New York Giants: Top Non-Stories of 2015
Remember way back in the day when the New York Giants passing offense was going to light things up and the defensive secondary was going to be a problem?
Yeah, I do too. But it’s funny, this game of football and in particular, this New York Giants team because just when you think you know how things are going to go, life throws you a curve ball.
The top stories surrounding this team are pretty well defined. There’s Jason Pierre-Paul’s pending return, Will Beatty’s return, oh and Victor Cruz’s eventual return. There are all things Odell Beckham Jr. and the great mystery that is the lack of a pass rush.
But what ever happened to all those other stories that were on the minds, keyboards and lips of fans, reporters and talking heads?
I happily present to you the five biggest non-stories to emerge from the Giants’ 2015 season so far.
Ereck Flowers at Left Tackle
Remember the panic over losing left tackle Will Beatty?
That injury forced the Giants to slot rookie offensive lineman Ereck Flowers in at the left tackle spot instead of at right tackle.
So far, so good for Flowers. While he’s had his hiccups—all rookies do—Flowers has been progressing each week to where it would almost be criminal for the coaches to switch him to right tackle when Will Beatty is activated.
Last week against Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy, Flowers won the majority of his matchups, according to WFAN’s Paul Dottino, who, in breaking down the film, had Flowers winning 19 of his 22 snaps against Hardy.
In addition, Pro Football Focus’ data shows that the number of quarterback pressures allowed by Flowers has actually decreased over the last three weeks.
Flowers will continue to draw top pass-rushers in this league, and again, he’s going to have his hiccups. However so far he’s show very promising signs of being a stud who the Giants can count on at the left tackle spot for years to come.
If, at the start of the season, someone told you the Giants special teams would be as good as they’ve been, would you have believed it?
Neither would I.
Yet all that money general manager Jerry Reese spent on key pieces like returner Dwayne Harris, linebackers Mark Herzlich and Jonathan Casillas and safety Craig Dahl, plus the additions of fullback/defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock, running back Orleans Darkwa and punter Brad Wing, have this one-time problem child of the Giants' three units heading in the right direction.
Perhaps the biggest stat of all, according to the weekly game books, is that the Giants have yet to lose the starting field position battle. That has been huge for a team whose offense is struggling and who needs field position to their advantage.
Lastly, whereas last year an argument could be made that special teams potentially cost the team a few games, this year the special teams unit actually won the Giants their critical NFC rematch against Dallas last week.
Concerns About the Safeties
“What was general manager Jerry Reese thinking?”
That was the question on everyone’s minds when the Giants declined to re-sign veteran safeties Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps.
The decision left New York with a lot of unproven talent led by rookie Landon Collins, the team’s second round draft pick, second-year man Nat Berhe, rookie Mykkele Thompson and Cooper Taylor.
In the summer, injuries began to eat away at the safeties at an alarming rate. Berhe and Thompson didn’t make it out of camp, landing on season-ending injured reserve. Taylor is no longer on the roster despite working with the starters way back in the spring.
These days it’s been Collins and veteran Brandon Meriweather, a player with an unsavory reputation for crossing the line and one whom, based on the lack of interest by other teams, was thought to be done.
Also supporting the group is Craig Dahl, in his second tour of duty with the Giants (he was with them in 2007).
Those three players have actually done a solid job in that defensive secondary. Meriweather, a former Pro Bowl caliber player, has taken Collins under his wing, and the difference has been very noticeable.
Merriweather and Collins have combined for 83 tackles, with both placing in the league’s top 20 among defensive backs (Collins is tied for 14 and Meriweather is tied for 16).
In coverage, the two have combined for 15 passes defensed, nine for Meriweather and six for Collins. That’s not bad production from two guys playing a position about which a lot of people were concerned had no quality depth at the start of the summer.
The Change at Punter
Perhaps the boldest move made by the Giants at the end of training camp was cutting their very popular punter, Steve Weatherford, and trading away what CBS Pittsburgh reported was a conditional seventh-round draft pick to obtain 24-year-old Aussie Brad Wing from the Steelers.
So far, Wing has proven to be an improvement over Weatherford, whose performance last year and this summer was largely affected by ankle and back injuries.
Wing has been a little more consistent with his directional kicking. Also, while his net average of 40.2 has him 16th in the league among punters, Wing’s 16 punts placed inside of the 20 leads the league.
The Change at Fullback
Although the Giants didn’t make heavy use of the fullback position last season, there was probably little reason to think Henry Hynoski, the incumbent entering training camp and Pro Football Focus’s third-best fullback in 2014, was in any danger of losing his job outside of injury.
Then along came a guy by the name of Nikita Whitlock, a player whom the Giants signed to a reserve/futures contract, often code for “training camp fodder,” in the offseason.
Very early on in the spring and into the summer, Whitlock showed he was more than just another training camp body.
He split snaps with Hynoski on offense right down to the very last preseason game, the first sign of a potential change of the guard, er, fullback, coming when the two men rotated series on offense into the fourth quarter.
In the end, Whitlock beat Hynoski in the competition, and with all due respect to the Hynocerous, Whitlock has brought so much more to the table, including an ability to play defensive tackle, his college position, at this level.
Through seven games, the 5’10”, 250-pound Whitlock, who, per the NFL game books’ official snap counts, has played on 31 defensive snaps, has one tackle and one sack for minus-14 yards.
On the offensive side, he has yet to touch the ball in 71 snaps, which is not unexpected given that he’s still learning the fullback position and he has guys like Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, to name a few, ahead of him.
Also worth noting: Whitlock has become a core special teams player, having participated in 118 special teams plays.
In the end, the Giants got three players for the price of one, a player who, per Spotrac, is earning $435,000 this year and $525,000 in 2016.
That’s a steep discount from the $775,000 base salary Hynoski was to earn this year and the $1.025 million base he had coming to him in 2016.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.