
How did the Giants get to where they are today—winless through five games and painfully ineffective in all phases of the game—when they seemed to be bursting at the seams with potential just a few months ago?
They have been terribly disappointing in three different ways:
The Status Quo
Let's start with the pass rush. Last season, the lack of pass rush was New York's defensive Achilles' heel. The Giants couldn't get any pressure on the passer, and the lack of 3rd-and-short situations New York was able to force was often too blame.
Surely, it couldn't be on the New York pass-rushers; they'd always been the franchise's pride and joy, whether it was Michael Strahan, Lawrence Taylor or Andy Robustelli leading the charge.
With a revamped interior line, featuring the new faces of Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers, Mike Patterson and second-round draft pick Johnathan Hankins, we were promised that a lack of sacks wouldn't be a result of poor run defense on early downs.
So, then, what's wrong?
It's time to point the finger at the rushers themselves. Justin Tuck promised a bounce-back season yet again in 2013, but so far he only has a half-sack to show for it. Everyone expected Jason Pierre-Paul to have a strong showing after his letdown of a season last year, but he and Mathias Kiwanuka—who hasn't done much in his return to the line—have nabbed just one sack each. Damontre Moore, a third-round pick who garnered the most preseason hype of any Giants rookie, has only contributed on a limited basis.
On the other side of the ball, New York's offensive line has been just as pitiful. The Giants have started four different offensive line configurations in five showings, as nearly all hope for consistency along New York's offensive front has vanished. Not much was done to combat this very apparent attrition in the offseason.
Of course Justin Pugh was drafted—the rookie has held his own along the hodgepodge line—but the other four starters to his left haven't been much better. Chris Snee, once an All-Pro, has landed on injured reserve. David Baas and Kevin Boothe have yet to recreate their 2011 form, but the most disappointing member of the O-line is blindside protector Will Beatty, who was paid premier left tackle money back in February.
The Giants maintained the status quo in both the offensive and defensive trenches, which is extremely disappointing considering we were expecting improvement, featuring bounce-back seasons from veteran stars, like Pierre-Paul and Snee, as well as big contributions from newcomers, like Moore and Pugh.
Despite winning the Super Bowl, the 2011 Giants posted the league's worst rushing offense. Many of the games were won on Manning's arm, as Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs formed a worn-down tandem that served as the main contributors to New York's ground game. D.J. Ware also played a third-down back role. The trio combined for less than 1,500 yards on the season.
Last year, however, the Giants ground game swelled with Bradshaw engulfing most of Jacobs' old role. Bradshaw had 1,000 yards rushing as the Giants' featured running back, while Andre Brown and rookie David Wilson combined to round out a respectable running attack.
With Bradshaw (released, signed by Colts) and Andre Brown (IR, designated to return) out of the picture, Wilson was slated to become New York's workhorse in 2013. Those who begged for him to receive more carries as a rookie were finally having their calls answered, as New York had nowhere left to turn other than the second-year running back. That was OK, though, since Wilson has been dripping with athletic potential since the day he entered the league; the more touches he got, the better chance he'd have at fulfilling it.
Or so Giants fans thought things would go.
Wilson's Twitter bio: "I went from crawlin, to walkin,to running to jumping,to flipping, and with God on my side ill fly."
It's fair to say the flight that is Wilson has yet to get off the ground. His early touchdown and double backflip looked like he was cleared for takeoff against the Philadelphia Eagles, but a neck injury cut that idea short. If the fact that the Giants cut their second-leading rusher last week wasn't enough to paint a clear picture of New York's current backfield situation, the fact that a 31-year-old Jacobs—who was unemployed a month ago—was the Giants' top rusher versus the Eagles should do it.
Then there's the special teams, which has been exemplary since the Super Bowl season. Kicker Lawrence Tynes was a sure shot, and Steve Weatherford had one of the best punting legs in football. The coverage units were stifling, and last year Wilson was named second-team All-Pro for his kick return duties.
Those teams were significant improvements from Matt Dodge and the units ST coordinator Tom Quinn fielded in 2010...we don't need to go into detail here.
But the Giants special teams have lacked an edge this year. New kicker Josh Brown hasn't hit a field goal since Week 2. Weatherford's directional kicking just isn't as precise as it once was, and the coverage units are hardly as reliable to bring down a return man—as proved by Denver's Trindon Holliday and Kansas City's Dexter McCluster. Not even Wilson can provide a spark in the return game.
Facets of the game, like the Giants running game and special teams units, have been particularly disappointing because they were once poor, then showed improvement in recent years and have since regressed in 2013.
The Big Surprise
Even if we had an inkling that everything I've explained above could possibly go wrong, we at least had Manning's passing game to count on...right?
Eli Manning has been one of the best passers in the league over the past few seasons. He's always made the most of his arsenal—no matter the receivers who compose it. We were certain he'd make mince meat of opposing secondaries with the targets he was equipped with heading into this season.
A healthy Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were expected to resume their reputation as one of the league's most feared receiving duos. The big addition would be Rueben Randle; the second-year receiver from LSU was expected to make the leap in 2013.
It's not like these pass-catchers haven't had their moments this season. Just this Sunday, Nicks had an impressive 142 yards on nine catches while Randle caught his first two touchdown passes of the season. Cruz has been relatively consistent, averaging just under 100 yards per game with four touchdown catches this season.
But the passing attack hasn't been in sync all at once. It will show itself in a flash—like it did when Cruz caught a 69-yard touchdown versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4—and then vanish at a moment's notice, not to return until several drives later.
Manning's inability to keep the ball out of harm's way is killing the Giants already pinholed offense. He now has 12 interceptions and a lost fumble, as his trio of top-tier targets have rarely gained the upper-hand on opposing defensive backs all at the same time. After serving as the bedrock of New York's offense for the past two seasons, the Giants' passing game has been surprisingly unreliable in 2013.
Because we expected, at the very minimum, a potent passing attack, especially considering the talent New York has in the receiving corps, the surprising lack of reliability has been a big—perhaps the biggest—disappointment of the season so far.