SEATTLE -- When the New York Giants finished last season 7-9, owner John Mara famously declared the offense "broken," and the team set about totally retooling with a new coordinator and a new scheme.
Following Sunday's 38-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Giants are 3-6 and headed for another disappointing, non-playoff season. And while the offense isn't exactly setting the world on fire, this time it's the defense that looks broken and headed for major offseason change.
The Giants gave up a must-be-a-typo 350 rushing yards to the Seahawks on Sunday. Running back Marshawn Lynch had 140 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Russell Wilson had 107 rushing yards and the other touchdown. Four different players carried the ball for the Seahawks and every single one of them averaged more than five yards per carry. As a team, they averaged 7.8.
"That hurts," said Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who could be seen hollering on the sideline in an effort to fire up his defensive teammates at various points in the game. "Because that means they're just lining up and hitting you in the mouth, they're more physical and they want it more. And I know that can't be the case."
The Seahawks did win the physical battles Sunday, but worse was the Giants' inability to figure out Seattle's zone-read offense. They appeared to guess wrong on almost every play, especially in an second half in which Seattle outscored them 24-0. When they should have been swarming toward Lynch up the middle, they were playing too wide. When they should have been playing contain on Wilson on the outside, they were swarming the middle. Wilson had easy decision after easy decision, and the Seahawks picked the Giants' defense apart.
"Our defense is all about knowing what your assignment is and doing it," safety Antrel Rolle said. "You can't beat yourself in this league. If you have the dive, take the dive. If you have the quarterback, take the quarterback."
The excuses are there for the Giants if they want them. They're playing without three of their top four cornerbacks and their starting middle linebacker, all of whom are out for the season due to injuries. Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins were playing hurt Sunday. It's clear they're outmanned on both sides of the ball, and the reason is that they're still piecing back together a roster that was so hollowed out by the end of last season that they had no choice but to load up on free agents in an effort to plug holes.
However, all of that understood, the defense is playing at an inexcusably poor level. The Giants are allowing an average of 456 yards per game during their current four-game losing streak. They did collect three turnovers Sunday, and the first two were the main reason they had a 17-14 lead at the half. But they're still allowing too many big plays due to too many missed assignments, and overall they're just not stopping anyone.
"We'll be OK," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul insisted. "We've just got to get it right. We've got seven games left. We'll be OK."
I don't know what Pierre-Paul is talking about. Yes, things could get better in December, when they stop playing playoff teams and start lining up against the Jacksonville/Tennessee/Washington/St. Louis portion of the schedule. And assuming they can run off some wins toward the end of the year as they did last year, head coach Tom Coughlin still has a strong chance to salvage his job.
But on defense, there's no one who should currently be assuming things will be all right. Coordinator Perry Fewell, at this point, does not deserve to return in 2015. Pierre-Paul, who's headed for free agency, isn't a sure thing to be back. Rolle is a pending free agent whom the team loves, but he's going to be 32, and how much money will he want? If the Giants react to this year's defensive performance the way they reacted to last year's offensive performance, all bets are off, and they have to think seriously about which of their current players fit into whatever new scheme their new coordinator will be installing.
"We've got to get better," Rolle said. "Everyone. Players, coaches, we have to find an answer, because right now the answer's not there."
Increasingly, as it did last year, it looks as though the answer is somewhere in the offseason, somewhere outside the organization. Because regardless of injuries, talent deficiencies or strength of schedule, an NFL defense simply has to be playing better than the Giants' defense is playing right now. There's no question the Giants' defense is broken, and will require an extensive fix once this season is over.