By Steve Silverman
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It has been three-plus long years since the Giants were handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl (for the second time).
And those years have been a long, empty walk in the abyss for Tom Coughlin’s team.
By nearly all logical conclusions, Coughlin should have decided to take his leave at the end of the 2013 or 2014 seasons. Coughlin has had an excellent coaching career with the Giants, and prior to that with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Boston College. However, he is 68 years old, and serving as a head coach of an NFL team is normally the job of a younger man.
Especially a team that has missed the playoffs for three straight years. If Coughlin really had anything left to right his team, it would have showed up by this point.
But that’s not the script that Giants general manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin are following. While the decision to stick with Coughlin may not be logical, it may just work out for the Giants in 2015.
However, if Coughlin’s decision is going to work out, Reese has to be at his best later this month at the NFL draft. He has to give Coughlin the defensive personnel he needs if the Giants are going to have a chance in a division that just may be there for the taking.
Perhaps you are scratching your head at that last statement because the Dallas Cowboys had a brilliant year and won the NFC East title in 2014. And the Philadelphia Eagles have their self-proclaimed genius, Chip Kelly, at the helm.
Well, both of these teams have made questionable moves in the offseason. The Cowboys let DeMarco Murray slip through their grasp and sign with the Eagles. You can be certain that Jerry Jones is trying to manipulate Adrian Peterson into a Cowboys uniform, and he may or may not be successful. If he’s not, the Dallas running game is going to suffer.
Kelly does not just want to win in the NFL — he wants all around him to genuflect and tell him that he’s worthy of a Mensa membership. So far, Kelly’s brilliance has seen him earn one division title in two years, one playoff appearance and a big, fat zero in the playoff victory column.
Kelly has parted company with quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson (after the 2013 season) and Jeremy Maclin, and those moves may prove to be Kelly’s undoing at the end of the 2015 season if the Eagles don’t make the playoffs and win a couple of games during the postseason.
Let’s look at why the Giants may have a chance to usurp those two rivals. (The Redskins are simply a non-factor until further notice.)
Go back to the second half of last season, when the Giants played themselves hopelessly out of playoff contention. While they were losing the most important games of the season, they found one of the brightest lights of the season in Odell Beckham Jr. His speed, athleticism and skill allowed him to make highlight-film plays on nearly an every-week basis. More than the numbers — 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns — Beckham’s play rejuvenated Eli Manning. The two-time Super Bowl winner was able to show off his talent once again, and the Giants became a team with a legitimate big-play threat.
Beckham will get better in year two, and the Giants will have one of the league’s best complementary receivers in Victor Cruz back with him. While the Giants don’t want to get too excited since Cruz is recovering from a vicious patella tendon injury, he is on track to be back for the start of the season. There is still work to be done there, but if he does not have a setback, he will be back for the early part of the season.
That’s a devastating 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position. Give the Giants just a functional running game, and the offense will become one of the best in the league.
But if the Giants are going to be in position to have a successful 16-game marathon run, they need to make major improvements on the defensive side of the ball in the draft. There are some who believe that Reese will try to get his hands on Alabama wideout Amari Cooper or Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff with the No. 9 pick in the first round. Either selection would be a mistake
Both are fine players, but when you have the 29th-rated defense, you have to concentrate on that side of the ball. That means four of the first five draft picks should be defensive players.
Reese could trade down and acquire more picks, but if he does not, he has to look seriously at Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who has quickness, anger and excellent hands. The presence of Brown would help the Giants solidify the middle of their defensive line.
Other possibilities at the No. 9 spot include Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree and Alabama safety Landon Collins. Dupree is an exceptional athlete with a great burst off the line of scrimmage, and he looks to be an impact pass rusher. At 268 pounds, Dupree may not be strong enough to take on the blocker and make plays in the running game, but his skill as a pass rusher (7.5 sacks in 2014) gives this pick credibility.
Collins is a 220-pound hitter who will punish opponents when he delivers the blow. Strong and powerful, Collins had 103 tackles for the Crimson Tide last year. He also can make plays against the pass — three interceptions and 10 passes defended last year — but he has to show improvement in that area.
Coughlin did not return to the Giants because the team is going to rebuild. He came back to win in 2015, and if that is going to happen, Reese must give him the defensive weapons to compete. That means starting the draft with Brown, Dupree or Collins, and then giving him depth defensive players in the ensuing rounds.
That’s how the Giants get back to the top in the NFC East.