NFL Nation: Tom Coughlin


I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Steve Spagnuolo and the New York Giants are made for each other and having him back as defensive coordinator will return them to Super Bowl glory, or at least the playoffs. Maybe he's a great coach who had a raw deal in St. Louis and New Orleans and will get to rebuild his reputation now that he's back with the team with which he had his greatest success. Maybe the Giants see something in him that no one else in this hiring cycle saw, and maybe they're right.

I just don't think, if I were the Giants, that I'd risk my future on it.

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Mike Groll/AP PhotoThe Giants needed a defensive coordinator for the long term, so they better hope Steve Spagnuolo has picked up some new tricks in his time away.
After they fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell last week, the Giants had a chance to do with their defense what they did last year with their offense -- rethink and rebuild it with a fresh voice in charge. Instead, they defaulted to the familiar and brought back Spagnuolo, who was their defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl season of 2007 and the 12-4 season of 2008. Those were Tom Coughlin's best teams as Giants coach, and you can understand the temptation to go back to one of the people who helped make them happen.

But the Giants right now are at a point in their history where the focus needs to be on rebuilding for the long term. A half-decade's worth of miserable drafts has sapped their talent pipeline to the point where they needed to sign 20-plus free agents a year ago to fill out a roster that would go 6-10. The only reason to think they can turn this around in a year is that the NFL perpetually offers everyone that hope. Realistically, they finished six games out of first place in 2014 and are still in the early stages of a rebuild. The right move isn't to hire a coordinator to make the 2015 defense great. The right move is to hire a coordinator who'll help make the defense great for the next five or six years.

Spagnuolo could be that. Coughlin's quotes in the news release announcing his hiring focused a lot on how Spagnuolo has changed and grown as a coach since his last time in New York -- as if anticipating questions about this being a backward-looking hire and trying to head them off.

"His defense has changed since he was last here," the release says Coughlin said. "He worked in Baltimore with John Harbaugh and Dean Pees, and they are outstanding defensive coaches. He has studied defenses. Steve visited colleges and talked to college coaches, including Urban Meyer (coach of national champion Ohio State) to learn how to defend the spread offenses that have become so popular."

Good for him, and good for the Giants if that's the case. The best coaches are the ones who evolve and learn and open their minds to the new and creative ideas of those around and available to them. If that's the way Spagnuolo has spent the last two years, then he and the Giants can certainly benefit, and this could turn out to be a forward-looking hire after all.

But while this is obviously a great week to name-drop Urban Meyer (and yes, the parentheses were the Giants', not mine), the reality is that there are a lot more negatives on the Spagnuolo résumé than there are positives. You can tell me he didn't have the pieces in St. Louis to be a successful head coach, but he wasn't even a mediocre one. He was 10-38 in three seasons. You can tell me he and everyone else with the 2012 Saints were in a bad position due to the Sean Payton suspension and the bounty scandal, but that doesn't mean your defense has to go out and allow more yards than any NFL defense has ever allowed in a season, as the Saints did with Spagnuolo as their coordinator that year.

If this were a 55-year-old coach with a résumé identical to Spagnuolo's except that he'd spent 2007-08 with, say, the Minnesota Vikings, Giants fans would hate this hire. Literally the only reason for a fan to be fired up about it is if they're living in the past -- a past that by the way included Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in the pass rush.

Make no mistake: Given the Giants' personnel issues on defense right now, this job is a lot closer to the ones Spagnuolo had in St. Louis and New Orleans than it is to the one he took with the Giants in 2007. Can he make the difference? Possible. It's just a mistake to assume he will. And if he flops, the Giants will end up having to do what they could and should have done this time around -- find somebody to help build them something new and lead it into the future.
No final decision yet from the New York Giants on a new defensive coordinator, but it appears as though they've interviewed all of the candidates they plan to interview and hope to have a decision by the end of the week.

In the meantime, they are also closing in on a deal with Tim Walton, the former defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, to join the staff as their defensive backs coach. Walton would replace Peter Giunta, who was fired last week along with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Once the Giants hire a new defensive coordinator, they will seek his input on the construction of the defensive coaching staff. And that could mean some other defensive assistants would be replaced or shuffled into different roles, as happened on the other side of the ball last year after the Giants hired Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. But head coach Tom Coughlin has final say on the coaching staff, and Walton appears to be a guy they'll bring on regardless of who they pick for coordinator.

Walton was the Rams' defensive coordinator for one season -- 2013 -- after spending four seasons as the defensive backs coach for the Detroit Lions.

The Giants interviewed their own former defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, for the coordinator position Wednesday. He's viewed by many close to the situation as the front-runner, though at this point they have not informed him that he's their choice. They also are considering former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen and former Giants linebacker and current Buffalo Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
If this were really all about 2015 -- if New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin really were looking at this coming season as a "make-or-break" one for his career -- then Perry Fewell would still be the defensive coordinator.

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Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsTom Coughlin is in search of a new defensive coordinator, and that speaks volumes for where the tenured coach is at in his career and with the Giants.
Think about it. If Coughlin really believed he only had one year left as Giants coach, why wouldn't he keep all of the coaches with whom he's comfortable -- the men in whom he believes as fellow leaders? If all he cared about was his own job security -- or his own "legacy," to borrow a word that was being thrown around in East Rutherford last week -- then what would be the point of rebuilding the defense under new leadership. That kind of thing takes time. If Coughlin were being driven by the idea that his time with the Giants was short, big change wouldn't be the way to go.

This is where I think people get it wrong about Coughlin. There's an assumption that everyone acts only out of self-interest, and there's a fair bit of evidence in the world today that the assumption is safe. But I don't think that's the way Coughlin coaches the Giants, and I think the fact he's looking for a new defensive coordinator one year after hiring a new offensive coordinator demands we give him the benefit of the doubt.

Coughlin has coached the Giants for 11 years. He's won two Super Bowls as their coach. He is a significant part of the franchise's history, and as such he is invested in its long-term success. Whether he's the coach for one more year or two more years or five more years or eight more years, Coughlin is bound by his sense of professional duty to do what's best for the Giants -- not for himself.

From the outside, Coughlin's job security didn't look super-solid going into 2014. Yet he still brought in a new and untested coordinator in Ben McAdoo, knowing it would take time to get the offense running as well as it could. A man who thinks his time is short doesn't operate that way. But it was the best thing for the Giants to do at that point in their franchise history, and so that was the move Coughlin made.

Likewise, this month's search for a new defensive coordinator is likely to be wide open. Sure, they could talk to former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and decide he's the best man for the job. And if they hire him, obviously you could make the argument Coughlin is defaulting to a situation that makes him comfortable. But if he really were doing that, he'd have kept Fewell in the job and gone into his "make-or-break" season with the staff in which he believed so strongly just a few months ago.

I think it's important, when analyzing Coughlin in general and this coordinator-hunt specifically, to consider the kind of person Coughlin is, what he's meant to the Giants and what the Giants mean to him. I think it's fair to trust him to hire the coordinator who's the best bet for the organization in the long run, regardless of what it means to his own immediate future. He cares about winning and about his legacy, yes. He admitted as much last week. But he's been with the Giants long enough that he cares what happens to them after he's gone. And I think you'll see that show up in this process.
There's nothing wrong with Steve Spagnuolo as a defensive coordinator candidate for the New York Giants. They know him. They like him. Tom Coughlin is comfortable with him, and he'd excite a good portion of the fan base with memories of the 2007 season and Super Bowl XLII.

I just don't think that's the way the Giants should go.

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesSteve Spagnuolo may well be primed for a return, but the Giants owe it to their defense to consider fresh ideas from potential coordinator candidates such as Dennis Allen (above).
The Giants have an opening at defensive coordinator following Wednesday's firing of Perry Fewell. And as they look to fill it, they need to be thinking about the future rather than the past. The team's news release announcing the firings of Fewell and defensive backs coach Peter Giunta said that the Giants had "initiated a restructuring of their defensive coaching staff," and if that's the case, then there's no reason not to make it an extensive or even complete restructuring.

This time last year, after longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride left, many assumed the Giants would turn to former assistant Mike Sullivan as their new offensive coordinator due to his familiarity with the team and the offense. Instead, they hired the unproven Ben McAdoo to install a completely new and different offense, and his first season as a coordinator left them encouraged for the future.

Bringing back Spagnuolo for defense would be the Sullivan-type move. Again, nothing necessarily wrong with that. But I think they should be trying for the defensive equivalent of the McAdoo move.

Throw the whole thing open. Look at everybody you can think of and find the guy you think is the best coach. If he happens to run a 3-4 defense instead of the 4-3 the Giants have run for the last two decades, so be it. The Giants likely are looking at big personnel changes in the front seven this offseason anyway, so it's not as though they would have to force a bunch of entrenched 4-3 guys into a 3-4.

The point is that this shouldn't be a 2015-focused hire but a hire that's focused on the next five or 10 years. The Giants aren't just coming off one or two bad years and looking for a patch job. They're in a big-time hole that they have dug with years of bad drafts and resulting personnel deficiencies. It's a bad place to be, but it's also one that offers them the opportunity to decide and shape what they want to be, going forward, in the long term.

They realized this a year ago when they went out looking for a new offensive coordinator, and they need to take the same approach at defensive coordinator this year. Find someone with fresh ideas. Find someone you believe in as a coach and a leader -- someone you believe your players will follow even if they've just met him. Find someone you think can someday be a candidate to be your head coach, which is what they believe they have in McAdoo. Decide what you want to be as a defense going forward and give the new coordinator the power to establish and teach it.

That could mean someone like Pepper Johnson, the former Giants linebacker who's been an apprentice coach for the past 15 years. It could mean someone like Al Holcomb, a former Giants assistant who's currently coaching the Carolina Panthers' linebackers. It could mean someone like Dennis Allen, who at 42 is still a bright young defensive mind even if he didn't have success as a very young head coach in Oakland the past three years.

And in the end, it could be Spagnuolo. The Giants could survey all of their candidates and still decide that Spagnuolo is the best coach for the job -- that his ideas are still forward-thinking and that he's still eventual head coach material even though that job didn't go well for him in St. Louis. It's a perfectly legitimate conclusion for them to reach. But before they reach it, I think they need to start the process by throwing it wide open and thinking ahead, not back.
With Perry Fewell out after five years as New York Giants defensive coordinator, here's a partial list of possible replacements, in no particular order:

Pepper Johnson, defensive line coach, Buffalo Bills: Former Giants linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion was with the New England Patriots' coaching staff for 14 years before joining Buffalo's in 2014. If the Giants decide to go the unproven-coordinator route as they did on offense last year with Ben McAdoo, Johnson will be among their top candidates.

Steve Spagnuolo, assistant head coach/secondary coach, Baltimore Ravens: Some in the Giants' hierarchy are pushing for a return of the coordinator who helped coach Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck & Co. to that Super Bowl XLII upset over the undefeated Patriots. But it's no sure thing, as the Giants want to look at all options. And that "assistant head coach" title could mean the Ravens (who are still alive in the playoffs) don't have to let Spagnuolo out of his contract for anything less than a head coach position.

Mike Smith, former Atlanta Falcons head coach: Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator for five years before becoming Falcons head coach in 2008, and is well liked and respected by Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

Mike Nolan, Altanta Falcons defensive coordinator: Likely to be a free agent once Alanta hires Smith's replacement. Nolan was Giants' defensive coordinator from 1993-96 under Dan Reeves.

Dennis Allen, former Oakland Raiders head coach: Seen as a bright defensive mind who likely will be on several teams' lists as coordinator candidate.

Jim Schwartz, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator: Still under contract in Buffalo, but if the Bills' new head man wants to pick his own coordinator, the former Lions head coach will be among the hottest candidates around.

Vic Fangio, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator: Fangio wants the Niners' head coaching job, and if he doesn't get it, he's not likely to stick around.
The Dallas Cowboys, the first NFC East team to win a playoff game since the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI, are no fluke.

Their 12-4 regular-season record included an 8-0 road record, and while they shouldn't be favored in next week's divisional playoff game in Green Bay, they're not likely to be an easy out. After three straight 8-8 seasons in which they lost a division title game on the final day, the Cowboys this year broke through to join the ranks of the NFL's top teams. No team in the league won more games.

Along with the ridiculous sight of New Jersey's governor/climber trying to butt in on a celebratory hug between Stephen and Jerry Jones at the end of Sunday's playoff victory over Detroit, the Cowboys' resurgence likely eats at Giants fans who hate that team and the fact it's on to the second round while the Giants sit out the playoffs for the third year in a row. But while you may not like hearing it, the Cowboys offer the Giants and the rest of the NFL a pretty good team-building road map.

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AP Photo/James D SmithThe Giants could stand to borrow a page from the Cowboys and build a better offensive line.
This is a Cowboys team that has demonstrated patience and resilience. The three years that preceded this one were fraught with cries for the firing of coach Jason Garrett, arguments about the merits of releasing young wide receiver Dez Bryant when he found trouble off the field, and the requisite jokes about Tony Romo choking in the clutch and Jerry Jones' impatience and meddling. But through it all, the Cowboys stuck with a plan that didn't appear to anyone else to be working. Jones believed in Garrett, tried any number of different assistant-coach arrangements before Scott Linehan came in this year and unlocked things, and stood by Bryant when others might have chosen not to do so. He is being rewarded now with a playoff run after three straight years of disappointment.

Next season will tell whether it was wise for the Giants to keep Tom Coughlin and to keep his staff intact, but regardless of whether they're better off staying put, one thing about the Cowboys' model that should stand out to them is the way they've built their roster over the past half-decade -- specifically up front on offense.

The Cowboys went 29 years without picking an offensive lineman in the first round before taking Tyron Smith at No. 9 overall in 2011. This was not a coincidence. It was a deep-rooted organization belief that the value of using a first-round pick on an offensive lineman wasn't justified. But it showed, and as the Cowboys amassed impressive offensive skill-position talent year after year, offensive line issues continually sunk their seasons. Smith was a great value pick at a position of tremendous need in 2011, and they pulled the trigger.

The following year, they goofed and traded their first-round and second-round picks to move up and take cornerback Morris Claiborne. But in the two years that followed, they went big again, moving down to take center Travis Frederick at No. 31 in 2013 (and picking up Terrance Williams with the extra third-rounder they got out of that deal) and taking Zack Martin at No. 16 last year.

The result is a monster offensive line that gives them the confidence to run the ball with authority even when they fall behind in big games and to protect Romo for six or seven seconds if that's what he needs to throw the game-winning touchdown pass. The Cowboys' offense is still loaded with big-time playmakers, but now it's built to control games and to allow its playcaller to stick with the plan for the full 60 minutes. These are major advantages, and Dallas' 5-1 record against the Giants the last three years has offered plenty of game-by-game evidence of the growing difference between the teams.

The Giants are starting to get the message. They went 13 years without taking a first-round lineman before taking Justin Pugh at No. 19 in 2013. But their current projected 2015 starters still include only Pugh, second-rounders Will Beatty and Weston Richburg and free-agent signees Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton. They continue to seek patchwork solutions at a place on the roster where it's clear they need more elite talent. Beatty is fine, but I don't think "fine" is what you're looking for in a left tackle these days. He's clearly the No. 4 left tackle in his own division behind three Pro Bowlers, and there's little doubt they could upgrade there.

Obviously, Odell Beckham Jr. was the right call for the Giants at No. 12 last year. Martin could have slotted in nicely and been a big help, but Beckham gives them a big-play wide receiver threat the Cowboys already had in Bryant. After Beckham's rookie season performance, there's no second-guessing that particular pick.

Going forward, however, the Giants would do well to at least check out the model the Cowboys have put together over the past four years, realize the manner in which it's working, and think about investing some major resources in that offensive line for a change.
New York Giants fans who have been hoping to hear that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell or special teams coordinator Tom Quinn would be fired may have to prepare themselves for disappointment.

I'm not saying things can't change, or that organizational pressure couldn't prompt Tom Coughlin to replace one or both of his coordinators. I'm just here to tell you that, as of now, from what I'm being told, he's leaning strongly toward keeping both of them. And if you've been following what's going on with the Giants, you shouldn't be surprised.

Following up a 7-9 season with a 6-10 season and missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years would, in most organizations, be grounds for a coaching overhaul -- starting with the head coach. But the Giants aren't going that way. Ownership is judging Coughlin on factors other than his recent win-loss record and giving at least another year to turn things around.

That absence of significant consequence for the continued losing isn't the product of inertia as much as it's the way the Giants are doing business. And if it's good enough for the owner, and the owner says it's up to Coughlin to pick his coaches, then why wouldn't status quo be the way Coughlin would decide to go?

People close to the situation say Coughlin believes the Giants' problems this year had to do with (a) personnel shortages on both sides of the ball that have been a problem for several years now due to ineffective drafts and (b) an incredible number of injuries. For those reasons, he's disinclined to hold Fewell accountable for the performance of the defense. The man was without three of his top four cornerbacks for the bulk of the season, after all.

Even the coaching staff move they have made reeks of a desire for continuity. When quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf decided to leave after just one year, the Giants replaced him with Mike Sullivan, who was an offensive assistant on Coughlin's coaching staff from 2004 to 2011 with the Giants and was Eli Manning's quarterbacks coach in 2010-11.

Again, just something to think about as you wonder what's going to happen here. Changes could still take place, later today or next week, as Coughlin and his staff continue to evaluate things. But the way the wind is blowing right now, I'm thinking Fewell is back as defensive coordinator as the whole crew takes the plunge together for what might only be one more year.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few quick thoughts on the New York Giants' decision to bring back coach Tom Coughlin for the 2015 season:

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John Munson/NJ Advance Media for TODAY SportsTom Coughlin will return in 2015, but whether his staff will be intact remains to be seen.
• I don't get the sense this decision was made Sunday night. My impression is that the Giants were worried after the Week 13 loss to Jacksonville that the team might collapse and force them into a tough decision, but that the three straight wins that followed reinforced their conviction that Coughlin remains a strong and more-than-capable coach who prepares his teams well and gets them to play hard for him. They also believe he was done in by a stunning number of injuries to a roster that was a work in progress to begin with.

Additionally, the differing ways in which he has handled issues and incidents that have come up with young players such as Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. in recent weeks demonstrated that he still has an ability to connect with players on an individual level as each case demands.

Coughlin is the man the Giants want as their coach. They never wanted to think about moving on from him after this year, and they're glad the team played well enough in December to back up their belief that he's the man to oversee Year 2 of this rebuild.

• There's a meeting scheduled between Coughlin and Giants owner John Mara at 3 p.m. ET Monday, and at that meeting, my sources say, potential changes to the coaching staff will be discussed. This could still get contentious, as Coughlin seemed to make it clear after Sunday's game that he supports defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and wants his staff to return intact. After New York went 7-9 last year and 6-10 this year, however, Mara is likely to demand that someone take the fall, and Fewell and special-teams coordinator Tom Quinn would seem to be viable targets, given the way their units performed this year.

It's conceivable that Coughlin could fight hard enough for one or the other of them -- or for his right to pick his own staff -- that the whole arrangement could still blow up and they do move on. But that seems unlikely, and, although it's no sure thing Fewell is gone, that's still the way to bet, and I would expect at least two or three coaching staff changes and maybe more.

• I know I've seemed to straddle the fence on the issue of Coughlin's job status. I don't like to do that, but in this case I can really see both sides. The case for moving on from a coach who has missed the playoffs in five of the past six years and gone 13-19 in the past two is not a hard case to make, especially when you line up Coughlin's record against some of the other coaches who lost their jobs Monday. But on the flip side, the two Super Bowl titles Coughlin has won in New York justifiably earn him a longer leash, if not the right to go out on his own terms.

The way I ultimately look at it, the Giants shouldn't rid themselves of Coughlin unless they know for sure they have a replacement ready who can articulate and establish a clear vision for the team's future. Coughlin, as an ingrained part of franchise history, might even be able to claim the right to have input on his own successor.

The Giants pride themselves on maintaining stability in high-level leadership positions, and sticking by Coughlin certainly supports that. So in the end, I think they're making the right call, although I also think they need to seriously consider doing on defense what they did last year on offense -- seek and install a new system under a new leader with fresh ideas for the future, then load up on personnel on that side of the ball in free agency.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and safety and defensive captain Antrel Rolle both stuck up for embattled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on Sunday, following the Giants' 34-26 season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Giants entered the final week of the season ranked fifth-to-last in total yards allowed. And the final performance against Philadelphia wasn't very impressive, either. But when asked if he would like to see his coaching staff return intact, Coughlin said, "Yes, but I'm not going to say anything more about that or anything else today."

There's still a chance Coughlin could be dismissed, with the Giants missing the playoffs for the third year in a row and finishing 6-10 -- their worst record since Coughlin's first year at the helm, 2004.

But the more likely scenario is saying goodbye to Fewell, although that is far from a given.

Rolle went ever farther in Fewell's defense.

"I have full confidence in Perry, and I know what kind of coach Perry is," Rolle said. "I know when he’s at his best, I know when he’s not at his best. I also know how to work with him -- I’ve been his dog for four years, I’ve been his fill-in guy. I love to work with Perry."

Of course, Rolle may not be here next year, either -- the 32-year-old will be a free agent this offseason. The former All-Pro has been a key contributor on the field and leader in the locker room the past five years, but had a subpar season in 2014.

"I've been through this process once before, and I think you just have to take it in stride," Rolle said. "If this was my last game as a Giant, I'm very appreciative, I wouldn't change anything for the world. I've had a wonderful five years here, and I gave the team every single inch that I had, I gave 'em every single thing that I had."

"I definitely want to stay here," Rolle added. "I feel like we're building something. Although we haven't had the season that we wanted to have, I think we're still building something."

Another key player who may not be back is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who also will be a free agent. Pierre-Paul came on strong late, with nine sacks in the final five games of the season -- capped off by two against the Eagles on Sunday. He finished with 12.5 sacks, by far his highest total since he posted 16.5 in 2011, his second year in the league.

Pierre-Paul is younger than Rolle (he'll turn 26 on New Year's Day), and more important at this stage of their respective careers. But he'll also cost a lot more money. He played well against the run the whole season. The question is, was that the real pass-rushing JPP we saw the final five weeks, or just a flash in the pan?

"I don't know what changed. I am trying to figure it out myself," Pierre-Paul said of the last five games. "I am playing better. I had to step up big time. I wouldn't say I wasn't stepping up the first couple of weeks. Injuries, man. I fought through 'em, I got healthy, and I have been on a roll. That's the game of football, you never know."

Pierre-Paul did miss a little practice time with a shoulder injury this season, but he played in all 16 games. He said in recent weeks that he wants to stay with the Giants, reiterated that Sunday, and sounded cautiously optimistic that the game wasn't his final one with Big Blue.

"I am pretty sure it is probably not," Pierre-Paul said. "Like I said Friday, I don't know what the future holds. But I went out there and played great today, my teammates played great, but we didn't play great enough to win this game."

Pierre-Paul may have been great, but some of his teammates certainly weren't. And now it's time to assess them all.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The moments following the end of their 6-10 season were not, the New York Giants decided, the time to talk in depth about the future. Asked whether he thought the team was headed in the right direction and whether he wanted to be back, coach Tom Coughlin said he wouldn't address the latter but, "I think it's headed in the right direction, yeah."

But is it? And more importantly, is that the right point of view for the Giants to take as they begin their offseason evaluations?

Coughlin's micro focus is one of his coaching strengths. His ability to lock in on one week's preparation at a time and block out external noise ensures that his teams are generally well-prepared for their games. And if your focus is on each individual game, you could certainly talk yourself into thinking that the Giants are moving in the right direction. The offense looked much better in December against weak opponents. Eli Manning had a fine statistical season. Odell Beckham Jr. would get anyone excited about the future.

"You look at the games we lost, and we really feel like we beat ourselves," running back Rashad Jennings said. "And when that's the case, you know you can fix it."

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Alex Goodlett/Getty ImagesIf the Giants take a hard look at themselves this offseason, they'll see they still have a long way to go to get back to a championship level.
The problem is, that game-to-game micro focus can distract from the big picture. And for the Giants right now, the big picture is one of disappointment and mediocrity. Their regular-season records the past six years are 8-8, 10-6, 9-7, 9-7, 7-9 and 6-10. Even if you add in the 4-0 postseason record that followed the 2011 season, Coughlin is still just 53-47 over the past six years -- not a record that screams "headed in the right direction."

The case for keeping Coughlin isn't necessarily that much stronger than the case for moving on. Before settling their heads once more on the pillow of status quo, the people who run the Giants need to make an honest evaluation about where their franchise stands and how much work they have to do to return it to a championship level.

For example: Coughlin seemed to be delivering a message, postgame, in support of embattled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, whose unit ranked near the bottom of the NFL. Unsolicited, Coughlin said, "Defensively, I think we had a good plan and that the plan was well-taught." And while he has the right to defend (and choose) his own staff, the takeaway was clearly that there's a disconnect between Coughlin's evaluation of Fewell and the public perception that Fewell is a goner. If the front office and ownership believe Fewell must be replaced, there could be a fight over that between them and Coughlin in the coming days.

Which, again, is fine. These decisions shouldn't come without careful, even painful consideration. Fewell's a good guy and a good coach, but the performance of the defense this year and in recent years is the kind that gets coordinators fired. An honest self-evaluation should lead the Giants to do on defense what they did last offseason on offense: Overhaul the whole thing. Refresh it. Bring in a new coordinator, a new scheme and rebuild it with new people in key positions. It may be too extreme to say the defense is "broken," as John Mara said the offense was a year ago, but at best it's stale. The Giants trade on the idea of stability in leadership roles, and in general that's a good and too-unusual way to operate. But it can't be a crutch that keeps you from making tough decisions when they need to be made.

The Giants should be looking at absolutely everything and everyone with a critical eye. It makes no sense that the job status of GM Jerry Reese, with his draft record, isn't even questioned. It shouldn't be automatic that Coughlin, who has won playoff games in only two of his 11 Giants seasons, returns just because the Giants don't want to be a team that fires coaches. And if performance dictates otherwise, it shouldn't be a slam-dunk that Fewell or special-teams coordinator Tom Quinn comes back just because Coughlin likes coaching with them.

Huge decisions loom about player personnel, of course, at the end of all of this. They can't get lulled to sleep by the fact that the offensive line was a bit better in December than it was in September. All offensive lines are. The Giants' line still needs better players. They need to overhaul the pass rush -- the Giants' sack total was inflated by a strong finish -- either around a re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul or around a viable playmaking replacement. They need to address safety and linebacker, look honestly at the run game and decide what the best thing is to do about Manning and his contract.

It's entirely possible that losing Sunday's game was a good thing for the Giants. Something about 6-10 feels a lot worse than 7-9, and if that reminds them of how much work they really have to do on this work-in-progress roster, then good. Because no matter how much they may want to convince themselves they're headed in the right direction, the Giants can't lose sight of how far they are away from where they want to be.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the New York Giants' season-ending 34-26 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium:
  • Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't reject questions about his future, but he made it clear there were internal discussions to be had before he could deliver final answers. "I'm going to go about my business, just as I always do, unless I'm told otherwise," he said. Asked if he wanted his coaching staff to return intact, he said, "Yes, but I'm not going to say anything more about that or anything else today." Asked if he thought things were moving in the right direction and if he wanted to be back to oversee them in 2015, he said he would not answer the last part but added "I think it's headed in the right direction, yeah."
  • Coughlin said the reason rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. came out of the game late was that he was "vomiting and so on and so forth" on the sideline.
  • After a 12-catch, 185-yard, one-touchdown finale to his brilliant rookie season, Beckham said he was "looking forward to next year with a smile."
  • Jason Pierre-Paul, who is a free agent, said he would like to be back and that he would like Coughlin to return as well. "I look at Coach Coughlin as a dad," Pierre-Paul said. "You need someone like that on the team, otherwise it would be chaos." Pierre-Paul also endorsed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, whose job status seems a bit more tenuous.
  • Owner John Mara and GM Jerry Reese declined comment after the game and likely will address the media Monday or Tuesday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Those who were hoping for a big final game from undrafted New York Giants rookie wide receiver Corey Washington will be disappointed. Washington is among the inactives for Sunday's season finale against the Eagles.

A preseason star who caught a touchdown pass in each of the Giants' first four exhibition games in August, Washington finishes his rookie season with a grand total of five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in the games that actually counted. Asked a few weeks ago what Washington had to do to play more on offense, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he had to perform better in his role on kick and punt coverage units before earning that right.

Washington complained to Newsday this week about disappointment in his role during his rookie season. And while the inactives list doesn't come with an explanation, it's entirely possible that Coughlin has benched Washington for this game in part because of those public comments. Coughlin does not take kindly to players airing complaints about their roles in the media, and has praised safety Stevie Brown, for example, this year for keeping his own playing-time gripes in-house.

Running backs Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings are both active for the Giants, as are backup running backs Orleans Darkwa and Chris Ogbonnaya. The Giants will have only four wide receivers -- Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Preston Parker and Kevin Ogletree -- active for their final game of 2014.

The full list of inactives for Sunday's Giants-Eagles game at MetLife Stadium:





Eagles vs. Giants preview

December, 26, 2014

The last time the Philadelphia Eagles played a game without playoff implications, it was the tail end of the 2012 season and Andy Reid was still their coach. For the New York Giants, Sunday's 1 p.m. ET regular-season finale against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium will be the fifth consecutive game in which both they and their opponent have already been eliminated from postseason contention. Nothing on the line here but pride for these division rivals. ESPN NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano and Phil Sheridan are here to break it all down for you.

Graziano: Well, that fell apart in a hurry. Three weeks ago, the Eagles were in the NFC East driver’s seat. Now, Sunday’s game means nothing more to their playoff chances than it does to the Giants’ playoff chances. What’s the biggest reason for the collapse?

Sheridan: I’ve had a little time to ponder this and I think it’s relatively simple. The Eagles were not an elite team this year. They were pretty good, able to compete within the NFC East and against St. Louis and Jacksonville and such squads. But every time they had to face a playoff-caliber team -- Arizona, San Francisco (before their fall), Green Bay -- they lost.

That big Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas created the illusion that the Eagles had hit their stride. But Seattle brought them right back to reality. Seattle simply beat them up the way superior teams beat average teams.

The two most recent losses, to Dallas and Washington, were due to factors that have lingered all season for the Eagles. Turnovers? They lead the league in giving the ball away. Red zone? Break out the rookie place-kicker. Pass defense? Er, next question.

Early in the season, the Eagles got a bunch of touchdowns from their defense and special teams. That was a tough way to win, and it dried up on them against the better teams.

The Giants were 3-9 when the Eagles were 9-3. The Eagles haven’t won since, the Giants haven't lost since. Is that just late-season, no-pressure-to-win stat-padding, or have the Giants really turned things around? Put another way: Is this something they can carry over to 2015?

Graziano: They think it is, which I think is important, considering how young the players are who are contributing to this run. The schedule has helped, of course. The Giants' three-game winning streak is against Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis. But the Rams were playing defense as well as anyone in the league coming into Sunday, and the Giants dropped 37 points on them. So something is going right. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham is the superstar, but rookie Andre Williams has two 100-yard rushing games in the past three weeks, rookies Devon Kennard and Kerry Wynn are contributing on special teams. Add in strong late surges from cornerstone players in quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Giants are on the kind of roll that means nothing to this year but could, they hope, give them some confidence going into the offseason that they're on the right track for 2015. The offense has definitely shown progress since Week 1, and in the first year with a new coordinator, that's one of the biggest things for which the Giants were hoping.

Hey, Mark Sanchez is back in his old stomping grounds this week. Am I safe in assuming the Eagles go into this offseason with quarterback high on their priority list? Or do they expect/want Nick Foles to come back and win the job?

Sheridan: You’d be safe in that assumption if I were the general manager or head coach. As for Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly, I’m not sure how they view this. I think it will be a little bit of a Rorschach test: What they see when they look at Foles will tell a lot about them.

If they blame the collapse on Mark Sanchez and his 13 turnovers in eight games, that will mean they choose to overlook Foles’ 13 turnovers in his eight games. It’s a shame, really, that Foles wasn’t cleared to play in time to get one or two more games in. It would have helped the evaluation process to see him behind the relatively healthy version of the offensive line. It was banged up when he was playing (which is one reason he ended up with a broken collarbone, frankly).

Sanchez will be a free agent. Foles still has one more year on his rookie deal. It would certainly be easy enough to bring Foles back and let 2015 decide whether he gets a franchise-quarterback contract. But then Kelly is in his third season and if Foles plays more like he did this year than last year? Year 4 isn’t exactly the time to start looking for a franchise quarterback.

I would expect Kelly and Roseman to explore all the options, including mortgaging some draft picks to move up and try for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. If they can’t hit a home run, they can always come back with Foles. But swinging for the fences seems like the right thing at this point.

How responsible is Beckham for the Giants’ recent success? It looks from a distance as if he quickly has become the bell cow for that team. Does it look like that from up close? How good can the kid be?

Graziano: He's the engine, that's for sure. I thought the target distribution was more even this week, then I looked at the box score and saw Beckham was targeted 12 times and no one else was targeted more than six. And this in Manning's best game of the year. It's not exaggerating to say there's no one in the league playing the receiver position better than Beckham is playing it at the moment. He runs great routes, has great speed, catches everything and offers the ability to run trick plays where he lines up in the backfield because he can run with the ball or even throw it. He had only two catches for 28 yards in the Week 6 whitewashing in Philadelphia in which Victor Cruz went down. But since that game, Beckham has 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns in only nine games. He can be as good as he wants to be. Remember, he's doing this after missing almost all of the offseason program, all of training camp and the first four games of the season due to a hamstring injury. In the grand scheme of things, at the NFL level, he has barely even practiced.

As far as this game goes, Beckham and the Giants’ offense are on a roll. Do you expect them to be able to continue it against an Eagles defense that shut them out in Week 6?

Sheridan: Yup.

Oh, I should write more? I just don’t see anything from the Eagles' defense that suggests they’re equipped to stop the bleeding that has cost them these past three games. There is some chance that Bradley Fletcher will get benched after his escapades covering Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson, but there is a reason the Eagles kept running Fletcher out there. He’s better than Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin.

That said, can he cover Beckham? I shudder to think about the damage that might be done if the Eagles try to find out. The simple fact is the Eagles have tended to lose against good quarterbacks with decent weapons to work with. You know better than I do what was up with Manning and the Giants when the Eagles shut them out in October. Cruz got hurt in that game. Beckham was only a household name with “David” in front of it back then. But if the Giants of the past few weeks show up Sunday, they will be able to get some big plays on this defense.

There always seems to be speculation about Tom Coughlin’s future. He endured a seven-game losing streak this season. Now that things seem turned around, is there more confidence in Coughlin going forward? Is he feeling re-energized?

Graziano: I never sensed a lapse in energy -- not for any sustained length of time. Coughlin was down after the loss in Jacksonville that dropped the Giants to 3-9, but true to his nature he was right back up Wednesday and getting the team ready for the next game the way he always does. At this point, I think it would be shocking if he's not back next year, based on everything I've heard inside and outside the building about this. Ownership never wanted to get rid of him -- especially after only one year in the new offense and with Ben McAdoo still only 37 and likely not ready yet to take over. There was some concern that a lousy finish might force their hand, but the three straight wins here have mellowed things, and now I expect Coughlin back in 2015. And I don't expect to see any difference in the way he coaches or operates. He's as consistently a high-energy coach as there is in the league, even though he's the oldest, and if there was no reason to get rid of him last year, I don't see what the reason is to do it a year later.

QB snapshot: Eli Manning

December, 23, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Eli Manning and the way he played in the New York Giants' 37-27 victory in St. Louis on Sunday:

If this season has been about showing progress in the new offense, then based on Sunday Manning surely is trending in the right direction. This was his best game of the season -- 25-for-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns.

Yes, he targeted Odell Beckham Jr. 12 times and no one else more than six, but in spite of that the target distribution was more even than it had been. Rueben Randle went over 100 yards and caught a touchdown, each for just the second time this season. Manning was, as Tom Coughlin put it, "as focused and as zoomed in on what he was looking for in this game as any game we have seen this year." He checked in and out of run plays like a surgeon and threw the ball with complete confidence.

This was an excellent game for Manning to put on tape with the offseason and a second year in Ben McAdoo's offense around the corner.
Tom Coughlin has 46 years on Odell Beckham Jr., so if the New York Giants coach's message to his young wide receiver were a stereotypical, get-off-my-lawn sermon about the evils of end-zone celebrations, Beckham likely would tune it out. Coughlin knows this, and besides, he doesn't have anything against guys expressing themselves as long as it doesn't cost the team penalty yards.

And so it was that Coughlin's postgame chat with Beckham on Sunday night was infused with nuance and an understanding of his blue-hot young star. Coughlin, 68, enjoys Beckham's energy and "exuberance" (his word) and doesn't want to deprive him of it. What he told Beckham was that he wants him to understand the specifics of when and where those things can have a negative effect, and to try to steer clear of those situations.

"He looked at me and said, 'Coach, stay after me,' " Coughlin said Monday. "He wants to learn and he wants to continue to improve and be better. I think he will and I think going forward, as he understands the professional game, that he will understand that some of the things that take place give the wrong message or send the wrong message."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
John Munson/NJ Advance Media for TODAY SportsIf you've doubted how much Tom Coughlin still cares about coaching, look at how he's handling his young receivers.
Coughlin has another young wide receiver, third-year man Rueben Randle, whose circumstances are far different. While Beckham has raced to the stratosphere in his first 11 NFL games, Randle has failed to take the step forward the Giants hoped he would take this season. He also has been benched for parts of two recent games because of issues he's had regarding meetings and practices during the week. Coughlin has not divulged specifics, but he's also made no secret of his disappointment in Randle's "issues" (his word).

Randle had a big game Sunday, and Coughlin made a point of addressing Randle's "preparation" Monday -- a strong hint about weekday habits for a guy who's had trouble with them.

"As I have said all along, Rueben Randle is very talented," Coughlin said. "The way in which he approached this game, I would hope he would stamp on the back of his hand to remind him of how he prepared for this one and how well he played. We need him to play like that."

This is not a double standard. It's just two different approaches to two different players in two different situations. What Randle has done is not acceptable, and Coughlin has made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that it won't be accepted -- that if he keeps it up, he won't play, no matter how much the team needs him. What Beckham has done is acceptable, but it's also the kind of thing that could lead to occasional problems if he lets it get out of control, so Coughlin's talking to him about ways to keep it under control.

What makes Coughlin a good coach is his ability -- nay, his determination -- to first understand his player and/or team before deciding how to coach that specific player and/or team. Beckham on Sunday needed a casual, man-to-man chat about specifics. Randle over the past month has needed a proverbial kick in the you-know-what. Sunday's results indicated the still-vibrant ability of Coughlin to deliver both.

At this point, I expect Coughlin to return as Giants coach next season. And if you're using his current behavior as a gauge, you certainly don't see a guy who expects to coach only one more Giants game.

"I look at this as, I am a teacher, and I can bring a wealth of experience to a young player like this and try to help him avoid some of the potholes, if you will, that occur for young guys," Coughlin said. "The ability to establish who they are, what they represent, the quality of the player that they are and also the quality of the person that they are."

Coughlin is a true professional who will operate this way until the end of his career, whether that's next week, next year or five more years down the road. But if you happened to wonder whether he's still got it or whether he still cares as intensely as he ever did, look at what he's doing with these two young receivers and realize there are few working harder on the most important nitty-gritty, day-to-day aspects of his job than this guy is.



Sunday, 1/25