By Joe Giglio
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At 0-4, the New York Giants are in uncharted territory. Forget the comparisons to 1987 or 1979. The winless September is even more stark when considering the success, especially during the early part of the season, since the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning duo arrived together in East Rutherford during the winter and spring of 2004.
With the team struggling and in serious danger of missing the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons — yes, they did win a championship in the year that included the playoff berth — some blame and many questions are naturally being cast upon the 67-year-old Coughlin.
While calls for Coughlin’s head have not come yet, the history of fans and media in New York will allow the impulse to take over if the struggles continue. Despite most agreeing that Coughlin could write his own ending in New York after a second Super Bowl, memories are fleeting in the face of a winless season.
However, it’s not Coughlin who has to answer the bell. At this point in his career, the head coach has proven over and over again how foolish it can be to doubt him, his acumen or ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
Instead, the onus is now on Manning to change the narrative of this Giants season and prove he can be a top-tier quarterback for the remainder of his career. No, Manning doesn’t have to prove he’s elite, can win a title or handle New York. We know the answer to all those questions. In some cases, he’s answered them more than once.
With the calendar flipping to October, Manning must flip his season and career arc with it.
Due to a decaying roster, banged up and/or inexperienced offensive lineman and a talented running back that hasn’t yet found his stride, the Giants are not built for Manning to succeed for the first time since his rookie year.
Outside of Victor Cruz, not one member of the Giants’ offensive unit is on the same page as Manning. Even when there was less talent in certain positions during the early portion of Manning’s career, the scheme matched his downfield throwing ability with play-action passing and a solid, if not spectacular, offensive line.
The game of football is increasingly becoming about speed and quickness. In both athletic ability and tempo, the Giants are behind the curve offensively. While Manning will never be confused for a runner, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Coughlin don’t feel comfortable enough to use an uptempo offense unless the clock reads 2:00 in the second or fourth quarter.
Watching the Giants play over the first month, it’s clear that the team is going to have issues unless they speed up the tempo or switch Manning’s legs with Andrew Luck’s or Cam Newton’s. No matter how much acumen Manning has to make the right reads, or the arm strength to throw the ball into tight windows deep down the field, it doesn’t matter right now. The roster around him has rendered his best talents almost useless.
That’s why his response over the next few months — or years, if Jerry Reese doesn’t improve the roster — will be critical to how we remember the full career arc of a possible Hall of Fame quarterback.
If Manning can adapt, help Gilbride adjust the offense and find a way to use talents like Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and David Wilson in different ways than we’ve seen over the first four weeks, the 0-4 Giants could rally in the NFC East.
Manning can’t change the roster or make himself a mobile quarterback in a league that is moving more and more towards their collective advantage. But he can use the skills he still has to maintain a prime and deliver Coughlin from the hot seat one last time.
For the Giants to save their season, their best player must rise above the mess around him. No one is questioning Manning’s credentials, but his future is still up for debate.
Since the 2004 NFL Draft, Ernie Acorsi’s handpicked quarterback has answered the bell, in the face of major criticism, every single time.
His last hurdle? Finding a way to save the Giants from themselves.
Joe Giglio was the winner of Fantasy Phenom III in 2012. Twitter? He’s on it @JoeGiglioSports.
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