What's to Blame for New York Giants' Woeful Start in 2017?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The New York Giants, who were supposed to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season following their 11-5 record from a year ago, have gotten off to a 1-5 start, their lone win being an impressive 23-10 triumph over the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football.
While that win represents what this team should have been, the sad reality is the 2017 season is pretty much lost as far as making a repeat trip to the playoffs. But who and what is to blame for the rocky start to this season?
There is certainly enough blame to go around in the organization for this gigantic collapse, so pull out the box of Kleenex for what has been the tale of a disappointing Giants season to date.
General Manager Jerry Reese
The problems with this Giants franchise right now start at the top, specifically with the man who oversees acquiring the talent.
That, of course, would be Jerry Reese, the one-time scout turned general manager who blindly put his faith in the improvement of the returning starting offensive line yet didn't really bother to add quality depth in case of injury or a faltering.
Reese also neglected to address in any way, shape or form, upgrading the depth at cornerback or linebacker, two other areas that have bitten the Giants this season.
And can we talk about the draft? While a team isn't going to hit on every pick, the Giants' record under Reese since 2010 has been awful.
Injuries to draft picks such as running back David Wilson and safety Chad Jones aren't his fault, the countless misses on drafting offensive linemen to ultimately step up when the great line of the 2007-2010 seasons faded away; the failed gambles on high picks like Damontre Moore, Prince Amukamara and Marvin Austin—all of whom had to be replaced by high-priced free agents—and the consistent overestimating of the talent on the roster have laid a pretty rocky foundation for this franchise.
Historically, he Giants don't fire general managers, but at the end of the year Reese—who is scheduled to speak to the media during the bye week—will have some major explaining to do to ownership and to a loyal fanbase whose hearts are as broken as the foundation of this team.
Head Coach Ben McAdoo
Maybe it's the new hairstyle, but whatever it is, McAdoo seems to have lost his golden touch in the locker room during the winless streak this year.
As a rookie head coach last year, he worked hard to create an environment in which he and his staff connected with the players. As a result, everyone bought into the program and winning became a norm.
This year, once the losses began to pile up, he has become so focused on trying to fix the mess that has developed under his watch that he appears to have lost touch with his players.
The best example of that was last week when, following the news of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's suspension, McAdoo—believing he was doing the right thing by waiting to get all the facts lined up—decided to wait until Friday to brief his players himself rather than to give them a courtesy heads up before they were peppered with questions from the media.
And let's not forget McAdoo's stubbornness to give up the play-calling through the first five weeks of the season and be a head coach.
Not only have some of his decisions resulted in points being left on the field, his inexplicable decision to remain on the sideline when receiver Odell Beckham Jr was down on the ground last week in serious pain is about as bad an optic as there is.
McAdoo didn't address his decision not to offer comfort to Beckham—he wasn't asked about it—but the likely reason for his decision was because the team was still on offense and McAdoo had a decision to make regarding the next sequence of plays.
Still, that's no excuse for not at least going out to offer a few words of comfort to your star player during his hour of darkness.
If McAdoo expects his players to fight for him and the program, he has to reciprocate. That he finally took a step in that direction in the win over Denver—he turned the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan—is a step in the right direction.
But will McAdoo, who has not been shy about his love of calling plays, keep it up?
For those who thought the strength and conditioning staff or the team doctors were to blame for the Giants frequently being among the most injured team in the NFL, this year should hopefully put that ridiculous notion to rest.
The fact of the matter is football is a violent game and injuries are going to happen at random. And this year, all the strength and conditioning, all the new-wave scientific training and all the magic pills and supplements in the world couldn't stop the Giants from suffering major injuries to key players.
Four of the receivers went down in one game last week—Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris to season-ending injuries, and Sterling Shepard to what could be an issue that keeps him sidelined until at least after the bye week.
On the defensive line, Olivier Vernon has missed two games due to a sprained ankle suffered in Week 3. This week, one of his backups, Romeo Okwara, suffered a sprained knee that could be a multi-week affair as well.
Starting center Weston Richburg has now missed two games with a concussion, while coverage linebacker Keenan Robinson dealt with concussion symptoms for over a month at the start of the season.
Along the way, other key players have had to fight through injuries that have been significant enough for them to land on the weekly injury report. Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/shoulder) is one as is safety Landon Collins (ankle).
The sad thing about these injuries is that the Giants don't appear to have replacements at these positions who can step in without the level of play falling off the cliff.
The Offensive Line
All offseason and into the summer, the narrative from the Giants officials and coaching staff was that the offensive line's prognosis was looking good.
The coaches and even the general manger pointed to the hard work offensive tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart put in over the offseason to reshape their respective bodies and improve their conditioning. They also spoke about the line being better because of continuity.
Yet, the concern about the offensive line became real when offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan foresaw midway through the preseason what was eventually to come.
"I think all of the offensive line is determined. We know we are going to go as far as our offensive line goes and there has been improvement," he said. "We are not where we want to be, but we have shown some progress and we are excited about taking that next step."
As it turned out, all the promise, hopes and dreams the coaching staff had for an improved line were just wishful thinking.
Per Pro Football Focus, the Giants have allowed the eighth-most quarterback pressures this season through six games (75).
Flowers and Hart have struggled this year and it hasn't been pretty. Per Pro Football Focus, the pair have allowed 29 quarterback pressures through the first six games and six of the Giants' 16 sacks through six games.
Things have become so bad that it looks as though Hart has been permanently benched in favor of Justin Pugh, who moved to right tackle against Denver and held edge-rusher Von Miller in check.
Flowers, who continues to revert to poor technique when he gets beaten, once had his run blocking going for him but even that has disappeared into the mist.
Per NFL Savant, the Giants have managed just 62 yards on 17 carries when running behind the left tackle hole and 23 yards on nine carries when running off the left end.
Personnel Deployment Decisions
While the construction of a roster is on the general manager, the deployment of players is on the coaching staff, and there have been a few humdingers this year.
Let's start with running back, where Paul Perkins was named as the starter in March—before the draft, before free agency and before engaging in a competition.
It ultimately took an injury to Perkins, whose 1.9 average rushing yards per carry is the worst on the team, to get him out of the lineup in favor of rookie Wayne Gallman and more of Orleans Darkwa, who hold rushing averages of 4.1 and 5.7 yards per carry, respectively, through six games.
Over at receiver, there was the mysterious slow start of Brandon Marshall, now on injured reserve. Despite being the elder statesman of the group, the 33-year-old never looked like he was comfortable in this offense and never seemed able to get on the same page with Eli Manning.
Considering Marshall was the No. 2 receiver on this team, his 18 receptions were one less than running back Shane Vereen's 19 (as of stats before the game against Denver), and his 54.55 percent catch rate of his pass targets is the lowest on the team after five games.
Considering the money paid to Marshall—two years, $11 million with $5 million guaranteed, per Spotrac—they might have been able to use that sum toward obtaining a quality offensive lineman.
The Disappearing Defense
In what perhaps is the biggest mystery outside of the Giants' first five games is the reason for the decline of the defense.
Remember, Steve Spagnuolo's defense from 2016 pretty much returned intact minus defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and starting middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
The unit supposedly upgraded at free safety with the return to full heath of Darian Thompson and was supposed to be more cohesive this year.
Instead, the unit has been plagued by fundamental breakdowns such as forgetting how to tackle and shed blocks. After placing in the top five leaguewide against the run (tied for third) and in scoring (second), the Giants defense has fallen to 25th against the run and 17th in scoring.
To add to their woes, the Giants defense has had some injuries. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins missed a game and linebacker Keenan Robinson and defensive end Olivier Vernon have missed multiple matches.
Still, with mostly the same cast in place from a year ago when this unit was at the top of the league in many categories, its sudden descent is alarming. It's a mystery that defensive coordinator Spagnuolo has yet to figure out.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.