The 2013 New York Giants season was supposed to be a quest for a championship.
Instead, it’s turned into a comedy of errors that have been punctuated by turnovers, injuries, running game struggles, pass protection issues, and defensive coverage breakdowns, just to name a few of the many factors that have contributed to the team’s 0-5 start.
Yet despite their bumbling and stumbling, which has been no laughing matter for their loyal fans who have suffered Monday morning taunts from those whose allegiances lie with other football teams, the Giants remain two games out of first place in the NFC East.
There’s a lot of football still to be played, starting with a quick turnaround that takes the Giants to the Windy City to face the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.
Here’s a look at five Giants players whose contributions could play a key role in helping to get the team back on track.
It has not been the best of starts for Will Beatty, the Giants' starting left tackle, who, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), has scored negatively in three out of the first five games.
In 2013, Beatty, who signed a five-year contract worth $37.5 million in the offseason, has given up four sacks, four quarterback hits and 18 hurries. That’s nowhere near qualifying him for the shutdown status he so often achieved in 2012.
Last week, he was given lots of chip blocking help against Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole, and not surprisingly, he didn’t allow a sack or a sniff of pressure through his side until he was left to solo block later in the game, at which point he gave up two quarterback hurries.
This week, he’ll face Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and will likely be given blocking help again to make sure he continues to keep the pocket as clean as possible for quarterback Eli Manning.
One week after being acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers for a late-round draft pick, Jon Beason is expected to step into the starting lineup as the middle linebacker, replacing incumbent Mark Herzlich.
Beason wouldn’t confirm his starting assignment, teasing reporters by saying it was “possible” that he would start, but his smile all but confirmed that he was going to make his debut on defense on Thursday night.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell confirmed the plans to work Beason into the lineup.
“We are going to incorporate him in our defense this week,” he said, confirming that Beason will play middle linebacker. “We have certain packages that he will be involved in. He’s only been with us a couple of days, but we felt like it was important to get him involved as soon as possible.
Beason said his biggest challenge has been learning the Giants’ terminology, but he noted that the process has been coming along for him.
“I’m in the playbook heavy,” he said. “It’s different terminology, but I’ve played football in this league for a long time, so I feel pretty comfortable about it.”
“He’s learning fast,” head coach Tom Coughlin added. “He’s ready to contribute.”
John Conner, who was signed after Week 3 to replace the injured Henry Hynoski, has yet to take any snaps on offense because he’s been trying to expedite his understanding of the Giants playbook.
After two weeks, Conner is said to be ready to start trying to open up holes for Giants running backs Brandon Jacobs and Da’Rel Scott.
Conner comes to the Giants with a reputation for being a hard-nosed player with the ability to knock a man into next Tuesday.
If he can live up to that reputation, he would certainly be a significant upgrade over Bear Pascoe, the tight end who has been plugged in at that fullback spot, but whose lead blocking has been more of an ineffective finesse approach that has not always worked.
For the first time since his rookie season in 2004, there was some outward concern expressed by head coach Tom Coughlin about quarterback Eli Manning’s frame of mind following five very difficult weeks of football.
A day after the Giants blew a golden opportunity to not only get their first win of the season, but to also put themselves into a position where they would be one game back in the NFC East for the lead, Coughlin told reporters on Monday that the usually unflappable Manning was feeling down.
“He feels bad about the game, just as we all do,” he said. “We’re suffering from remorse from an opportunity lost, but he’s certainly going to get right back up again in preparation, a very short preparation for the next opponent. I know that part will be done properly and I wish I could bring his spirits back up, but it takes a little bit of time.”
The good news, or so it would seem, is that Manning's spirits did recover from Sunday’s loss.
His father, New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning, who knows a thing or two about struggling through some rough football, told the New York Daily News that his youngest son is determined to fight his way out of this rut.
“He’s not throwing anybody under the bus,” said the Manning family’s patriarch. “He just says, ‘We’ve all got to do better.’ That was kind of his message to me.”
Meanwhile, the younger Manning understands people aren’t pleased with the performance he and the Giants have put forward these past five weeks.
He shares in their unhappiness.
“I know what situation we’re in and I’m not pleased with it," Manning said. "I’m not happy with our performances and so I know we’ve got to fix them. We’ve got to play better. That’s what we expect of ourselves and that’s what the fans expect."
The Giants offense begins and ends with their quarterback, and all eyes will certainly be on him Thursday night to see if he has finally figured out how to pull his team back from the cliff.
Running back Brandon Jacobs hasn’t had a full workload since Dec. 11, 2011, a 37-34 Giants win in which he recorded his last 100-yard rushing performance.
The bad news is that Jacobs is still a little rusty after re-signing with the Giants in Week 2 of the season, and it showed last week when he had to step in for Wilson.
“I haven’t had a ton of work over the last four or five years,” said Jacobs, who, during his first tour of duty with the Giants, lost his starting job to Ahmad Bradshaw in 2009.
“It was a little shocking in the game, this past game, when David went out," he said. "But it’s football. At least I had an opportunity to get in there and do it with an offense I knew. I had some mistakes here and there that I wish I could have back, no question, but I’m ready to go.”
That’s good news for a Giants rushing offense that is nestled firmly in last place in the NFL. While the 31-year-old Jacobs has never been the explosive type of back the Giants have gravitated toward, he does offer a punishing downhill style that has the potential to wear down defenses.
“Brandon’s going to battle,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “He’s going to give you all he’s got. He hung in there and did a pretty good job. I think his competitive nature will be such that he’ll respond as best he can. He’s a big, powerful man, a great physical specimen, I’m sure they’ll have to contend with him a little bit, too.”