New York Giants: 3 Warning Signs That Pointed to This Season's Struggles

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New York Giants: 3 Warning Signs That Pointed to This Season's Struggles
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Hindsight might be 20/20, but sometimes when a problem arises and isn't addressed, it can escalate into a much larger issue that ultimately dooms the objective.

That’s certainly something that the New York Giants front office will find out when it commences its long and arduous task of picking up the broken pieces of what was supposed to be a promising season.

Graphic by P. Traina

While injuries have certainly played a big part in the Giants' downfall this season—New York currently lists 11 players on injured reserve, six of whom were projected to be starters at the beginning of the season—that’s just a small part of why the Giants so badly stumbled this year.

What is often overlooked is that there were problems developing as recently as the preseason that the team either hoped would go away or was not in a position to address.

In retrospect, those issues carried over into the regular season and had just as much of a hand in reducing what was supposed to be a promising Giants' season into a pile of rubble.

Here is a look at three issues that developed long before the Giants' Sept. 8 opening-day game at Dallas and carried over to the regular season.

 

Penalties

A hallmark of the football team coached by Tom Coughlin is strict discipline, including attention to detail, playing within the rules and making smart decisions with opportunities.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the Giants in the preseason, as they finished their four-game schedule with 30 penalties, an average of 7.5 per game, which was the ninth highest total in the league.

That trend continued into the regular season.

The Giants, who have been penalized every game this season, have only 83 penalties that have been accepted out of 98 called, which puts them at 22nd in the NFL.

There are few things to take away from this statistic, based on data from NFL Game Statistics Information System (login required).

The Giants have played three games in which they have been flagged for double-digit penalties, games in which they are 1-2 on the season.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Giants are drawing way too many of these little yellow hankies this season.

Per NFL GSIS, of their 98 total penalties thus far, 29 can be classified as the result of a loss of control or focus.

Also, out of the 83 Giants' penalties that have been accepted, 20 (24 percent) have resulted in a stalled drive and 26 have nullified first downs.

There will always be penalties called, such as holding and pass interference, that border on ticky-tack; however, a goal of the coaching staff for next year will no doubt be cleaning up some of the recurring issues that have thwarted a number of the team's opportunities.

 

Passing Efficiency

Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

Starting quarterback Eli Manning finished the preseason 24-of-51 (47.1 percent) with one interception and only two touchdowns, which came in the preseason opener against the Steelers and the preseason finale against the Patriots.

The targets of those two touchdown passes? Receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

It should be noted that the starter’s snaps in the preseason were limited.

According to the league’s game book, Manning took 34 of the snaps in the team's third preseason game, which was against the Jets. Manning finished 8-of-20 for 83 yards and was sacked once, throwing no touchdowns.

When the preseason ended, Manning’s touchdown percentage was 3.9 percent, while his interception percentage was 2 percent.

Sadly, the regular season saw that disparity increase, and not in a good way.

Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning has thrown a touchdown pass on just 3.3 percent of his passes. His 25 interceptions mean that he has tossed the ball to the other side on 5.2 percent of his passes.

Because of that, Manning’s passer rating currently stands at 69.7, down from his 72.4 rating in the preseason.

 

Third-Down Struggles (Offense and Defense)

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

This past summer, the Giants converted 24.1 percent of their third-down attempts, putting them dead last in the NFL.

Of their 60 drives during that four-game period, 26.6 percent resulted in a three-and-out, which is not what you want to happen when you’re trying to score points.

The regular season hasn’t been that much better, as the Giants have converted 33.3 percent of their third-down attempts, ranking them 30th in the NFL.

On defense, the situation was just a little bit better, as the Giants allowed opponents to convert 33.8 percent of their third-down attempts in the preseason, making them 18th in the NFL.

In the regular season, the Giants have allowed opponents to convert 41.0 percent of their third-down attempts, which drops them to 23rd in the NFL.

What’s more is that in five of their first six games, opponents finished no lower than 45 percent when it came to third-down conversions.

 

Hindsight is 20/20: The Hakeem Nicks Soap Opera

Right from the start, it seemed that something didn’t quite add up with receiver Hakeem Nicks, who decided to boycott the team’s voluntary OTAs because he had to take care of some personal things.

While he might indeed have had some issues to resolve, his lack of communication with the team—later admitting he could have done a better job with it—was a curious twist in what’s been one of the oddest contract seasons of a Giants' player in recent memory.

Throughout his absence, Nicks insisted that his his contract was not the issue.

Speculation continued to grow that Nicks’ absence was a result of him not wanting to put himself at risk for injury until he absolutely had to, though, despite the fact that had he attended the OTAs, the medical staff would have created a schedule for him while he took advantage of classroom sessions. 

Things seemed to calm down a bit when Nicks reported to the mandatory minicamp and training camp; however, with each passing week, questions began to swirl about whether he and Eli Manning were on the same page.

Those questions have picked up intensity, given that the two teammates have yet to connect for a touchdown pass.

In addition, through 14 games, Nicks' 57.5 reception percentage is the second lowest of his career, behind his injury-filled 2012 season, per the stats at Pro Football Reference.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

The Nicks situation seemed to come to a head in November, when he disclosed that he was dealing with an abdominal injury the week of the Giants’ biggest game of the season, against Dallas.

Nicks, who claimed to have been bothered by the injury “for a while” ended up missing the team’s Wednesday practice to get the injury checked out. After insisting during the week that his injury wouldn’t cause him to miss the game against the Cowboys, he then missed the critical game after head coach Tom Coughlin felt that Nicks hadn't practiced enough.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Nicks, who earlier in the season seemed to be at the heart of weekly trade rumors, has not had a touchdown reception since Dec. 9, 2012, in a game against the New Orleans Saints.

He’s also been inconsistent, the most recent example of this in last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, when, as was the case on a few other balls thrown his way that went for interceptions, he failed to fight for the ball.

Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Nicks has been the intended target  on seven of Eli Manning’s 25 interceptions this season, including four in last week’s game.

Is Nicks solely to blame for the offense’s problems? No. In retrospect, his decision to stay away in the spring appears to have put him at a disadvantage in that he’s never really been on the same page with his quarterback.

Should the Giants have traded Nicks when they had a chance? Considering they are believed to have given a seventh-round draft pick to acquire linebacker Jon Beason, certainly had they traded Nicks, they might have been able to get at least that round if not higher in return.   

 

Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.

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