The New York Giants fell flat in their first playoff appearance since 2011. The Green Bay Packers poured it on the helpless defense, and an ineffective offense once again reared its ugly head. The 11-5 regular season record is a promising springboard into 2017, but 0-1 is the only record the Giants should care about. This offseason, improving upon that mark will be the number one priority.
This offseason, unlike those of the past four Giants seasons, both management and players can look to the past season as reason for optimism. Recent history has forced the team to dismiss the previous season and look toward a future that may be brighter than the past. An 11-5 record, multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl designations, and an elusive playoff berth all point to a team on the ascendancy. Not to mention Ben McAdoo, the rookie head coach who led them to 11 or more wins for only the fourth time this millennium.
The foundation of the team is laid for a championship run; money certainly buys talent and the 2016 Giants are an example of that. But for all the strides the team made, when the time came to step onto Lambeau Field and prove themselves, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers vastly outplayed and thoroughly embarrassed the visiting Giants.
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The week leading up to the game had its share of headlines; following the game, many of these story lines needed resolution. These resolutions, ranging from Eli Manning’s continual down slide to the correlation made between a certain boat trip and some untimely drops, garner interest but do not address what this team must do to improve this offseason. Or even adequately address what this team did wrong throughout the course of the game, and to a larger extent the season, that led to its many shortcomings.
A few prominent topics surrounding this Giants’ offseason is how to “deal” with Odell Beckham and acquiescing that Eli Manning’s future is no longer a concrete part of the Giants plans. These are two relatively straight forward issues for the Giants; Beckham and Manning will both be with the Giants next year and are their greatest chance for success. The defense’s impressive rebound this season only proved to take the team so far before the offense’s stagnation caught up with the team. Beckham is the most explosive play maker the Giants have, and Manning possesses a mastery of the position that can only be acquired through 13 years of high quality play. There are numerous stories revolving around the futures of these two important players, but both must be part of the Giants future if the team is to find any success.
An Offensive Fix
There are several issues that the Giants must address this offseason to counterbalance the weight of winning games that so often fell on the defense’s shoulders. First and foremost, and this is directly from McAdoo himself, is establishing a strong running game and making the ground attack a force in the game plan. McAdoo preached the importance of a running game throughout the season, but the extent of this only ever culminated in one 100 yard performer this year.
The Green Bay game showed that the Giants lack both the ground game to control the clock and the firepower to keep up with Aaron Rodgers. A gash here and there by Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings is not enough to keep defenses honest. The current Giants’ offense does not appear predicated on the run game. But the threat of a rushing attack is vital for any quarterback, especially one that thrives on play action and quick passes.
Will Johnson, who was placed on IR before the season even began, may have spelled the demise for any semblance of a running game. Brought over from the Steelers, Johnson was in line to play the H-Back role, a tight end type who could run routes out of the backfield and lead block for tailbacks. His stint never materialized and the Giants were forced to press Larry Donnell, Will Tye, and later Jerrell Adams into more traditional blocking roles that do not fit their pass catching proficiency. Donnell was effectively benched near the end of the season and Adams was injured for the play off game.
The running game that McAdoo preached was non existent against the Packers, and an offense that had not scored more than 28 points during the season was forced to play catch-up. Personnel wise, finding a competent run blocker and sure handed receiver out of the back field is much more important than any discussion about the immediate futures of Odell Beckham and Eli Manning.
Thinking Outside the Numbers
Sticking with the offensive side of the ball, the Giants must also address the wide receiver position. Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham, the two leading receivers, averaged less than 14 yards per completion. Victor Cruz, who may have played his final game as a Giant, offered little in terms of a downfield threat. His inclusion on the roster this year was a redundancy, with an athletic slot receiver clearly in line to take his place.
While Shepard’s rookie season exceeded expectations, management’s decision to keep both Cruz and Shepard on the roster, while passing up on other, more physical down field threats, such as Michael Thomas, must be questioned. Obviously, the off season excitement revolving around Manning and his three receivers, never came to fruition. Perhaps their overlapping skill set and somewhat limited physicality had something to do with the marginal success.
Watching Odell rip defenses with slants is certainly entertaining, and his athleticism and spatial awareness is incredible. But, at Eli’s peak, he had taller, and now it can be said, more sure-handed receivers to throw to on the boundary. The back shoulder fade that Eli and Plaxico Burress nearly perfected can not be run with Odell and the 5’10” Shepard. The presence Hakeem Nicks offered outside of the numbers allowed both him and Victor Cruz to flourish and even helped Mario Manningham sign an offseason contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
Acquiring a big bodied receiver, akin to Burress or Nicks, is imperative for the Giants moving forward. This receiver could already be on the roster, or the Giants could turn to the draft or free agency to find a receiver. Tavarres King and Roger Lewis have already gotten playing time and recorded touchdowns. Wherever this receiver comes from, a presence outside the numbers meshes well with Eli and allows him to push the ball down field.
2017: Playoffs or Bust
Of course, the success of the passing game is directly correlated with the play of the offensive line and the running game. In past years, or years where the Giants have made the playoffs and won, both of these facets excelled. The offensive line, which has been under scrutiny for the better part of two years, has deservedly been critiqued. Ereck Flowers’ struggles encapsulate a unit that has no continuity and has trouble controlling the line of scrimmage for any duration of time. A stark contrast from the play of the defensive line this season, but another off season of completely ignoring the offensive line will only lead to similar results.
2017 will have a different feel for the Giants; coming off a playoff berth with a team largely unfamiliar with the post season will have a profound effect on the team. This effect could be positive or negative. It remains to be seen, but the Giants have already shown the talent and ability to win. 11 wins is a tough mark to top, and with a few new pieces implemented and slight modifications to game plan and scheme, a deep play off run is a feasible and realistic expectation.