Will Sunday be the last time Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks play together on the same team?
This time of year is a time for hope and good cheer. Yet if you’re a New York Giants fan, you’re probably not experiencing much in the way of cheer given how the team’s 2013 season has gone.
After starting the season with a 0-6 mark, their worst start in franchise history since 1976, the Giants have since gone 6-3.
That’s a small consolation for head coach Tom Coughlin, who in less than a week will join general manager Jerry Reese and team ownership to sort through the rubble of a disappointing season.
“Of course, we’re going to be extremely critical of those first six,” Coughlin said when asked if he takes any solace in the improved won-loss record. “We’ve played some good teams down the stretch. A couple of games we didn’t match up well (against).”
While the Giants have the makings of a solid core among the rubble, in order to fix the “franchise”—quarterback Eli Manning—they’re going to have to place a heavy emphasis on upgrading all areas of the offense, starting with the line and trickling right down to the skill position groups that underperformed.
For the time being, that task will need to wait until the Giants wrap up their 2013 regular-season campaign this weekend against Washington.
With the Giants locked into third place regardless of the game's outcome, Coughlin said he hopes to gain one final bit of insight into the mindset of those players he currently has.
“You’re being heavily scrutinized by the powers that be within your own organization,” he said of what the team has to play for this weekend. “The coaches want to know what you’re made out of.
“How do we handle it, and what kind of men are we if we are completely opposite and don’t rise to the occasion when things aren’t going well? I take that stuff very seriously.”
In other words, to all those players who have insisted all along that they are competitors, it’s "put up or shut up" in a game in which all that the winner earns is pride.
The NFC East teams will finish against each other, with Dallas and Philadelphia playing for the division title in the Sunday night game and the Giants and Washington playing for pride.
Regardless of the outcome of the Giants-Washington game, neither can advance or fall from their current place in the division standings.
Meanwhile, the loser of the Dallas-Eagles game will be out of the playoff hunt and will finish in second place in the division.
|OL Brandon Mosley||Hand||Injured in Week 16|
|RB Andre Brown||Concussion||Injured in Week 16|
|TE Adrien Robinson||Knee||Injured in Week 16|
|RB Peyton Hillis||Concussion||Inactive Week 16|
|OL David Diehl||Knee||Inactive Week 16|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||Shoulder||Inactive Week 16|
|S Cooper Taylor||Hamstring||Inactive Week 16|
|WR Victor Cruz||Knee||Inactive Week 16|
|DT Cullen Jenkins||Shin/Quad||Active Week 16|
|CB Trumaine McBride||Groin||Active Week 16|
|CB Terrell Thomas||Knee||Active Week 16|
|OL James Brewer||Ankle||Active Week 16|
|WR Jerrel Jernigan||Knee||Active Week 16|
New York Giants
If the Giants haven’t cried uncle over their injury situation yet, it wouldn’t be surprising if they’re about to do so this week.
The injury bug has been simply unforgiving to New York this season, robbing them of 11 players for the season—12 if you count linebacker Dan Connor, released midseason, or 13 if you count receiver Victor Cruz, who, while not on injured reserve, is done for the season.
What’s worse is that of the 11 players currently on injured reserve, six were projected to be starters this season.
As for the current injury report, it doesn’t look very promising at this point. Running back Andre Brown, who suffered a concussion in overtime last week, had still not passed the league’s concussion protocol as of Monday night, per Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger:
As of yesterday, Andre Brown was not cleared by the leagues concussion protocol, by the way. #nyg— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) December 24, 2013
If both Brown and Peyton Hillis (concussion) don't make it back this week, the Giants might be forced to promote Kendall Gaskins, who joined their practice squad last week, to the 53-man roster.
Is head coach Tom Coughlin, who always preaches “next man up,” concerned about his running game at this point?
"Naturally, I’m concerned," he said. "Andre Brown—is he going to be able to work and play? He felt pretty good on the plane (Sunday) night. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything."
The situation along the offensive line is no better, as Brandon Mosley is not expected to play after breaking a bone in his right hand.
"Sometimes you can play with those things, sometimes you can’t. (Sunday) night they put a cast on him and said if we needed him in an emergency, to play him," Coughlin said.
Assuming the Giants don’t have Diehl or Mosley, their only other healthy depth along the offensive line at this point is Stephen Goodin.
It’s highly unlikely that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul plays this week. It’s admirable that he doesn’t want to officially shut himself down for what’s left of the season, but if he’s trying to avoid surgery, there’s little reward in him playing this week.
What Must Improve
The Running Game
Last week, the Giants finished with fewer than 100 yards on the ground for the 10th time this season.
While you can certainly look at the run blocking, which per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) combined for a minus-3.6 run blocking grade—only fullback John Conner, tight end Bear Pascoe and left guard James Brewer had positive run-blocking grades—the running backs didn’t help.
Per PFF, Andre Brown, who started his season with two (out of three) games exceeding the 100-yard rushing mark, has since seen his production decrease.
What’s also decreased, per PFF, is Brown’s average yards gained after contact per the table below.
|at San Diego||3.6|
Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
Believe it or not, Pro Football Focus has not ranked the Giants’ special teams with an overall negative grade. New York currently has a 16.0 rating, which is the 19th-best in the NFL. (Washington, their next opponent, has a league-worse minus-49.1 grade.)
The Giants have gotten some consistent contributions on special teams from linebacker Mark Herzlich, who leads the team with eight special teams tackles, safety Will Hill, linebacker Spencer Paysinger and defensive end Damontre Moore, just to name a few.
Based on PFF’s grades, Herzlich, John Conner, Larry Donnell, Mosley and Hill are the among the top-rated individuals on special teams.
So why include special teams as an area that needs to improve?
Because this unit continues to make little mistakes that really shouldn't be happening at this point in the season.
The most recent batch included Moore jumping offside on a 4th-and-1 to give the Lions a fresh set of downs and Charles James losing contain on Jeremy Ross’ 50-yard punt return.
It’s bad enough that Manning looks like he’ll end the season as the league’s interception king—he has 26 through 15 games, a new franchise single-season record.
His supporting cast hasn’t been of much help. Per Pro Football Focus, the Giants' pass blocking has earned a whopping minus-57.0 rating, 31st in the NFL.
Manning has been under pressure on 232 of his 571 dropback attempts (40.6 percent). On those passes, he’s completed 94 of 189 attempts for 1,243 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 61.2 passer rating.
According to PFF, every single member of the Giants offensive line who has taken at least 75 percent of the snaps on offense has scored a negative grade. The two lowest grades belong to guard David Diehl (minus-15.9) and tackle William Beatty (minus-19.4).