In four of the last five years, the Giants haven’t qualified for the playoffs. A championship win during that lone postseason appearance takes some of the sting out of it, but Lombardi Trophies can lose their luster pretty quickly.
With two straight subpar seasons since the most recent Super Bowl victory, the Giants could be teetering toward significant change if they go three years without a playoff appearance for the first time since 1994 through 1996. Which could be good news; the last two times coach Tom Coughlin was clearly on the hot seat, he took the team to the top of the mountain.
Here are five questions for the team unrelated to the coach’s potentially tenuous job status.
1. Which Eli Manning will show up?
The Giants quarterback recently admitted that he’s a “little nervous” in the team’s new offense. He should be.
Whatever the offense, Eli Manning’s career has arrived at an unexpected crossroads, at the age of 33 and with a pair of Super Bowl pelts on his wall. Wrapped around that second NFL title are four failed seasons, with 2013 featuring a career-high 27 interceptions.
Eli’s older brother has a reputation for performing incredibly well during the regular season and then failing to meet expectations in the playoffs. Eli has a knack for thriving in the postseason, but not being able to get there often enough.
After the second championship, Eli had seemed to be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Now, his candidacy depends on what happens over the balance of his career. Starting now, in a new offense with plenty of jobs riding on Eli’s ability to thrive in it.
If he’s only a “little nervous,” he’s not nearly nervous enough.
2. Can the offensive line get the job done?
The Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run was fueled by great performances from both the offensive and defensive lines. Last year, the offensive line wasn’t great. This year, with the retirements of David Diehl and Chris Snee, the offensive line could be even worse.
The primary goal of training camp and the preseason will be to find the best combination of five starters and hope they can find a way to stay healthy. A good offensive line works in seamless harmony, opening running lanes and keeping the quarterback from getting hurried, hit, and/or sacked.
The offensive live never gets enough credit when things go well, balanced by never getting enough blame when things don’t. Things need to go well for the offensive line this year, or plenty of offensive linemen and other employees could be going away.
3. What happened to the pass rush?
In 2007, the Giants figured out how to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady. Specifically by knocking him down early and making him worried about getting knocked down for the rest of the game.
Four years later, the Giants showed that they still knew that the best way to win on a big stage is to throw the opposing quarterback off it.
Three years after the fact, who’s left? Michael Strahan gets his ugly mustard jacket in less than two weeks, Osi Umenyiora can soon be seen on Hard Knocks as a member of the Falcons, and Justin Tuck has taken his 11.0 sacks to Oakland after allegedly being lowballed by the Giants.
Mathias Kiwakuna and his six sacks and restructured deal that has left him with a stick in a place where sticks don’t normally go is back, and the team hopes that the once-promising Jason Pierre-Paul can improve on his paltry sum of two sacks in 2013. With Pierre-Paul in a contract year, he has plenty of millions of reasons to get back to being the guy who had 16.5 sacks in 2011.
4. Who plays tight end?
Maybe Pierre-Paul should ask to play offense. He’d have a good chance to play tight end. Possibly as the starter.
Look at the depth chart. The five tight ends currently on the roster are Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Adrien Robinson, and Xavier Grimble, who sounds like the antagonist in a Dickens novel. That quintet combined for six total NFL catches last year.
It’s hard not to imagine the Giants making moves at the position, even if they merely pounce on a tight end cut by another team. Or, ideally, if Jermichael Finley is cleared by the Giants and decides to keep playing football.
5. Will they be able to run the ball?
Speaking of guys with neck injuries whose futures were in doubt, running back David Wilson has been cleared to play. The next question becomes whether Wilson, a first-round pick in 2012, can get back to the top of the depth chart, or whether he’ll play second fiddle to newcomer Rashad Jennings, whom G.M. Jerry Reese has called a “bell cow” type.
Former Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis is also on the roster, and it remains to be seen whether former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo will play the hot hand or use a revolving door at tailback.
Whoever gets the ball needs to do something with it, which could be difficult if the offensive line and/or Eli Manning don’t play well. But that could be the key to opening up the passing game. Which will take a lot of pressure off the defense.
Which will make the team better. Which could keep Tom Coughlin around for at least another year.