At the start of the 2013 season, the New York Giants organization was feeling rather confident about its prospects of having a strong season.
And why wouldn't it? Each new season is like a blank page just waiting to be written on and filled with memories that will enthrall future generations about the miraculous catches, the unexpected plays and the breakout players who made the season so special.
Unfortunately, the Giants’ 7-9 record probably won’t be one that anyone with a vested interest in this team will look too fondly on in years to come.
Perhaps in retrospect, warning signs of a collapse were there all along. Perhaps the Giants were too fixated on the prospect of getting into the playoffs for a chance to become the first team in Super Bowl history to participate in the sport’s biggest game hosted in their home venue.
Whatever the reason, the Giants came crashing down to earth with the force of a thud that, had they applied more often to opponents, maybe the outcome would have been much different.
We know about the 0-6 start—it's gong to take a long time to erase that memory from our brains. Here are a few other contributing factors behind the team's disappointing third-place finish.
In his season-ending press conference with the media, Giants’ co-owner John Mara noted:
We had an inordinate number of injuries this year. That’s no excuse for going 0-6 out of the gate, but let’s face it, it did have an effect, particularly, I think, on the offensive side of the ball with the offensive linemen and the running backs.
He wasn't kidding.
The Giants placed 14 players on season-ending injured reserve, a list that includes linebacker Dan Connor, who was released midway through the season.
If you count defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and receiver Victor Cruz, both of whom weren't able to finish the season but were not put on IR, that would technically bring the total up to 16 players (30.1 percent of the roster) who, once they were injured, weren't able to finish the season.
According to the NFL’s official injury-report list, the Giants’ injury report included 144 listings, an average of nine players per game.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was on a managed practice schedule, cornerback Corey Webster (12), tight end Adrien Robinson (10), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (10) were listed on the injury report 10 or more times this season.
Webster and Pierre-Paul were projected to be starters at the beginning of the season.
|New York Giants: Key 2013 Injuries|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||Shoulder|
|RB Andre Brown||Leg|
|WR Victor Cruz||Knee|
|RB Brandon Jacobs||Knee|
|RB David Wilson||Neck|
|CB Corey Webster||Ankle|
|FB Henry Hynoski||Shoulder|
|C David Baas||Knee|
|G Chris Snee||Hip|
|S Stevie Brown||Knee|
|New York Giants|
Twenty-six (26) of the 41 players listed on the injury report this year (63.4 percent) were projected starters at the time of their listing.
That breaks down to nine on defense, 15 on offense and one on special teams (long snapper Zak DeOssie).
There were 10 instances where a player was declared out without even going through the full week. Running back David Wilson led the list with four, followed by receiver Victor Cruz (two); and then one each by center David Baas, guard David Diehl and fullback Henry Hynoski.
The Giants had 54 instances during the season when a player did not participate in practice. Of those, 37 players were declared out in the end-of-the-week injury report, eight were listed as doubtful, three were placed on injured reserve and one was listed as probable.
Moving forward, the Giants might want to borrow a page out of the Philadelphia Eagles’ playbook for next season in order to keep players from dropping like flies exposed to insect repellent.
According to Lindsay Jones of USA Today, the Eagles hired a former Navy SEAL to be their “Sports Science Coordinator,” a job separate from the strength and conditioning coaching position.
Whatever the specific role of the ex-SEAL, it worked because, according to their injury-report list for the season, the new NFC East champions reported only 109 injuries in 2013 and had only five players land on injured reserve.
Offensive Line Depth
When Mara looked at his team’s roster, he spotted one area of grave concern that he, like perhaps so many others in the organization, hoped would not come back to bite the team.
My biggest concern coming into the year was would our offensive line stay healthy because I was concerned about the depth that we had there.
Of course, we get the center (David Baas) and Chris Snee hurt right off the bat and then the backup center (Jim Cordle) gets hurt. We just never seemed to be able to protect Eli well enough or get a ground game going well enough.
How bad was the offensive line, which, by the way, fielded seven different starting combinations?
Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 39 times, a new single-season career high. His pocket collapsed around him with alarming regularity as he never knew where the pressure would be coming from. As a result, he appeared to morph into a shell-shocked passer whose throwing mechanics regressed.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning had to rush his passes 187 times this season, which is not a formula for success.
Also, per a review of the defensive statistics of all 16 game books this season, Manning was hit 77 times.
Not surprisingly, the lack of pass protection affected the deep passing game, once a strength of the offense. Manning was only able to complete just 34.3 percent of his deep throws (defined as 20 or more yards).
Combine the lack of a deep passing game along with the 136 3rd-and-long situations, six or more yards needed to convert, as outlined by Pro-Football-Reference.com, and is it any wonder why the Giants offense finished 28th in the NFL in points scored this season?
The Giants coaching staff is said to have a policy that in order for a young player to get snaps in a game, he has to earn them in practice.
The problem with that philosophy is that starters take the bulk of the snaps in any given practice.
The remaining snaps go to the primary backups. That means that if you have a young player buried on the depth chart, like receiver Jerrel Jernigan was, chances are the only work they’re going to get is with the scout team unless the guys in front of them get hurt.
The thing to realize about the scout team is that the players who work on it do not always practice at their natural positions.
Jernigan, for example, has played the role of a Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III in practice, according to ESPN. It's unknown how many other times he's played roles in practice that were not at the receiver spot.
And Mara wonders why it took the coaching staff so long to realize what they had in Jernigan?
The bottom line is that the coaching staff has, at times, been a little too rigid in its refusal to play younger players, using the excuse that the kids aren't ready for bigger roles because they haven't earned it in practice.
Granted, the parameters governing in-season practices have changed significantly thanks to the new CBA reached in 2011.
Still, if guys like Jernigan, who just finished his third season, still weren't ready for an increased role in practice by year two, at what point does the blame go to the coaching staff?
You can add several more factors that contributed to the Giants 2013 season having gone astray, including:
* An average of 83.3 rushing yards per game, their lowest season-long average since 1945, when they rushed for an average of 76.9 yards yards per game.
Whichever reason(s) you want to point to as being behind the Giants' disappointing season, you won't get much of an argument from me.
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