By Steve Silverman
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Pat Shurmur did a lot of things right in 2017 and earned himself the opportunity to become a head coach once again in the NFL.
The Giants recognized that Shurmur handled the Minnesota Vikings offense with skill and an excellent touch throughout the season. The Vikings dominated the NFC North this year, and they came up with a miracle play in the divisional playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints before they fell apart against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game.
Shurmur, who had a 9-23 record during his run as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2011-12, figured out how to turn the Vikings’ offense into one of the league’s most consistent units despite a series of what could have been disaster-inducing injuries.
Starting quarterback Sam Bradford could not play after the first week of the season as a result of knee issues, while rookie running back Dalvin Cook looked like a superstar before his season came to a crashing halt when he tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 4.
Case Keenum stepped up and did a wonderful job at quarterback, and the combination of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon kept the Minnesota running game afloat. Murray’s play should not be glossed over. When he had a few carries at the start of the year, he looked like he wanted to step out of bounds to avoid contact, but Shurmur was able to coax an excellent performance (842 yards, eight touchdowns) out of him that included a willingness to dish out contact.
Shurmur also deserves credit for helping wideout Adam Thielen develop into one of the best receivers in the NFL. Thielen caught 91 passes for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns, and developed a reputation for running precise patterns and always finding a way to come down with the ball when he got his hands on it.
The job Shurmur did turning Keenum (67.6 completion percentage, 22-to-7 TD-to-interception ratio) into something of a star is perhaps his most impressive achievement with the Vikings. He has an excellent reputation for developing quarterbacks, and that’s just what he is going to have to do with the Giants.
It’s likely Eli Manning will be back for the 2018 season and the Giants will draft a quarterback who can take over in 2019, if not sooner.
That quarterback will come from a pool that includes Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has to deliver the right candidate.
The quarterbacks should be ranked in this order: Rosen, Darnold, Allen, Jackson. You don’t see Mayfield on this list, and you won’t. Despite the hype of the Heisman, he is not a winning NFL quarterback, and the Giants would be very wise to let Mayfield become somebody else’s mistake.
The point is that Gettleman and the Giants appear to have made the right move by hiring Shurmur because he is a sharp football coach with a winning personality. Whenever the time comes to make the move away from Manning at quarterback, Shurmur will have the proper touch.
Gettleman’s work is just beginning, as he needs to give Shurmur a workable roster through free agency and the draft.
The Giants don’t have a reliable running game, and that has to be fixed during the offseason. They also had nasty problems in the locker room that must be addressed.
Among the reasons the Giants were a playoff team in 2016 was shockingly strong play from the defense. Prior to that season, they were among the two worst defensive teams in the league – along with the Saints. But they then signed Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, and Landon Collins developed into one of the best safeties in the league.
That unit fell back down the rankings in 2017, and there were significant problems with Jenkins and fellow defensive back Eli Apple.
Gettleman has to make sure the locker room is devoid of the problems that turned the 2017 season into a disaster.
The offense can be fixed if the Giants get a legitimate running back and wideout Odell Beckham Jr. is healthy and focused.
Fixing the locker room and the defense are the biggest issues, and that’s where Gettleman has to prove his worth in his first year as the team’s general manager.
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