This is really a tale of two teams. Starting in the playoffs of the 2007 season and ending in Week 13 of the 2008 season against the Washington Redskins, the Giants compiled a record of 17-1. The game against the Redskins was two days after the Burress shooting.
Since Week 14 of the 2008 season, the Giants have posted a record of 9-11. They have managed to win four games against teams with winning records (three against Dallas, one against Atlanta) during that span.
On that fateful night, the team lost not only its swagger, but the mental and physical toughness that is required to win in the National Football League. Put simply, the team lost its collective heart.
How can a team recover from a broken heart? That will be the task for Jerry Reese and the rest of the Giants braintrust. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Task No. 1: Coaching Changes
Coach Coughlin has done an admirable job bringing toughness and a will to win back to the team. He has two years left on his post-Super Bowl contract extension. He will be back as coach for the 2010 season; make no mistake. It is likely his final year, though, as the Giants will not want to have a lame duck coach for 2011.
Bill Sheridan was fired moments after the season ended. That was an easy call to make. The Giants should consider Greg Blache of the Washington Redskins and Rob Ryan of the Cleveland Browns as replacements from the NFL ranks. Both are likely to become available this offseason.
Kevin Gilbride should also be jettisoned. He is still suffering from a post-Plaxico hangover.
Pre-Plaxico, Gilbride could game-plan much easier, knowing that there would be a safety over the top of Burress. Post-Plaxico, he has struggled to put in a consistent game plan to take advantage of his talent. Gilbride also became package-heavy, rarely operating out of the same formation more than three downs.
Both the offensive and defensive coordinators should be signed to multi-year deals, with the knowledge that the two will be in open competition to be the heir apparent to Coughlin. In a year's time, one will be bumped up to head coach.
The attitude change that two new coordinators will bring into the organization will eliminate some of the bad taste from this season. Aggressive and attacking schemes will also better suit the talent of the team and appease some of the disgruntled bunch (including Umenyiora and Jacobs).
Task No. 2: A Heart Transplant at Middle Linebacker
Since his arrival, Antonio Pierce has been the Giants' vocal leader and quarterback of the defense.
He is also a constant reminder of the Plaxico Burress shooting. His time as a Giant has come to an end.
The Giants are known for their linebackers, but this current crop is not memorable. As a unit, they are big and slow. This is not a recipe for long-term success in a pass-happy NFL.
The 2010 free agent class does not look promising for middle linebackers. The elite players are likely to be re-signed by their respective teams. That leaves the Giants to look for help in the draft. Unless there is an elite CB (think Darrelle Revis) in the first round, the Giants must consider using their first-rounder on an impact linebacker.
Task No. 3: An Offensive Opportunity
After four-plus years of continuity, the offensive line began to show cracks. 2009 draft pick William Beatty will likely come into the offseason as the starting right tackle. A full training camp battling the likes of Justin Tuck and some added muscle should be all that is needed to lock up the spot for years to come.
At left tackle, expect the Giants to be bold and sign Marcus McNeil from the San Diego Chargers. David Diehl is starting to lose a step at tackle, but would be above average at guard replacing Rich Seubert.
Task No. 4: Secondary to None
A thin unit to begin with, the injury bug wiped out whatever momentum this group had coming into the season. The top four players (Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, and Kenny Phillips) form a solid nucleus from which to build. The key for the incoming defensive coordinator is placing each player in position to succeed.
The 2010 season should open with Webster and Ross at the corners, and Thomas and Phillips at the safety positions. The draft and free agency should be used to bolster their ranks and provide fuel for competition. Not one of the positions in the secondary should be a given.
Task No. 5: Take a Breath, Giants Fans
The season may have fallen short, but there is no need to overreact.
The D-Line, which may have been overhyped, still has talented players in Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Barry Cofield, and a returning Jay Alford. That type of rotation can and should dominate.
Eli Manning and the receiving corps have not yet reached their potential. The passing attack averaged seven yards per attempt, good for ninth in the league. The team was also ninth in third-down efficiency and eighth in rushing. A new coordinator can take these positives and improve upon them.
Lastly, the Giants have been on a roll in the draft, particularly in the top four rounds. The recent track record speaks for itself. Jerry Reese has done a good job and is a steady hand at the top of the organization.