Our 2018 Regular Season Preview marches on into the Meadowlands, where the New York Giants look to put an utterly disappointing era behind them on the strength of a whirlwind offseason featuring massive changes in all three phases of the team, including the Roster, Coaching Staff, and Front Office. The 2017 Campaign was indeed a bitter pill to swallow for Big Blue, who at 3-13 experienced arguably their worst term in the long, proud history of the franchise. In fact, their three wins were the fewest recorded in a single season since 1983, and their thirteen losses serves as a dubious club record. As was expected, wholesale changes were made, first and foremost with the hiring of former Carolina Panthers’ General Manager Dave Gettleman to that same position, followed by a rebuilt Coaching Staff led by former Cleveland Browns’ Head Coach Pat Shurmur. To say that the faithful in New York were completely over former skipper Ben McAdoo would be a gross understatement, and the hope is that Shurmur, a greatly-respected offensive play-caller will be able to right the ship for an Offense that has grown increasingly more stagnant with each passing year. Of course, longtime Quarterback Eli Manning will be returning for his fifteenth season with the Giants, while game-breaking Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. makes his (hopefully) healthy return after missing all but four games in 2017 with a broken ankle. And then there is the anticipation behind what looks to be a very promising Draft Class, led by phenom Tailback Saquon Barkley. So with that said, let’s take a look at three key storylines that will ultimately decide whether or not this hard reset will net New York the desired results, or instead leave it to be once again mired in mediocrity.
Perhaps no team was in more need of a complete overhaul to their Coaching and Executive Staffs than the Giants, who in the nearly two-year reign of Ben McAdoo proceeded to do nothing more than lose their way. McAdoo, who had served as Offensive Coordinator in the latter stages of the successful Tom Coughlin Era, appeared woefully inadequate in steering the proverbial ship, losing just about all control before finally being relieved of his duties entering the final month of the 2017 term. However, the much-maligned skipper wouldn’t be the only notable figure in the building to be ousted, as longtime General Manager Jerry Reece was also handed his walking papers, which was far from a surprise after a recent string of poor Drafts, featuring some glaring misevaluation of talent. In the aftermath, the Mara Family made what many believe to be a slam dunk in the form of hiring Dave Gettleman as the team’s new General Manager. Gettleman, who served as the Panthers’ GM from 2013 to 2016 presided over a similar rebuilding project built on the strength of some very strong Draft Classes, with the former Giants’ Pro Personnel Director (1999-2011) unearthing a slew of talented prospects that quickly became regular contributors for a team that won three consecutive Division Titles during his stay, including a trip to Super Bowl 50 in 2015. Gettleman in turn hired Pat Shurmur, who spent last year coordinating the surprising Vikings’ Offense, which was both balanced and efficient despite sustaining some significant losses due to injury, particularly at Quarterback where he developed Case Keenum into an above-average starter. Despite only two disappointing seasons as the Browns Head Coach (2011-2012), Shurmur is widely regarded around the NFL as one of the league’s brighter offensive strategists, having spent key moments coordinating offenses with the Philadelphia Eagles (2013-2015) and the aforementioned Vikings (2016-2017). He in turn filled out his Coaching Staff with some notable rising stars in the business, including Mike Shula and James Bettcher as his Offensive and Defensive Coordinators respectively. The hiring of the latter was viewed as a coup, as Bettcher will look to implement the innovative 3-4 scheme that he utilized to great effect with the Arizona Cardinals. From top to bottom it appears that the Giants have done a remarkable job of revolutionizing their leadership, with modern, forward-thinking individuals who look poised to take the franchise into a new era.
Rebuilding an Attack
Most of New York’s problems in 2017 (and through the entirety of the McAdoo Era) could be attributed to a long-decaying Offense that finally bottomed out thanks to several key injuries, a woefully underperforming Offensive Line, and quite frankly very antiquated Play-Calling that really didn’t seem to fit the personnel (if it ever did in the first place). On the season, the Giants were rather dreadful across the board, averaging just 15.4 Points (31st Overall) on 314.3 Total Yards (21st Overall) including 230.0 through the air (19th Overall) on 5.4 Net Yards per Attempt (26th Overall), and another 96.8 on the ground (26th Overall) on 3.9 Yards per Carry (22nd Overall). A severe lack of balance further exposed their weaknesses, for no team attempted more passes than the New York, who threw 608 Passes in comparison to making 394 Runs (25th Overall). As a result, this unit couldn’t sustain Drives, converting on a dismal 32.6% of their Third Downs (30th Overall), or enjoy much success when they managed to advance into the Red Zone, scoring a Touchdown on just 48.7% of their excursions into that part of the field (25th Overall). And it’s with that said, that Gettleman and Shurmur saw fit to tear this group down and rebuild it with a modernized sensibility; the Giants were very busy this Offseason, particularly on this side of the ball, where they signed former Patriots’ Left Tackle Nate Solder to a lucrative deal (4 Years, $62 Million), along with former Jaguars’ Guard Patrick Omameh, while selecting another Guard, Will Hernandez in the Second Round of the NFL Draft with the hopes of finally stabilizing one of the weakest Position Groups in the League. And while they have a good chance of turning a glaring weakness into a strength, the selection of Saquon Barkley with the No. Two Overall Pick will in all likelihood have the biggest impact for the Giants this season. A truly generational talent, this kid should be hands down the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, with his remarkable speed, agility, power, vision, and versatility making him the ideal Tailback for this modern era of football. After shattering the record books at Penn State, look for Barkley to have a seismic effect on this Offense, much in the same way as his counterpart down in Dallas had two years ago. And with all that said, did we fail to mention that Odell Beckham Jr (25 REC, 302 YDS, 3 TD in 2017) is set to return after missing most of the previous campaign? What a healthy Beckham can do in this Offense is tantalizing, particularly when you consider the fact that no Receiver in NFL History had amassed as many Receiving Yards as he had throughout the first three years of a career (4,122 YDS from 2014-2016).
Despite the prospects of Beckham and Barkley’s potential in this newly-renovated Offense, no player on the Giants stands to benefit more from these changes than Eli Manning. After a disappointing 2017 term which saw the 36-Year Old Quarterback actually benched in favor of Geno Smith (Really???), effectively snapping the league’s longest active Consecutive Starts Streak, only to be inserted back into the Starting Lineup the following week (way to go, McAdoo), the new regime hope that he has enough left in the tank to take a shot at the Playoffs, and not to mention a sizable chip on his shoulder. However, therein lies that question: What does Eli really have left? The Two-Time Super Bowl MVP regressed mightily in McAdoo’s Scheme over the past two years, flatlining across the board in 2017, completing 61.6% of his Passes for 3,468 Yards on 5.45 Net Yards per Attempt (his lowest since his Rookie Campaign in 2004), and Nineteen Touchdowns in comparison to Thirteen Interceptions, all the while posting a Quarterback Rating of 41.7, the second-lowest of his career since that particular statistic began back in 2006. Needless to say, Manning needs help, and Gettleman and Shurmur acknowledged this right away in building a Supporting Cast around him that will help ease him into the twilight of his illustrious career. We believe that it’s awfully telling that they ultimately decided to keep Manning in Big Blue despite owning the Second Overall Pick in the Draft with so many Quarterbacks that ended up being selected early. Simply put, they had their pick of the litter and could have drafted a new Franchise Quarterback had they so wished, but instead chose to rebuild around a guy who has manned the game’s most important position with nothing short of dignity and class over the previous fourteen years. It should be fascinating to see how Manning takes to this new Offense at this stage of his career, but with much-improved protection, balance, and an influx of playmakers, there is no reason to think that the 37-Year Old can’t trigger a revival on this side of the football for the Giants much in the same way that his venerable older brother did in Denver years beforehand.
2018 Outlook: 11-5 (Playoffs)
While 2017 was a really, really, really awful season in multiple respects for the Giants, no team in the league stands to make such a sizable leap in improvement in 2018. The Mara Family did an outstanding job in addressing problems that had been plaguing their Franchise for years, and put some extremely capable people in place to oversee what looks to be rapid (and perhaps immediate) growth and development. In his first year as the General Manager, Gettleman looks like he’s already hit a home run with his first Draft Class, as Saquon Barkley appears destined to be the league’s next great Tailback, while the rebuilt Offensive Line could go a long way towards unlocking the potential of this Offense, while extending the career of Manning in the process. And we didn’t even mention the Defense, which was New York’s biggest strength when they returned to the Playoffs two years ago, but collapsed under the weight of their enormous responsibility in 2017. James Bettcher was getting looks as a Head Coach during the Offseason, and bringing him into helm the Defense should pay immediate dividends, and make up for the fact that he probably won’t be in the Meadowlands for very long. If it sounds like we’re bullish on the Giants, then that would be because we are. If this team can avoid some of the major injuries that plagued them a year ago, there is no reason they can’t improve greatly on both sides of the football, and though their schedule is far from easy, and the NFC East figures to be hellish once again, we expect the Giants to persevere nonetheless and return to the Playoffs, with an eye towards Super Bowl LIII.