New York Giants: Jerry Reese

Jason Pierre-Paul AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has turned up his production in recent weeks.
Six sacks in his last three games have raised Jason Pierre-Paul's season total to 9.5, which isn't an elite-pass-rusher number, but Pierre-Paul says it doesn't matter.

"Just numbers, man," the New York Giants defensive end said after his big game Sunday against Washington. "If you look at the film, really break down all the statistics, I'm having a great season."

The Giants, as you know, are not. But if Pierre-Paul truly is, he's setting himself up well for a free-agent contract push that could force the Giants into an interesting offseason decision.

Pierre-Paul turns 26 in two weeks and is eligible for free agency a couple of months after that. Given his age, the brilliance he flashed during the Giants' 2011-12 Super Bowl run and what's shaping up to be a strong finish to his walk year, he's likely to generate a high level of interest on the open market. Elite pass-rushers are a rare commodity, and if Pierre-Paul can sell himself at that -- at his age -- he has reason to dream of a deal in the $12 million or $13 million-a-year range.

The Giants will have enough cap space to do a deal like that if they want to keep Pierre-Paul. But they have many other needs as well, and the way the Giants generally act with their free agents is to set a price they think is fair and tell the guy he's welcome to go try to get more elsewhere if he thinks he can. It's unclear at this point whether the Giants would break the bank to keep their 2010 first-round draft pick, though they are happy with the way he has performed in 2014.

"JPP is playing very well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "Technically, early on, he was doing some things that we could correct and help with, and we did, and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush."

The Giants' pass rush as a whole has taken off the last three weeks in games against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington. After recording a total of 19 sacks in their first 11 games of the season, the Giants have 22 sacks in their last three games, pushing them all the way up to No. 4 in the league in that category. Much of that has to do with the contributions they're getting from young players like linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive ends Kerry Wynn and Damontre Moore. But Pierre-Paul is the centerpiece player -- the all-around defensive end who can take on left tackles, play the run and find his way to the quarterback with his speed and instincts. That's the player they saw in 2011, and after two injury-plagued seasons that followed, the Giants believe they're seeing that player again this year.

They will need a foundation piece for the pass rush this offseason. If it's not Pierre-Paul, they'll have to find it somewhere else -- either in free agency or with a first-round draft pick that currently would be No. 8 overall. I can't tell them how to spend their money, and I understand being hesitant to commit five or six years and $12 million or $13 million a year to a guy who's struggled to stay healthy. But Pierre-Paul may end up being their best option.

He also would be the first of GM Jerry Reese's first-round draft picks to sign a second contract with the team. Aaron Ross (2007), Kenny Phillips (2008) and Hakeem Nicks (2009) all went elsewhere at the end of their rookie deals for reasons of injury or ineffectiveness. Prince Amukamara (2011) is no sure thing to break that trend. They hold a 2015 option on him and it remains to be seen what effect his season-ending injury has on their long-range assessment of his value. David Wilson (2012) had to retire in August due to neck injuries. And it's far too early to know what the future holds for Justin Pugh (2013) or brilliant rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (2014).

First-round picks are supposed to be long-term foundation pieces. The questions for the Giants are whether they believe, after five years, that Pierre-Paul is a foundation piece and how much they're willing to bet on it.
Over the past six seasons, Tom Coughlin's record as coach of the New York Giants is 52-46. That counts the three playoff games and the Super Bowl he won during that stretch, and, no, it's not a very good record at all. Better than some? Yes. Enough to justify the kind of job security Coughlin has? Not by most teams' standards, no.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Kathy Willens/AP PhotoTom Coughlin is the public face of the Giants, a role ownership places a high priority on.
But Coughlin doesn't work for most teams. Coughlin works for the Giants, and in spite of the guarantee of a second straight losing season and a fifth season out of six without a playoff appearance, the strong likelihood is that Coughlin returns next year for a 12th season in his current job. I'm not able to put a percentage on it as the New York Post did, but the sense I get from talking to people in that building is that a lot of minds would have to be changed in the next two weeks for the Giants to decide to replace Coughlin.

Which means that wins and losses aren't the only criteria the Giants' owners are using to assess Coughlin. If they were, it would be extremely easy for the Giants to stand up at the end of this season, point to that .531 winning percentage over the last six years, proclaim that it's not up to their standards, thank Coughlin for his long and meritorious service to the organization, and move on to someone else. That is what most professional sports teams in their situation would do.

But the Giants, quite proudly and stubbornly, do not operate this way. Not with this two-time Super Bowl-winning coach. Not with a general manager, Jerry Reese, whose lousy draft record is the real reason for the playoff drought. Both of those men appear safe in their current jobs as the offseason looms, and the reason is that the Giants view themselves as more circumspect than most organizations.

The Giants' decision-making process on these matters contains a level of nuance that doesn't jive with today's knee-jerk sports-fan sensibility. Most people see a coach consistently missing the playoffs, or a GM consistently missing on important draft picks, and decide the answer is change for change's sake. Fans (and quite a few team owners) view coaches and GMs as disposable or replaceable. They seem to believe that the key to success is shuffling new people into those positions until one of them wins a Super Bowl.

Not so the Giants, who will arrive at their offseason two weeks from now determined to find solutions but not prejudiced toward any one particular path. Before deciding to part ways with a head coach who's ingrained in the franchise's history at a celebratory level, the Giants will ask whether such a move is likely to solve their problems. The bet here, as I've said, is that they'll decide it won't and will instead involve Coughlin in the search for solutions.

If the Giants believed Coughlin was among their biggest problems, they likely would make a change. But the Giants don't view Coughlin as a collection of wins and losses. They look instead at the tone he sets week to week in the locker room and in the meeting rooms, the energy he brings to the job, the way the players respond to him and the public face he puts on the organization as the one who has to face the public on a daily basis. These are all very important aspects of a head coach, and the Giants choose to prioritize them on a high level -- maybe even higher than they prioritize the win-loss record, which they view as subject to the whims of injuries and week-to-week tumult in an unpredictable league. There is evidence throughout Coughlin's career that a decision to stick with him through lean times can bring the sweetest of rewards, and the Giants choose to focus on that when deciding he's still the man for their biggest job.

You may disagree. You may want change for change's sake. You may believe Coughlin is simply not good enough a coach, or that his time has passed, or that the Giants aren't far enough into their current rebuild to justify the return of a coach who'll be 69 when next season starts. It is your perfect right to believe any or all of that. But to this point, the people deciding Coughlin's fate continue to believe he's the right man to coach their team. And they're looking well beyond his record to arrive at that decision.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The New York Giants didn't see rock bottom coming until they landed on it. Now that they've arrived, it's time to look at tearing the whole thing up.

Oh, the Giants have done their share of losing this year, but you haven't really known losing until you've literally given away a 21-0 lead to a 1-10 team that averages 14.6 points per game. Big Blue accomplished this impossible-sounding task with a trio of second-half fumbles -- two of which the Jacksonville Jaguars recovered and returned for touchdowns -- and the continued inability of their defensive players to execute simple assignments like, "Keep your eye on the quarterback; he might run."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackTom Coughlin saw the Giants blow a 21-point lead on Sunday after a series of second-half miscues.
It was a collapse that put their previous collapses to shame and left them bereft of answers.

"Two turnovers for touchdowns?" Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked Sunday after a 25-24 loss. "We could have knelt on the ball in the second half and had a better chance to win. Make people work for it, at least."

This is a decorated, veteran NFL coach who has no idea what to do anymore because nothing is working. The roster his general manager handed him is somehow worse than it was this time last year. The Giants are in the discussion for worst team in the NFL, and they don't appear to be any closer to contention than they were when they started retooling in March with the biggest free-agent spree in the league. And that means ownership has to consider major, sweeping changes this winter. No one should be safe.

Start with GM Jerry Reese, with whom the bulk of the blame for this roster mess lies. The Giants don't fire GMs, as a matter of policy. They've had only three different GMs in the past 38 years. But an honest evaluation of the job Reese has done should put that job in jeopardy. His drafts have consistently failed to produce building-block players, and the deterioration of the offensive and defensive lines is the result of draft negligence.

Reese inherited a Super Bowl championship-caliber roster in 2007 but failed to buttress it before it got too old. The Giants managed seven sacks Sunday, but they had only 19 in their first 11 games of the season, and the pass rush hasn't been the same since that flare-up at the end of the 2011 season that propelled the Giants to their most recent title. The offensive line they used Sunday was a patchwork mess of journeymen and halfhearted attempts at cheap solutions. The fact that no one has come along in the past three years who's good enough to take James Brewer's spot tells you basically everything you need to know about the depth of this Giants roster.

That doesn't necessarily give the coaches a pass, though. Coughlin and his staff were long known for their ability to develop players and regenerate the roster from within. The past three or four years have not produced enough evidence to enhance that reputation, and the coaching staff needs to be assessed critically and dispassionately. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell looks like a good bet to be gone, just based on the performance of his defense. But while they changed offensive coordinators and three assistant coaches last offseason, no one should be guaranteed a job in 2015 for honeymoon reasons. The Giants have to figure out what their vision is for their future, and anyone who's not part of that should be let go and replaced with someone in whom they believe for the long term.

And yes, that includes Coughlin, a franchise icon and possible Hall of Famer. He hasn't lost the locker room -- players uniformly support him when asked, on or off the record, and he has their attention. At 68, he's not too old to coach in the NFL. His mind remains sharp, and the energy he brings to the job remains astoundingly high. But the Giants look so far away from a return to real championship contention that they have to ask themselves whether they can reasonably expect him to still be the coach when they get back there.

The Giants are at a franchise crossroads right now, and the loss to the Jaguars just underlined how much work there still is to do to rebuild this seriously substandard roster. They need to identify the people they believe can execute that work, and they need to turn control of the franchise over to whoever those people are. This isn't about firing people who've failed, and it's not about firing people out of anger. This is about acknowledging where you are as a franchise and deciding who you think can get you back to where you want to be. And if Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin aren't those people, then it's time to move on without them.
I am off to Jacksonville for a Week 13 clash of NFL powerhouses. But in the meantime, I'll take your New York Giants questions via Twitter and the ever-useful #nygmail hashtag.

@DanGrazianoESPN: My gut still says that neither coach Tom Coughlin nor GM Jerry Reese gets fired at the end of this season, but John Mara's gut matters far more in this case, and I continue to remind people that the remaining games on the schedule still matter in the final evaluation. If the Giants finish 4-1 and end up 7-9, things look a lot different than if they finish 2-3 and end up 5-11. In the latter case, I believe all bets are off and no one's safe. The Giants don't fire GMs. They've had only three in the last 38 years. But Reese's two predecessors did better jobs than he's done, so it wouldn't be crazy to think they'd break from that organizational philosophy if they felt it was time to flush out the whole thing and start fresh. As for Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Giants isn't getting "fired" in any traditional sense. If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was allowed to leave on his own terms a year ago, surely any parting with Coughlin would be presented as a retirement and a celebration of his career with the Giants, as it should be. Coughlin is invested in this organization and its long-term health as well as its short-term health. If there's a decision to be made about whether it's time to change coaches, I believe he'll be a part of that decision, not merely a victim of it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If Victor Cruz were healthy right now, he'd be playing the slot receiver spot currently manned by Preston Parker, with Odell Beckham Jr. manning the same outside receiver position he's playing right now. So the answer to your question is that the offense would be better by whatever the difference is between Parker and Cruz, which is significant. No offense to Parker, but Cruz is an elite slot receiver, and assuming he bounces back to pre-injury levels of speed and explosiveness, the Giants would be in a good spot. Beckham's ability to stretch the defense with his deep speed would force opponents to make a decision on which guy to cover, and Eli Manning could lean on whichever one was open depending on that week's opponent's game plan. The bigger question to me is what happens at that other outside receiver spot. Is Rueben Randle good enough, or do they look to upgrade there? Randle is not guaranteed any money for next year, but his cap number would only be around $1 million. Once Cruz is back, that will help Randle or whoever is in that spot a great deal as well. And they still believe tight end Larry Donnell is developing into a potentially big-time weapon. So I think if they can keep plugging away on offensive line improvements and Cruz comes back, there's lots of reasons to be optimistic about the Giants' offense for the future.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If the season ended right now, the Giants would hold the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL draft. It's going to be tough for them to get much higher than that, though they could pass Washington and move into the No. 6 spot if they lose to them in a couple of weeks. But I think the furthest they could fall is to right around that No. 12 spot where they picked last season. I don't know what's going to happen in the next four games when the Giants face off against non-contenders, but my guess is that they'll win either three or four of their remaining games. So if that's the way it goes, I'll predict they end up picking No. 10 in the 2015 draft. And in answer to the questions that come with this, it has to be a lineman, either defensive or offensive. This is a strong pass-rusher draft at the top, and the Giants desperately need to improve their pass rush. And the offensive line... well, anyone who reads me regularly knows how I feel about the line and the way the Giants have neglected it in the early rounds of the draft for far too long. They need more star-caliber talent on the line.

@DanGrazianoESPN: (I agree that he shouldn't.) Not sure about your point on the conditioning. Are you referring to the rash of injuries the Giants have suffered? A lot of that is bad luck, and it really does happen to every team. The Giants' problem is that their roster still isn't deep enough to weather the kinds of injuries they've had without significant dropoff. They weren't a great team to begin with, and once the injuries set in they became a very bad one. But as for who takes the fall, I think the defense's performance has been the kind that gets defensive coordinators fired. Perry Fewell is a good man and a good coach, and the Giants like him a lot. But if they're not getting rid of the head coach or the GM, I think the response to this season will end up being an overhaul of the defense akin to the overhaul they made on offense last year and that it'll start with the hiring of a new coordinator. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of other staff changes on offense in the second year of Ben McAdoo. Some of the holdover coaches (offensive line?) who kept their jobs through last year's change could be on shaky ground. But again, we have to wait and see how this final month goes before we can make any truly informed predictions.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy your leftovers.

Giants vs. Cowboys preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
When: 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford TV: NBC

The 7-3 Dallas Cowboys have a chance to mathematically eliminate the 3-7 New York Giants from the NFC East race on Sunday night. ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano hereby present your game preview:

Graziano: Hey, Todd, the Giants haven't won a game since the last time we did this, so I'm eager to see what questions you've come up with. But during their current five-game losing streak, the Giants' best offensive game was the loss in Dallas. It was the only game in the streak in which they've rushed for 100 yards and the only one in which the opponent didn't generate consistent, disruptive pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. How is that Dallas front seven looking these days?

Archer: The easy answer is not bad, but for those used to seeing DeMarcus Ware for close to a decade, he's not walking through that door again. The good news for the Cowboys is that they are getting healthier whereas last year they were signing guys on a Tuesday and playing them on Sunday. Tyrone Crawford did not play against Jacksonville, but he should be back. Rolando McClain didn't play against the Jaguars, but he will be back. Henry Melton has been much more active. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence didn't play in the first meeting because of a foot injury but he is coming on. Josh Brent is eligible to play but I don't think he will be on the 46-man roster Sunday. They have been decent against the run but have had some breakdowns. The pass rush has been better but it's still not good enough. Like the defense as a whole, the front seven is getting by.

I'll keep it simple off the top: Is this the end for Tom Coughlin?

Graziano: Well, this game surely isn't. Coughlin will certainly coach out this season, and I honestly think his future as the Giants' coach will depend a lot on how the Giants do in their final six games. If they rally against a December schedule that includes games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis and get back to 7-9 as they did last year, it'll be easier for Giants ownership to justify giving Coughlin another year of this rebuilding project. If they fall completely apart and finish, say, 4-12 or 3-13, I imagine all bets are off and no one is safe. A lot of people want a definitive answer on Coughlin's status, but I don't believe ownership has made one yet. They love him and love having him as their coach, and if he does decide to leave or if they decide to move on from him, they know they'll need a good plan in place for how to replace perhaps the best coach in franchise history (apologies to Bill Parcells). So it's no sure thing, but the way this team is playing and the inevitable fact that they'll miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons does not work in his or any other coach's favor.

What's Jason Garrett's status these days? Has the Cowboys' surprisingly good season done anything to quiet those who perpetually call for his head?

Archer: A little bit it has, but if they don't make the playoffs then the calls for his job will be heard again. I've written that he deserves to be extended. I think the plan he has put in place has started to come together. But it will all be determined by what they do from now on. As you know, they have lost three straight winner-take-all season finales to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. At least Garrett had them in position to win the division, but this year they have to get over the top. Jerry Jones has been patient with Garrett and often talks about wanting him to be the coach long term, but he hasn't backed those words up with a new deal. Along with the contractual statuses of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, this one could get juicy here down the stretch.

How much of this Giants mess is on GM Jerry Reese? They have let guys go and not had replacements ready, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

Graziano: I think it's almost all on Reese, Todd, and you've hit it right on the head. His drafts have been flat-out terrible from the standpoint of finding players who have turned out to be foundation pieces. Do you know that, since Reese became Giants GM in 2007, only three of his draft picks have signed second contracts with the team? And none of those three was a first-rounder? (They're Will Beatty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Zak DeOssie.) You're right that the Giants haven't done a good enough job of finding and developing players to replace those who have left, and the result was that last year's roster got so hollowed out that they had to sign more free agents than any other team in the league just to fill out a 53-man roster. That's why I say this is a rebuilding project that has to take more than one year, and why I blame Reese much more than I blame Coughlin or the coaching staff for the mess this team is in. The Giants don't fire GMs as a matter of policy. They've had only three of them in the past 38 years. But as I said when we were talking about Coughlin, if things get really ugly over these final six weeks, all bets are off.

Let's move the discussion to the field. When the Giants and Cowboys played in that Week 7 game, Murray have to leave for a while with an injury. He came back and seems to have been fine since, but are there any signs of his extreme workload wearing on him? And are they doing anything to keep him from wearing down?

Archer: There really hasn't been any drastic change in his production. He has had 100 yards in every game but one this season and even in that Arizona game he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He had at least 22 carries in the first seven games of the season but has maxed out at 19 in each of the past three. I don't know if that is by design. Some of it has been dictated by the circumstances of the games. They are using Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar earlier in games to spell Murray some. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said he is not worried so much about the carries as he is the snaps Murray plays. He's a three-down back and has 36 catches. It's a tricky balancing act the Cowboys have to follow because Murray is so valuable to what they do. He said he felt refreshed after the bye week and largely stayed off his feet. Whatever the Cowboys do in their final six games will be with the same formula they used in their first 10 games: a lot of Murray.

When these teams met in October, it looked like Manning was feeling his way through the change in offense pretty well. Is this scheme a fit for what Manning does best or is he held back by what's around him?

Graziano: The group around Manning sure has taken a pounding. The Giants lost top wide receiver Victor Cruz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, and they were without starting running back Rashad Jennings for four games due to a knee sprain. Jennings was back last week, and I thought the offense would look better as a result, but then Manning went and threw five interceptions, nearly doubling his season total. (He'd thrown six in his first nine games.) You're right that Manning was looking comfortable in the new offense until last week, and I think all eyes are on him Sunday night and the rest of the way to see whether this last game was a fluke or whether it's a sign that "Bad Eli" is always potentially around the corner no matter what system they put him in. One thing he has dealt with is a lot of pass-rush pressure, and that crescendoed a bit last week against the 49ers. They may make some changes on the offensive line this week, and if those changes help protect him better, I think he gets back into that rhythm he was in earlier in the year.

As I head to the Pacific Northwest for the New York Giants' Week 10 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, I am pleased to find that your #nygmail Twitter questions are coming with me.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I do. I think Odell Beckham Jr. is a clear bright spot in this offense who, since he's returned from his hamstring injuries, has shown he can handle anything they ask of him. He's got speed. He runs good routes. I don't think I've seen him drop a ball all season, even in practice. He appears, based on the very limited sample size to date, to be the real deal from a talent standpoint. And I think he will get better. He had that long 59-yard catch Monday night where he kind of pulled up and started protecting the ball instead of stretching to run all the way to the end zone, and after the game he said his legs didn't have any more to give on that play, so he decided just to make sure nobody stripped the ball from him.

First of all, smart play in the moment. Second of all, it speaks to the fact that this kid didn't have a training camp and is likely to be better next season when he's had a full offseason to get his legs in shape. As for moving him around the formation, they believe they can do that, and it will come with time. But from what we've seen, I believe he can handle even more than he's been asked to handle so far.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I think it's entirely possible that the Giants will find more opportunities to work undrafted rookie wide receiver Corey Washington into the offense more going forward. What I don't think is that they'll force it just because he caught a garbage-time touchdown Monday that was reminiscent of the preseason performances that got him on the team. Nor do I think they'll force it just because Preston Parker dropped a bunch of passes Monday. I think, when it comes to Washington, that the Giants will do what's best for Washington, and add more to his workload as they become convinced he can handle it.

I don't think they have any inclination to throw him to the wolves in the Seattle secondary this week, for example, and it's possible they could set back his development if they did that. Also, he's not going to play the slot position, and while it sounds simple enough to move Beckham there, Beckham is the higher priority and they're going to be cognizant of making sure they don't do anything to hurt his development either. Washington is a young, raw player who's shown promise. But the Giants aren't interested in rushing guys into roles for which they're not ready, regardless of how they look when nothing's at stake. I think it's possible Washington will develop into something, but to this point he's still a project, and the Giants will be patient as they continue to help him hone his game.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Good question. Bennett Jackson, the Giants' sixth-round pick, was on the practice squad, but he is yet another casualty of the cornerback injury mess, as he was placed on the practice squad/injured list a few weeks ago, ending his season along with those of Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride. Jackson is not an option for them again until next year.
@DanGrazianoESPN: To be clear, this remains a big "if," because there's still a half of a season to go and the Giants' owners aren't looking to fire Tom Coughlin and replace him as head coach. However, your question presumes that they finish the season poorly and decide to make a change, which is of course possible. If that were to happen, obviously Harbaugh and Bowles would be names that would be kicked around, because they're likely to be among the very top head coaching candidates this coming offseason. I don't know how the Giants' hierarchy feels about either of them, so I can't speak to their chances. But my gut tells me that Harbaugh wouldn't be among their favored candidates because they tend to like stability in that role, and he doesn't seem to offer that. Not that they'd rule him out, but it's just my opinion that the volatility that comes along with Harbaugh wouldn't fit with what the Giants tend to seek in a head coach.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I'm going to assume this is a question about general manager Jerry Reese and not the coaching staff, which I addressed in the last answer. Fundamentally, my answer on Reese has not changed. I do not believe the Giants would even entertain the thought of changing GMs and I believe Reese to be totally safe. I believe he's ultimately responsible for the current state of this team because his terrible draft record has failed to produce foundation pieces on which to build. But the Giants don't make changes at GM and I believe they will let Reese continue to have the job and hope the 2013 and 2014 drafts start to bear fruit.

Thanks for all of your questions. Catch you Sunday from Seattle.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

November, 3, 2014
Nov 3
11:54
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 40-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: If you still had hopes of a Giants playoff run this year, they took a major hit, as the Giants fell to 3-5 for the season. At the midway point, they sit three games behind the first-place Philadelphia Eagles (to whom they lost) and 2 games behind the second-place Dallas Cowboys (to whom they also lost). They're only a half-game ahead of last-place Washington (whom they beat). A turnaround in time to reach this year's postseason would be a miracle.

Stock Watch: The secondary, DOWN. The early injury to cornerback Prince Amukamara could be a tough one to overcome. Amukamara has a torn biceps, and it's likely he will need surgery that would end his season. That would be a huge blow to a secondary that's already playing without cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride and that isn't able to count on banged-up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play an entire game. It also would be sad for Amukamara, who is having a fine season and hoping for a long-term contract with the team.

Offense takes a step back: Maybe it was all of the confusion last week stemming from GM Jerry Reese's comments that they needed to be more aggressive, but the Giants' offense never looked in sync in this game, which was close until the third quarter. They can't get the run game going without Rashad Jennings, the receiving corps is thin and young and drops too many passes, and for the first time in a while they didn't look like they consistently knew what they wanted to do. Whether it's working or not, the Giants need to stick to an offensive game plan. Monday night's looked disjointed. Remember, their coordinator/playcaller, Ben McAdoo, is a rookie, too.

Game Ball: DE Robert Ayers. Asked to take on a larger role with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins out, Ayers was a terror, collecting one sack and hitting Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a whopping seven times in the game. Ayers needs to be a larger part of the pass rush going forward.

What's next: On a short week, the Giants travel to Seattle for a 4:25 p.m. ET game Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who are 20-2 at home since the start of the 2012 season.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At long last, the New York Giants are back, playing a "Monday Night Football" game on ESPN against the Indianapolis Colts. If it feels like it's been a long time since the Giants have played, it kind of has. A bye week followed by a Monday night game makes it feel that way. Heck, the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone 3-0 and scored 124 points since the last time the Giants played a down.

And if that sounds like a lot, it's probably because the Giants have scored 154 points all season. Which brings us once again to last week's popular topic: The Giants' offense and whether it needs to be (or can be) more aggressive and explosive. Giants GM Jerry Reese touched off this debate a week ago when he said he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive. Quarterback Eli Manning said later in the week that he's all for more big plays, but that he doesn't think changing the conservative approach that's done such a good job of limiting his interceptions is a great idea right now. The coaches said various things, mostly along the lines of, "Yeah, we'd all love to score more points, but we're not going to force things if opportunities aren't there."

[+] EnlargeManning
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDon't expect drastic midseason changes from quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants' offense.
The main reason the Giants can't get hyper-aggressive on offense right now is that the group around Manning is so young. Especially because of the injuries to Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings, the Giants are counting on very young players to handle very important roles. The Giants will start three rookies (Weston Richburg, Andre Williams and Odell Beckham Jr.) and two second-year players (Larry Donnell and Justin Pugh) on offense Monday. Manning has started 158 NFL games. The 10 other players the Giants will start on offense tonight have combined to start 205.

"It may change some things you do, simply because you want to tailor what you do to the players and their strengths," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said last week. "But it doesn't limit us. We have a lot of confidence in the guys that have come in and played. Our young guys are very conscientious guys. They're hard-working. They're bright. And we expected, the more we play, and the farther we get into the season, that is really going to show up and help us."

Agreed on the last part. Beckham, Donnell, Pugh, Richburg and Williams all have flashed enough talent to make the Giants feel good about counting on them long-term. But they've also shown plenty of the fully understandable inconsistency that young players have to endure. That is why they can't start tearing up the playbook and taking more deep shots just because they're not scoring as much as they wish they were scoring right now. These young players have to learn and develop and grow together, and like it or not, that takes time. You can't expect progress to be an unbroken chain. The Giants could look fantastic on offense Monday against the Colts, but that still wouldn't mean everything was fixed and ready to go.

"The biggest thing for me is still trying to eliminate that feeling of, 'Oh man, I messed up,' and just get over it and move on to the next thing," Beckham said Friday. "That's something I'm still learning, how to deal with that feeling when it happens during a game."

Beckham is starting his third NFL game Monday night. He looks like he might be a special player. But he is 21 years old and has a long way to go until we know for sure. While he and his fellow youngsters on the Giants' offense continue to learn the basics and develop as NFL players, expect the Giants to keep things simple on the offense. It's the right thing to do.

W2W4: New York Giants

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
10:00
AM ET


The 3-4 New York Giants return from their bye week for a Monday Night Football matchup against the 5-3 Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium on at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are three things we'll be watching closely from the Giants' end:

1. The pass rush: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is the league's leading passer, and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton leads the league in receiving yards. They like to throw the ball, and Luck likes to spread it around to different receivers. The best hope for the Giants' defense is to get to Luck quickly to limit his ability to go through his progressions -- a task likely made more difficult by Luck's underrated speed and willingness to run. There was a lot of talk around the Giants last week about getting second-year pass-rusher Damontre Moore more involved in the defense, and his speed might be an asset against Luck if he's able to play within the system and under control. As team, the Giants have just 13 sacks in seven games, and the Colts have allowed just 13 in eight games. So it's not going to be easy for the Giants to get to Luck. If they can find a way, it could impact the game significantly.

2. The deep passing game: On Monday, Giants GM Jerry Reese said he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive. On Thursday, quarterback Eli Manning said the plan would remain the same and the Giants' passing game would take what's available to it and continue to work to find easy completions and avoid sacks and interceptions. The guess here is that Manning ends up being right, but as rookie speedster Odell Beckham Jr. gets more acclimated to the offense, it's possible they'll try to spring him deep a few times and stretch the field against the Colts' secondary. Indy's pass rush has been inconsistent from week to week, so if the offensive line can keep the defense off of Manning, there might be a chance to find someone open a bit further down the field. Not that he's looking for it.

3. Old friends: Former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is having a renaissance season, leading the Colts in rushing and leading the league in receiving touchdowns by a running back. Former Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been a disappointment in his first season in Indianapolis (as he was in his final season in New York), but as we've mentioned, Luck does like to spread the ball around. And if ever there were a game for which Nicks would be motivated to elevate his game, it could be this one. Two of the key members of the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title team, Bradshaw and Nicks, will certainly draw the attention of the Giants' defense on Monday Night.
You ask, you used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter, I do my best to answer your New York Giants questions. It's a Saturday morning tradition to start your weekend right.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I don't know; I've never seen him bowl! Man, I love that joke. Never gets old. But seriously, I assume your question was whether Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara is playing well enough so far this year to be considered for the Pro Bowl.

The answer is that I think Amukamara is playing very well, and should get some consideration for that honor if he continues to play as well as he has so far, but I don't think I love his chances. For one thing, Amukamara's strengths as a corner are still things that don't get much attention when it comes to Pro Bowl voting. He's especially strong in run support, for instance. Pro Football Focus rates him 23rd overall among NFL corners so far this year, and 30th in terms of just coverage. Not that they're the determining factor, but they do watch a lot of tape, and their grades serve as a decent guideline. Amukamara does have three interceptions, and only one corner in the league has more so far, and if he ends up with something in the range of eight or nine, that's the kind of thing that catches voters' eyes.

I'm curious to see what the Giants do with Amukamara while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to struggle through his injuries. Two weeks ago in Dallas, they put Amukamara on top wide receiver Dez Bryant, and he held up pretty well until the fourth quarter. If he gets a chance to go up against the opponent's top wideout every week and he distinguishes himself there (and continues to get interceptions), he could find his way to Hawaii, sure. At this point, though, I don't think he's there yet.

@DanGrazianoESPN: The way I read your question is as follows: You're asking me to look into a future in which the Giants have reached this year's playoffs and tell you which games they won in order to do it. Assuming I'm correct, let's say they need to win 10 games to get into this year's playoffs. That's no sure thing. They may need more. But for purposes of this hypothetical exercise, let's say they need to go 7-2 the rest of the way.

They'll have to have won every game in that four-game stretch against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis. That gets them to seven wins, so they'll need to pick up three more. Let's give them a home win in Week 17 over an Eagles team that already has its spot locked up, and they're at eight. So that means they have to win two of these next four, which are home against the Colts, at Seattle, home against the 49ers and home against the Cowboys.

For me, the most likely wins there are this week against the Colts and in Week 12 against the Cowboys. But neither will be easy. That gives you a sense of the task the Giants have in front of them if they're to make this year's playoffs. They'll have to beat three teams that have looked clearly superior to them so far this year and be absolutely perfect against the four left on their schedule who have struggled. Nothing's impossible, but it's not going to be easy.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think these are two separate questions. I personally thing Giants GM Jerry Reese should be more consistently available to the media for reasons of accountability. He speaks publicly five times a year -- in training camp, once during the season, once right after the season, at the scouting combine and at the draft. I think that's nuts, but then again, I come from baseball, where we could talk to the Yankees' GM every day at batting practice or call or text him if we missed him. So the NFL's access rules still mystify me a little bit. But the first part of your question references Reese's comment Monday that he thinks Eli Manning and the offense need to be more aggressive.

I found the comment weird, considering that the Giants went out and hired a new offensive coordinator they knew would install a far more safe and conservative passing game and they've only played seven games in his system. But I didn't think there was anything harmful about the comment, because Reese made it clear that (A) it was only his opinion, (B) he's not one of the coaches and it's not his job to tell them how to coach and (C) he's communicated his opinion to the coaches in private. The Giants are an organization that prizes stability in the leadership positions. If this were an organization in which the GM and the coach were always worried about their jobs because the team was constantly hiring and firing, what Reese said could be spun as controversial and potentially damaging. But these as the Giants, where administrators and coaches are secure and comfortable in their roles, which are clearly defined. So I think it came off more as healthy give-and-take.

As for accountability for Reese himself, I think he and his bosses have consistently said they evaluate a season based on all 16 games, not just seven. So the assessments of the manner in which Reese did his job last offseason will have to wait. From my perspective, the jury's still out, but the rebuilding project Reese began last offseason is bigger than just one year, and I don't think they're going to be able to make an accurate assessment of how it's going until after 2015.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Man. If I'm defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, I sure hope not. As banged up as the Giants are in the secondary, it's going to be tough to stop Luck and the Colts unless they can really get consistent pressure on him with the defensive front. And that's no sure thing for a team that only has 13 sacks so far this year. Obviously, Fewell's not in danger of losing his job during the season. But since the offensive coordinator is new and the head coach has won two Super Bowls, Fewell isn't out of the woods as a potential postseason scapegoat if the Giants' defense keeps allowing 384.4 yards per game. That figure ranks them 28th in the league right now, and they've allowed an average of 422.7 yards over their past three games. They need to figure out a way to generate turnovers the way they were during their three-game winning streak, because right now that's the only way they're going to mitigate their troubling tendency to allow big plays on defense.

Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It all sounds good, and the fact that it came from his general manager forces him to take it seriously. But while New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning understands Jerry Reese's desire for the offense to be more aggressive, he wants to make it clear that he's not going to take chances with the ball just for the sake of taking chances.

"I think we're just trying to run the offense," Manning said Thursday. "I think we're trying to run things we feel comfortable with and that we know our guys do well. If we can create some throws down the field, that's great. But we can't force them just because you want to throw the ball downfield. We're looking for completions, and then hopefully we can create some big plays."

The Giants changed offensive coordinators and installed a new West Coast system designed to limit turnovers after Manning led the league with 27 interceptions last season. Manning has said he enjoys not having to constantly be trying to extend plays and make the big play downfield, and while the Giants were winning three games in a row earlier this season, the offense was scoring points reliably and in rhythm.

Now that they're playing without starting running back Rashad Jennings and top wide receiver Victor Cruz due to injury, the Giants likely are concentrating even more on sticking to the game plan and executing the plays that are called. But again, this suggestion comes from the top, so Manning can't just dismiss it.

"I'm just trying to go through my reads," Manning said. "In some cases, maybe my first progression might have been open, and you look back and say, 'Well, if you would have gotten to your second progression, you had a go-route that was open on it. But that's part of football. You can't start second-guessing or start changing your reads just to try to get something deep, because all of a sudden you do that, and the deep one doesn't win, then you're stuck with sacks or several bad plays.

"So I just have to stay the course and keep going through my progressions, and hopefully guys can keep winning their routes and we'll find completions. As long as you're getting completions and first downs, moving the ball, having drives, that's good also."

When the crowd dispersed a bit, I asked Manning this question: "If your first read is open, you have to throw it to him, right?"

"Pretty much, yup," he said.

So then I asked whether they'd consider changing the plays so that the first reads are occasionally deeper ones, and he pretty much said no to that too.

"You can throw it short and still hit a big play," Manning said.

So there you have it. Don't expect any big changes anytime soon. If they get a great matchup and have a chance to throw deep without significant risk of a turnover, sure, the Giants will try that out. But this is a run-based, short-passing-game offense, and that's what it's going to continue to be.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One of the more common frustrated-fan questions I get about the New York Giants is when they'll let second-year pass-rusher Damontre Moore play more on defense. General manager Jerry Reese mentioned earlier this week that he'd like to see it. Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said last week he planned to try it. Even head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned in his Thursday morning news conference that he'd like to get Moore involved in the pass-rush rotation, though Coughlin did add, "and Robert Ayers as well."

Moore
It's all reasonable and understandable. Moore has electrifying speed and talent and has shown an ability to make an impact on special teams and on defense. And part of the reason they picked him in the third round of the 2013 draft was because they thought his college production indicated he was a player who could help right away, at least as a situational pass-rusher.

But the answer I give when I get the question is that Moore is still quite young (he just turned 22 last month) and inexperienced and hasn't yet earned the trust of the coaching staff. You know who knows this as well as anyone? Damontre Moore does.

"We've been putting more of an emphasis on making sure I'm fundamentally sound in my technique, but Rome wasn't built in a day," Moore said Thursday. "This second half of the season, I want to make sure I'm more fundamentally sound and studying my opponent more, doing all of the little things and making sure I don't leave anything to chance. I have to prove I know my scheme and make sure my teammates know they can trust me not to make mistakes."

That's it. Once the Giants feel they can put Moore into a key spot and trust him not to jump offside or overpursue a running back or make any number of mistakes you'd expect a high-energy 22-year-old to make, they'll play him more. They only have 13 sacks so far, and it's not as though Mathias Kiwanuka is playing at such a high level at defensive end that there aren't reps to be had. With defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins likely out a few weeks with a calf injury, Kiwanuka and Ayers are going to have to play inside more, and that could be the chance for Moore to demonstrate whatever improvements he's made on his own reliability.

"I've got all the right people saying it," Moore said of his chances of getting more plays. "I'm just waiting for it to come when they say it's going to come, like everything else has. I think I can make some things happen."
New York Giants GM Jerry Reese might have just been playing to the fan base Monday when he said he'd like the offense to be more aggressive. Reese's frustration about the team's 3-4 record is understandable, and it's possible he might have been letting his inner fan show. More than once, he emphasized that he's not a coach and was only expressing his opinion, which he'd shared with the coaches as well. But Giants fans should hope the coaches listened to Reese, thanked him for his opinion and then proceeded to ignore it.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsGiants GM Jerry Reese would like to see a more explosive offense, but now is not the time for wholesale changes.
Now is not the time for the Giants to change their offensive approach. First of all, it's basically working. No, the offense hasn't clicked in its last two games the way it was clicking in the three games before that, but how many offenses can weather the loss of their starting running back and top wide receiver without negative effect? Regardless of the way the Eagles and Cowboys games went, this year has provided plenty of encouraging signs about players like Larry Donnell, Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. The running game was working quite well when Rashad Jennings was healthy, and he'll return at some point. And quarterback Eli Manning seems extremely comfortable and efficient in a system designed to limit his mistakes. He's thrown only one interception since Week 2.

This is a young group that spent several months learning this system together, sharing in the joy of its successes, learning from its failures, getting used to each other and forging an identity. To tell such a group of players after only seven games, "OK, forget all that stuff we've been preaching about taking care of the ball; we're going to start chucking it downfield" would be a rash overreaction to a disappointing two-game stretch. And that's not the way the Giants roll.

Fortunately for the Giants, Tom Coughlin and his coaches are self-assured enough to keep the bigger picture in mind. There are teams in which a public edict such as this from the GM would signal trouble in the ranks, or prompt a skittish coach to change course midstream. The power structure in the Giants' organization is not beset with those kinds of insecurities, which means Reese's words Monday weren't a sign of discord but rather a manifestation of understandable in-season frustration.

A 3-4 start isn't making anyone in East Rutherford happy, but it's no reason to alter or undo decisions and plans that were made in sober times. This plan is about more than just one season.

The defining quote of the 2014 Giants offseason was owner John Mara's proclamation that the offense was "broken." In response, the Giants brought in a new coordinator, an entirely new offensive approach and new players at running back, wide receiver and tight end. They made a clear, reasoned plan for fixing what was broken, and it was always unreasonable to assume the fix could be made in as short a time as one year. It's not crazy to think Coughlin can coach nine wins out of this team and sneak into a mediocre NFL playoff field, but that's not the only goal for this organization right now, and it's surely not the most important one, either.

The goal for the Giants is to build a consistent, long-term contender that's capable of winning championships when it gets into the postseason. The people running the Giants have shown an ability to do that. But with the exception of the coach and quarterback positions, they're very much starting over in 2014. It's important for the people watching this team and the people running this team to maintain that perspective, and not to force changes before they're ready for them.
The New York Giants didn't play in Week 8, yet somehow they still managed to drop one spot in ESPN's weekly NFL Power Rankings, where they now come in at No. 22.

It's a perfectly legitimate spot for the Giants in a Power Rankings. At 3-4, they're tied with the New Orleans Saints for the 21st-best record in the league. And especially coming off a week in which the Saints beat the Packers, it's fine to rank New Orleans ahead of them. But as we've discussed in recent weeks, the next four games will likely tell us everything we need to know about where the Giants rank among the rest of the teams in the NFL. This is their schedule over the next four weeks, with opponents' current power rankings:

vs. No. 9 Indianapolis

at No. 10 Seattle

vs. No. 11 San Francisco

vs. No. 4 Dallas

"When we looked at the schedule at the beginning of the year, we thought right after the bye was kind of like murderer's row," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Monday. "But in this league, every week is murderer's row. We have to go out there and execute and play more consistent football."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It would be another 10 hours before previously-red-hot Dallas lost at home to battered Washington on "Monday Night Football." But had New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin been able to see that far into the future, he'd have found another useful data point for the passionate speech he was giving his team at the end of Monday's practice.

"You look around the league, and you see teams that are playing superbly that maybe hadn't been playing superbly," Coughlin explained a few minutes after the speech concluded. "So to me, we've got to play above the X's and O's. We've got nine games to play as well as we can possibly play. Anybody in that locker room can do that. They just have to realize the amount of the season and the schedule that's gone by and yet we have nine opportunities. Let's go."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsTom Coughlin isn't giving up on this Giants team, despite a 3-4 record to kick off the 2014 season.
The message: Yeah, you're 3-4 and coming off two tough division losses, but crazy things happen every week in this league, and you have to be ready to take advantage when they do. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts, who happen to be the Giants' next opponent. Two weeks ago, they looked incredible in beating the Bengals, 27-0, for their fifth win in a row. This past week, they gave up 522 passing yards and 51 points in a loss to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

Coughlin's message to his players is the inconsistency around the league offers opportunity for a team in the Giants' position to get hot and take advantage. To "play above the X's and O's" is to outplay expectations. Don't just run the plays that are called, do something exceptional with them. Don't just win your individual matchups, dominate them consistently.

"This is exciting," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have a good opportunity ahead of us. The way we've played to start the year, we've made it tough on ourselves. But we have to get hot. We have to handle our business and start playing at a higher level."

As you know if you read me regularly, I believe it's important for fans to look at this Giants' team in a broader perspective than just this one season. I think it's a rebuilding team that doesn't yet have all of its pieces in place and has developing players in key roles. But there's enough mediocrity in the NFL that you can make the playoffs during a rebuild, and it's not out of the question that this Giants team could get hot in the second half and sneak in.

More importantly to the current point, however, is that it's not the job of Coughlin or the players to take that broader perspective. It's their job to try as hard as they possibly can to win every game, not to worry about whether they're outmanned in a given week due to injuries and/or roster insufficiency. And this is where Coughlin remains this team's greatest strength. Coughlin's teams never play below the X's and O's. There's no coach better at consistently making sure his team wins at least as many games as its talent level dictates, if not more. And you don't need me to tell you that if Coughlin and Manning get into the postseason, they know how to win games there.

"One thing I'll never do: I'll never bet against Tom Coughlin," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Monday. "When his back is against the wall the most, that's when he seems to come out swinging and get his football team ready to go. And I expect him to do the same here going down the stretch. This is a big moment for all of us, the second half of this season. I think Coach will get it done."

If not, I don't still don't think cataclysmic change looms for Coughlin and the Giants in 2015. As long as this team shows progress by the end of the year (and honestly it already has), I think they'll get to continue the rebuild that began in March for at least another season. If they fall completely apart and finish 4-12 or something like that, then all bets are off. But Coughlin is hard at work on making sure that doesn't happen. And I agree with Reese that it's folly to bet against him.

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