A shake-up is necessary in the world of New York Giants football. After all, with a blowout loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, the G-Men confirmed that they'd be missing out on the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and would finish without a winning record for the third time in seven seasons.
Of course, the Giants have two Super Bowl wins in that seven-year span. Without improbable David-vs.-Goliath-style victories over the powerhouse New England Patriots and incredible individual efforts on once-in-a-lifetime plays from Eli Manning (both years), David Tyree (2008) and Mario Manningham (2012), we're probably looking at a very different team right now.
But the reality is that those plays occurred and those upsets came to fruition, and as a result, Tom Coughlin can coach this team and Manning can probably quarterback this team until they're good and ready to walk away.
Whether or not that philosophy is stunting the long-term growth of the organization is a debate for another day—one we'll definitely have in this spot in the very near future—but right now we'll look at a shake-up the Giants can absolutely get away with in the 2014 offseason without breaking any real or perceived unwritten rules regarding tenure.
It's time for Coughlin, with or without pressure from general manager Jerry Reese, to fire offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and replace him with somebody new, somebody exciting, somebody innovative.
It's time to mix things up on an offense that has become stagnant—one that has far too much talent, regardless of injuries, to be ranked 29th in the league in scoring, 25th in yardage and dead last in turnovers. In fact, they've led the league in turnovers twice in the past four years. Only the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals have turned it over more since the start of 2010.
I know the going's been tough without interior offensive linemen David Baas and Chris Snee, and left tackle Will Beatty and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks have been tremendous disappointments in opposite situations, contract-wise, but that doesn't explain why this offensive unit has failed to do much of anything for 13 consecutive weeks.
Manning is a former top pick, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and a Pro Bowler. Victor Cruz is one of the most dynamic receivers in the game. Rueben Randle has become a very respectable and dangerous No. 2 wideout. Brandon Myers and Andre Brown are weapons that you know would be much better utilized in, say, Denver or New England.
|Giants offense under Kevin Gilbride|
|Pro Football Reference|
The game has passed Gilbride by. He used to be a top-notch coach and he remains a great guy, but he's stunting this offense's ability to grow. His game plans are stubborn, and he's reluctant to adjust within games or try new things. As a result, the first word that comes to mind when we think of this Giants offense is stagnant.
That's not healthy.
Where is the Giants' screen game? Where is their quick passing game? I'm not saying they have to fully implement the read-option or run a West Coast offense, but they have to show more willingness to adapt to league-wide trends. Gilbride's cookie-cutter approach involves too many low-percentage sideline passes and not enough high-percentage underneath throws, screens and timing routes.
To Gilbride's credit, it did appear as though he had Manning utilize more three-step drops just as his interception rate began to come back to earth midway through this season. Even he was beginning to recognize that five- and seven-step drops and mini-vacations in the pocket were killing this passing game. Defenses had figured it out long ago and were prepared for what was coming.
Still, that adjustment alone won't save a unit that ranks 27th in football with 1,233 yards after the catch. Manning hasn't been good, but a passing strategy that forces him to be perfect on 10- to 20-yard throws time and again isn't helping. He often looks like he's on an island.
|NFL: Fewest yards after the catch, 2013|
|Tampa Bay Bucs||987||31st|
|San Francisco 49ers||1008||28th|
|New York Jets||1054||30th|
|New York Giants||1233||25th|
Gilbride's attempt to mix things up? Sudden shotgun draws, which almost never seem to work. Probably because it's been his bread-and-butter for more than half a decade. The predictability is unbelievable.
This is also a system that naturally makes things harder for younger players to adjust. I'm not surprised that 2012 first-round pick David Wilson has struggled to adapt and that Randle, who was a second-round pick that same year, made so many route-related mistakes during the first season and a half of his career. There's no margin for error in Gilbride's offense, whereas coordinators elsewhere in the country—at both the college and pro level—have been finding ways to make things easier on quarterbacks and receivers.
Da'Rel Scott, who is no longer on the roster, leads all Giants backs in receiving yards with 102, 38 of which came on a single last-minute, checkdown-heavy drive in Week 1. Since then, there isn't a team in the league that has been less effective passing the ball to running backs.
That alone doesn't explain why this offense has struggled, but it's an indictment of Gilbride's ability to adapt when Manning simply isn't finding those receivers on slants, posts and fades. There have been no safety valves, which is problematic in the NFL in 2013.
And that's a big reason why Manning has been sacked a career-high 33 times with three games still remaining. Not cool.
|Eli Manning, most sack-heavy seasons|
|Sacks allowed||Sack percentage|
|Pro Football Reference|
It's also a big reason why the Giants have come away with touchdowns on only 51.6 percent of their red-zone possessions, ranking 23rd in the league, per TeamRankings.com. Also uncool.
The problem is that this is an old-school franchise that doesn't like to cut ties with its tenured employees, whether they're players or coaches. Coughlin is fiercely loyal, and let's keep in mind that Gilbride has been there since the day Manning was drafted. Those two are extremely comfortable with one another, and we've learned how much these guys despise being removed from their comfort zones.
The Giants thing to do would be to assume that this year's struggles had everything to do with Snee and Baas and Nicks and Beatty and Justin Pugh's growing pains and Myers' poor blocking and the loss of Wilson, rather than admitting that the staff's inability to adapt to those circumstances is highly problematic.
It's not all on Gilbride. Manning can audible out of what Gilbride calls, and as our very own Patricia Traina points out, the entire offensive staff could be doing a better job. Presumably, if Gilbride goes, so will his son, who coaches the receivers. And it's safe to say that Sean Ryan has fallen short of expectations in two years as the quarterbacks coach, considering that Manning's career has spiraled downward during his tenure.
It's not easy coordinating an offense that has had to constantly reshuffle the line and hasn't been able to settle on a running back, but at some point you run out of excuses.
Denver is on a record-breaking offensive pace despite losing stud left tackle Ryan Clady early. The Seattle Seahawks, who rank second in the league in scoring, have been hit just about as hard along the line and have their own depth problems at wide receiver. The Patriots rank third in scoring, and yet that offense has been ravaged by injuries.
Manning probably wants to keep Gilbride, but it's time to force the franchise quarterback to depart from that comfort zone. It's time for this organization to take a chance. Hanging onto what was successful several years in the past is football suicide, so it's time to suck it up and make some big changes on offense.
What's the worst that could happen? I mean, at this point, there's really only one direction left for this offense to go.