There have been some magical runs on the way to two Super Bowl titles for the Giants under coach Tom Coughlin.
The start of the 2013 season was pretty much the exact opposite as the Giants got blown out, chewed up and left for dead on their way to six straight losses. Things got better from that point, but the start exposed some major flaws on the offensive line and in the secondary that the team attacked during the offseason.
There was no similar reaction to Eli Manning’s 27 interceptions as the team remained fully committed to their quarterback. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s long run came to an end, though, and new coordinator Ben McAdoo is installing the first significant change to the system of Manning’s career.
How he adapts to that and how quickly the new additions can come together will be the big questions for the Giants this season. Our panel’s No. 18 ranking represents the wait and see attitude that often follows such big changes.
If you were a free agent cornerback this season, you probably got a call from the Giants. They wound up signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman to join Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride in a deep corner group that should match up well with any opposing offense. If Amukamara takes another step forward, the unit will lead the way defensively.
Antrel Rolle leads with his mouth, but he’s usually backed up with his play over the last four seasons. Rolle is coming off a particularly strong season, which has led to discussion about an extension. For now, Rolle will again serve as the constant in a shifting secondary.
If Stevie Brown makes it all the way back from the knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season to join Rolle at safety, the secondary should be one of the best in the league.
Manning threw 27 interceptions last season and Hakeem Nicks left for Indianapolis as a free agent, but it’s still hard not to see the passing game as a strength. Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and first-round pick Odell Beckham seem well-suited to the offense that McAdoo is installing. Their success will have much to do with a group listed in the next section, however.
The Giants did just as much work on their offensive line as they did at cornerback, but the upgrade isn’t as clear. Geoff Schwartz solidifies left guard, but Will Beatty’s ability to handle left tackle remains a theory and Charles Brown is coming off getting benched in New Orleans. Chris Snee’s health is a concern at right guard, with rookie Weston Richburg or J.D. Walton, who is coming back from two seasons lost to injury, the choices at center.
Jon Beason’s arrival in a trade with the Panthers last season coincided with a positive turn in the play of the team’s defense, but the oft-injured Beason is out with a foot injury for the near future. Jameel McClain has arrived from Baltimore, but holdovers Spencer Paysinger, Jaquian Williams and Mark Herzlich haven’t been consistently productive during their Giant careers.
The Giants didn’t re-sign Martellus Bennett before the 2013 season and Brandon Myers flopped as a fill-in, leaving the team without any proven players at the position. Adrian Robinson’s athletic ability draws raves, but he’s never been healthy. Larry Donnell is similarly unproven and Kellen Davis didn’t leave anyone wanting more in Chicago. With Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley still possibly returning from injuries, the Giants could take a flyer on outside help.
The Raiders were willing to pay Justin Tuck more than the Giants, leading to a big change at defensive end. Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka are back from last season and the team signed Robert Ayers, but the chances of the Giants defense getting back to its old ways relies on Jason Pierre-Paul. He was a shell of his 2011 self last season and needs to be healthy and back at full speed for the Giants defense to take off.
With David Wilson’s neck injury creating doubt about his future as a running back and the team coming off a dismal 2013 campaign, the Giants signed Rashad Jennings early in free agency. They are talking about him as a bell cow, something he hasn’t done before although he’s coming off a strong year for the Raiders.
Former Dolphin John Jerry joined Schwartz, Brown and Walton as free agent additions to the offensive line as the Giants heavily addressed their biggest problem area from last season.
Trindon Holliday comes aboard from Denver to give the Giants an explosive kick and punt returner who fumbles just often enough to ensure at least one reaction shot that makes viewers worry for Coughlin’s health this season.
Word out of Giants spring work was that the team wants Brandon Mosley to at least push Snee as the veteran comes back from hip and elbow surgeries. Jerry could potentially be part of the mix as well.
Linval Joseph left for the Vikings and the Giants will have to sort out playing time among several defensive tackles this summer. Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are the veterans, 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins has a big body for the middle of the line and 2014 third-rounder Jay Bromley has interior pass rush potential.
The Giants spent a little time with Josh Freeman, but he didn’t make it out of the spring. That leaves Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib to compete to be Manning’s backup.
The NFC East hasn’t produced a repeat division champion since the Eagles in 2004, so we’re used to seeing quick turnarounds in the Giants’ neck of the woods.
It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where the Giants make one this year. McAdoo’s offense plays to Manning’s strengths, the offensive line allows him time to connect with his talented receivers and Pierre-Paul brings back the pass rush as the Giants end their two-year playoff drought.
It’s just as easy to see things going the other way on the offensive line, though, and the revamped secondary will only hold on so long if Pierre-Paul isn’t leading a high-level pass rush.
Ultimately, though, it is going to be hard to install a new offense and overhaul several position groups while simultaneously making the playoffs. Blips are inevitable and the division is going to be competitive, which should make the start of the season telling.
It doesn’t have to be 6-0 instead of 0-6, but the Giants need to break well to keep things gelling well enough to be there when the season comes to an end.