By Paul Dottino
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The two most important questions of the Giants’ status were answered in conjunction with their 17-14 victory over the Washington in the season finale.
No, their 10-6 record would not be good enough to get them into the playoffs, thanks to tiebreakers that fell in favor of the Green Bay Packers, who secured the sixth and final NFC playoff spot, and the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles – both of whom beat the Giants this season.
And no, coach Tom Coughlin would not be asked to leave after his seventh season despite missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Let’s make one thing very clear – the Giants got what they deserved. It would not have taken anything other than cleaning up their sloppy play to turn around four of their six losses. But Coughlin also got what he deserved, a quick resolution that prevented further media speculation about his job security with one season left on his deal.
Team co-owner John Mara made the right decision in supporting Coughlin, even though items such as a contract extension and potential staff changes have yet to be decided. Rather than sorting through our usual “Game balls and Gassers”, let’s take a capsule look at why Coughlin deserved to stay and how the team will march forward.
Coughlin deserved to stay because ….
*The team did not quit on him in the season finale, even with nearly 2 minutes left upon finding out Green Bay had eliminated them from the playoffs. The defense, which had four takeaways, held its ground and Washington lost the ball on downs.
*There is overwhelming player support for the coach, who has a reputation for being a taskmaster, but is respected for his meticulous preparation and honesty.
*He’s yet to show any signs of losing his work ethic or his passion for the game.
*His seven-year tenure has produced four playoff spots (including a Super Bowl title) and 10-win non-playoff season. This record compares with what Bill Parcells did before the Tuna won his second Super Bowl in his eighth and final season.
*He ought to have a talented team with a good blend of youth and experience returning to make a strong postseason run next season.
*Is there any available coach who is head-and-shoulders more qualified or has a better track record than he does? Maybe there are a few on a similar level, but none with a significant edge.
Here’s a thumbnail glance at each position, without taking into account contract status (given the unpredictable nature of the labor talks):
Quarterback: Eli Manning regressed but he’s in the early stages of his prime and may have been affected by several factors this season, including tipped passes, a banged up receiving corps that had trouble staying on the same page with him and a new position coach. Sure, Manning’s career-high 25 interceptions were far too many, but it’s worth nothing that he threw 20 during the 2007 Super Bowl season and brother Peyton was picked off 23 times as a veteran in 2001. The point is that brother Eli’s interceptions were magnified by the Giants’ overall sloppy play. Sage Rosenfels is welcome back as the second-stringer, especially with the fantastic job he did holding for placements.
Wide receiver: Injuries wrecked havoc on this unit, with Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks missing chunks of time that inhibited the passing game and Ramses Barden and Domenic Hixon turned into non-factors. Guess you never can have enough. This unit clearly could use more speed.
Running backs: The plan to flip-flop Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs and then to flip them back in the latter third of the season may have worked better and been more consistent if the Giants weren’t so turnover-prone – Bradshaw was a big part of this — and forced to use 11 different offensive line combinations because of injuries. Danny Ware never really got a shot and here’s hoping they don’t give up on him as a potential third-down back.
Tight end: Kevin Boss, who always gives his all and often plays at much less than 100 percent, was afflicted with a case of the dropsies this season. That needs to change next year. Bear Pascoe excelled in his transition to fullback. Travis Beckum remains an unknown quantity.
Linemen: David Diehl and Chris Snee are in their prime. Kareem McKenzie turned back the clock and played very well. Shaun O’Hara labored through foot/leg injuries and veteran warhorse Rich Seubert was terrific at both guard and center before he injured his knee in the finale. A key question is how many of these five remain starters and how many, if any, do not return? Tackle of the future William Beatty lost most of the season because of a leg injury, Shawn Andrews fought through chronic back pain and Adam Koets required knee surgery. We don’t know much about rookie Mitch Petrus. Which ones do you count on going into next season?
Linemen: Will Mathias Kiwanuka return from his neck injury and can they afford to re-sign him? Can they also pay Barry Cofield enough to keep him? Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul proved that they could co-exist and provide an effective rotation. Chris Canty was solid, Dave Tollefson again proved to be a useful reserve and Linval Joseph has much potential.
Linebackers: They need an impact player at one of this unit’s three positions. There were a lot of question marks here at the beginning of the season and, if anything, the unit’s overall inconsistent play only has enhanced the quandary. Keith Bulluck proved he had something left, but his role was limited by the team’s three-safety package. Jonathan Goff and Michael Boley had too many periods where they weren’t a factor to be considered building blocks. And none of the reserves appears to be a threat to crack the starting lineup, either.
Secondary: Safety Deon Grant and oft-injured cornerback Aaron Ross may cash in elsewhere but Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas should remain a strong outside duo for a few years. Antrel Rolle allowed his aggressiveness to pull him out of position many times, but that’s the gamble you take when you ask him to roam as much as the Giants do as a central figure in their scheme.
Kicker/punter: Rookie punter Matt Dodge showed he has a great leg and became a little more consistent over the final third of the season, which saw him involved in many plays that could have been scripted into The Twilight Zone. The team’s already lived through his growing pains, so they might as well stick with him going into next season. Lawrence Tynes had a strong year on field goals and a very good season while showing improved leg strength on his kickoffs and the ability to strategically place the ball when necessary.
Return game: Ugh. They never replaced the injured Hixon (knee surgery), although Ware showed some good flashes on kickoff returns down the stretch. They badly need a gamebreaker to handle punt returns.
Coverage unit: The kickoff coverage team got better during the second half of the season but the punt coverage team had a rough time of it throughout the season.
So that about covers it for now. The season may be over, but the Giants’ work is never done – and neither is ours. Don’t forget to check in on twitter.com/giantswfan for updates throughout the off-season.