2015 New York Football Giants Season Recap/Offseason Changes and NFL Draft Outlook
The 2015 New York Football Giants recently concluded their fourth straight season of missing the playoffs. Many reach for explanations and scapegoats for whatever reason this occurred, but the only thing that can be definitively pointed out is that the Giants did a complete 180 in Cincinnati in 2012, where most of the defense was loafing and the offense became stuck in mud; unable to sustain any drives. Prior to that game, the Giants were previously off to a 6-2 start to the season, and this game precipitated a nosedive that concluded with them finishing the season 3-5. From there, the 2013 season saw them open at 0-6 with ghastly play along the offensive line, before rattling off a few wins against backup quarterbacks at the end of that season. In 2014, there was more of the same with a brutal won-loss record and again, rattling off wins against similarly losing teams late to make the despair more cosmetic.
2015 was a bit different. Entering the season, objective Giants faithful knew that the defense would not be good. It was missing Jason Pierre-Paul due to injury. There was no serious player at free safety. Landon Collins was a rookie at strong safety who had major questions regarding his abilities in downfield pass coverage (for those who actually watched him play at Alabama in college), and the linebacker situation was hanging tenuously by a thread; with the team pinning its hopes on Jon Beason remaining healthy — which, as he hasn’t in years, he didn’t — and trotting out career special teamer Jonathan Casillas and decidedly average strong side ‘backer Devon Kennard. Kennard showed flashes toward the end of his rookie season that he could man the “Sam” and be a presence in run support and cover the flats in pass coverage, but 2015 was a repeat of his early years at USC, when he battled numerous injuries at the same time. This year, it was multiple injuries with his legs which hampered him all season. Even if the entire defense had been healthy entering the season and remained as such all season, the defense would have been average, at best.
Nevertheless, that unit had forced a good number of turnovers, despite giving up the most yardage of all-time in Giants history, and statistically the second-worst defense in NFL history since tackles, sacks and other metrics became official stats. Even still, the Giants had leads in 12 of their 16 games, and blew those leads in nine of those games, and lost seven (at Dallas, vs. Atlanta, at Philadelphia, vs. New England, at New Orleans, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Jets). They defeated San Francisco and had blown an early lead at Miami before pulling into a halftime tie, falling behind in the 3rd quarter and scoring two touchdowns to hold on late.) The other losses (which pushed the team to a final 6-10 record) were games in which they trailed the entire way: at Washington, at Minnesota.
Despite the shortcomings with the defense, the Giants were in every game except three (and initially led the game in one of those) and the offense was incapable of milking the clock, while the defense was unable to get critical stops. This may have been Tom Coughlin’s best work as the Giants’ head coach, short of leading the team to wins in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. His team was woefully bereft of talent on defense, and was missing his former 2nd team All-Pro WR Victor Cruz all season.
Rather than go by a game-by-game breakdown, one can refer to all 16 game threads on my Facebook page.
Instead, I will do my normal assessment of all three phases of the team: offense, defense and special teams, with position group grades for the season (including coaches).
Tom Coughlin: C.
This could be categorized as Coughlin’s best work, outside of the two Super Bowl wins, considering the overall talent level on the team. However, there were numerous clock management errors on the part of Coughlin and the offense, and there were times that Coughlin “played it straight” when the Giants were within reach (i.e. punting in opponents’ territory when he very well should have gone for it on 4th down) and gambled when he should have taken the points, which cost them in three of these losses. A very uneven performance by the offense, spearheaded by a predictably bad defense, and a special teams unit that gave up critical punt returns which swung the momentum against New Orleans and New England.
Ultimately, Coughlin lost his job as a result. Not so much for 2015, but the cumulative effect of what has occurred since the middle of the 2012 season, in which the Giants seemed to go from a highly efficient offense, still-good defense and competitive, to listless and entering a shell; from which they have yet to emerge in the past 52 games (22-32, and 28-36 overall since the beginning of 2012) since the aforementioned game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Ben McAdoo: B.
McAdoo was elevated to head coach of the team, after Coughlin was
scapegoated jettisoned following the season. During the two seasons as Giants’ offensive coordinator, Eli Manning has thrown over 60 touchdown passes, and had as many interceptions total during that span, as he had during the 2013, preceding McAdoo’s arrival. Considering that Victor Cruz missed the entire season, had the typically-sometimey effort from Rueben Randle, the granted (if not spectacular — considering the amount of coverage he saw — output) by Odell Beckham, and shell-of-himself Hakeem Nicks, the only major surprise was the contributions by career special teams ace Dwayne Harris on offense. At times, only Manning had Beckham and unheard of players such as Myles White and Geremy Davis at his dispotal, with Randle’s constant disappearing acts. In one game (at Minnesota, following Beckham’s suspension), Manning only had Randle and nothing more, and the results showed.
Overall, McAdoo did a decent job with the offense, but there were many plays and points left on the field several times per game, and in every game, every week. With the deficiencies on defense, the offense needed to be more efficient that it was in 2015; particularly in the red zone. Even with the defense, the Giants could have very well won 11 or 12 games, if the offense had been able to convert in the red zone with higher efficacy, and be able to milk the clock late with the running game.
No one knows for sure who the “Running Back by Committee” approach came from — whether it was Coughlin or McAdoo — but in the final four games, after abandoning that foolish approach (which never works), Rashad Jennings emerged as the Giants’ lead back, and the offense became the efficient unit that it is designed to be in McAdoo’s offense. There needs to be continuity with this in 2016, with McAdoo calling his own plays hereafter.
Steve Spagnuolo: C.
There is no need to enter platitudes and disclaimers here. Everyone knows what the talent level was for the Giants defense this season. However, “Spags” misused what he had, and had players in space attempting to make plays that they are either lacking the talent to complete, or were too inexperienced to execute. There were times when blitzes were called and the players used the wrong rushing lanes, and basically took themselves out of the play. In bringing so much pressure every game, the middle of the field was a wasteland for the Giants all season, and that’s with an embarrassing lack of talent at that level (other than Jasper Brinkley, who played very admirably when he became the starter).
Coaches are charged with getting the most out of their players, which includes playing to the strengths of those players. The defensive line was hindered due to injuries to Pierre-Paul, and Johnathan Hankins (who was injured and lost for the season in the first game of Pierre-Paul’s return), which played a role in some of the pass defense issue. Playing zone all game is certainly not the best approach, nor is playing man coverage with substandard members of the secondary. However, Landon Collins should have almost exclusively been utilized “in the box” and Cooper Taylor should have gotten more immediate reps once Brandon Meriweather was initially lost to a knee injury. Chris Dahl does not belong on any NFL roster, other than on special teams. And even there, he had a (bad) hand in a couple of game-swinging kick or punt returns against.
Ultimately, given NFL-level talent (particularly along the defensive line, which emerged upon Pierre-Paul’s return — as Robert Ayers ended up tied for 10th in the league with 9 1/2 sacks), Spagnuolo will field a better unit, which is why he wasn’t scapegoated along with Coughlin after the season; despite the ghastly numbers produced by his unit.
Tom Quinn: B+.
Special teams gave up a couple of returns that killed the team’s momentum, but overall, coverage was relatively good. This is a far cry from some of the putrid units that Quinn produced, particularly in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Left Tackle: A-.
Ereck Flowers played both tackle positions at times at “The U.” (Miami, FL) and it was pivotal for the Giants that he had experience at both left and right tackle, as the incumbent starter at left tackle, Will Beatty, was lost to a freak weight-lifting injury during spring organized team activities. Flowers was expected to play at right tackle, so that Justin Pugh could move inside to left guard, after he himself had a brutal 2014 season (attributed in part to his relatively short arms, despite having good feet). Flowers performed admirably well, despite injuring his ankle in Week 1, and dealing with the ankle periodically for the entire season. He gave up some game-changing sacks (New England, and both Philadelphia games), but these were growing pains which will aid him well going forward, should Beatty decide to move on from the Giants this offseason.
Left Guard: B.
Justin Pugh was solid, although not spectacular, in 2015. He actually became a sieve late in the season, after returning from a midseason concussion. He got off to a good start in both run blocking and pass protection, but he repeatedly whiffed on blocks in the final few weeks of the season. He should remain at guard going forward, if not at right guard.
Weston Richburg is steadily improving. He was expected to man the center position and be an anchor for the next decade or so. He has proven his worth. He doesn’t get beat often at all, and holds up well in run blocking and pass pro. There is obviously room for improvement, but when he was out with his ankle injury, his absence was glaring, which speaks to his abilities that often go overlooked by casual fans.
Right Guard: C-.
Geoff Schwartz has spent more time on injured reserve than he has on the field, and was only average in both aspects of blocking when he was on the field. To be 340 lbs, he is not a road grader, and whiffs far more than a man that size should in pass pro. John Jerry is 345 lbs himself, and he played both guard positions at times, and actually played pass protection better than run blocking, which is extremely baffling; given that a 345 lb man should not be such a turnstile inside.
Right Tackle: D+.
Marshall Newhouse’s performance throughout 2015 was unacceptable in every phase. The Giants could barely run to his side (their best runs came behind Flowers, Pugh and Richburg), and he was a matador in pass protection. Additionally, he had untimely, drive-killing penalties in multiple games. The only thing that prevented the grade for this position from being an “F” was the play of Bobby Hart in the 2 1/2 games in which he played, which were on par with his play on the 2013 Florida State Seminoles national championship team, in which he was a brick wall on Jameis Winston’s front side, while paving the way for Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr., and Karlos Williams, as the Seminoles got whatever they wanted in the run game all year in 2013. Hart was selected in the 7th Round of the 2015 Draft, and it would be a major disappointment if Newhouse is starting at right tackle and not Hart, come Week 1 2016. Unless Beatty returns, which would allow Hart to move to right guard (which he also played well), the Giants would be better served to maximize Hart’s ability at a premium cost position, as his cap number is extremely low as a 7th Round pick. Any free agent dollars or draft pick (which should not come before the 4th Round at this position, more on that later) allocated to the offensive line need to be used for right guard, if Beatty decides to leave.
Eli Manning had a sterling season, before reverting to some bad habits (albeit aided by a revolving door at WR due to injuries and suspension; particularly late in the season), which coincided with an uptick in interceptions late in the season. It should be noted that virtually half of the interceptions Manning has thrown since the beginning of the 2014 season have come as a result of Rueben Randle’s loafing, which is a galling statistic. Interceptions aside, a season of 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns and a 93.6 rating are astounding statistics, since he played the majority of the season with only one dependable receiver which every team double teamed nearly all game, every week.
Running Back: C*
* – Disclaimer due to the utilization of each player on this section of the depth chart.
Rashad Jennings could have easily had a 1,200-yard season if he had been used as the lead back/bell-cow in the offense (which he was, finally, in the final quarter of the season). As it were, the Giants ran with a baffling running back-by-committee approach, which prevented any of the back from establishing a rhythm of setting up their blocks and defenders, and recognizing some of the “tells” that defensive players give, as well. Jennings is still versatile and doesn’t have the normal wear-and-tear of a 30 year old back, as he had never been a full-time starter, other than a stint in Jacksonville when Maurice Jones-Drew was out, and a few games when Darren McFadden made his annual trip to the injured list in Oakland. He can catch passes out of the backfield, surprising speed at the second level, a very good pass blocking back who can run between the tackles and get outside. Prior to the final few weeks of the season, Jennings would go several series of downs without even seeing the field, which was appalling to Giants supporters.
Shane Vereen established career highs in receptions (59), yards (494), and touchdowns (4), after coming to the Giants from New England this past offseason. He was miscast as a runner out of the backfield (although he can do this at times out of shotgun/inside-handoff checks by Manning) a bit too often, and was underutilized in certain games, but he and Jennings help this grade.
Andre Williams had questions about his vision in terms of setting up his blocks and when to hit holes or just dive into the line when the holes were not there. To his credit, he only did as he was told, but there were times when he attempted to cut back on plays that were apparently not designed to do so, and lacks the ability of a Jamaal Charles or Lesean McCoy, to execute those types of runs. Too often, Williams was used for outside zone runs and “counter trey” plays, which may have been his strength behind a eight-man offensive line in Boston College’s winged-T system, but that does not work in the NFL. Williams has ability, but he is still ultra raw, and his lack of vision shows (although it got better as the season concluded).
Orleans Darkwa wasn’t given as much of a chance to establish himself this season, but the few times he entered games (which were sometimes just one or two carries in a game, and then not to be heard from for the rest of the game, while getting five or six in one game and none for a couple of other games), he did not disappoint.
Ideally, the Giants should roll with Jennings as the full-time back, use Darkwa to spell him, and Vereen as a spread back out of the shotgun to set up checks to runs or passes out of the backfield. Williams has enough value that he can be traded for a late-round pick (picks that the Giants cannot get enough of in the upcoming draft), but he may be the odd man out here.
Tight End: B-.
Larry Donnell had his moments, but he has a maddening tendency to leap or tumble when he should run with leverage after catching the football. This led to him being in vulnerable positions for big hits, which often led to drops, fumbles, and an embarrassing stripping of the football in a game where the Giants were about to go up two scores in Philadelphia by Malcolm Jenkins (which ended up being the turning point in a game where the Giants, for all intents and purposes, quit for the rest of the night). But he is a big, athletic target who can run and make exceptional catches. If he can clean up the aforementioned issues, he can be dependable.
Daniel Fells was more consistent as a blocker and with his hands than Donnell, but unfortunately, he was lost to a staph infection that may indeed derail his NFL career.
Jerome Cunningham made a play or two here and there, but those were outnumbered by the number of incorrectly-run routes, drops and whiffs on blocks.
Will Tye is intriguing because he has advanced physical attributes (ran a sub 4.5 in the 40 yard dash), and has good hands. He has to work on his blocking, but he has a promising future and comes at a low price for the Giants going forward.
Wide Receiver: B.
Odell Beckham carries most of this grade, although Dwayne Harris plays a good part of this as well. Other than those two, there is not much to write home about at this position after Victor Cruz was unable to see the field throughout 2015.
Beckham would have had a good shot to break all of the Giants’ single-season records for receptions, yards and touchdowns, but has already established himself as a Top 5 WR (he’s not the best WR in the NFL, for those who think so; although he could potentially become such, later). Despite the considerable coverage that he drew, he was able to gain separation due to superior route-running and exceptional hands (although he had a eye-popping number of drops or misreads on passes that he makes without looking in warm ups). But barring injury, Beckham will be a stalwart for years.
Rueben Randle is an enigma of the highest order. With teams often double teaming Beckham, and Randle often drawing everything from castoff cornerbacks, undrafted rookie free agents, and even some who played against him with injuries, Randle should have easily had an 80-catch, 1,100-yard, 10-touchdown season, and only managed two-thirds of those numbers. In fact, much of that came in roughly seven games. Where was he in the other games (excusing the game and a half that he was hampered by a hamstring injury?) He may want to return to the Giants, but the Giants should lace his contract with as many incentives as much as Chandler Jones’ synthetic marijuana was laced with other substances. Otherwise, the Giants or any team would be fools to give him a big-time, multi-year contract. He has failed to even achieve half of what was expected of him in his time in the NFL thus far, particularly in a pass-friendly offense that gives him many opportunities to post big games on par with Beckham, who has to work twice as hard to get open and still dwarfed Randle’s numbers.
Victor Cruz rehabilitated a fractured patella from 2014, and successfully returned from that injury, only to have an ongoing calf injury related to blood clots, which — despite hopes to the contrary several times during the season — cost him the entire 2015 season, and he was played on injured reserve in midseason.
Dwayne Harris fulfilled expectations this season. He had never been a big part of the offense in Dallas. As Terrell Owens once surmised, Tony Romo does indeed play favorites Owens had been Hall-of-Fame level productive everywhere he had been before going to Dallas, and became the scapegoat for Romo and Dallas’ failures in the mid-2000s. Martellus Bennett was another guy who has sprouted into a high caliber receiving (and blocking) tight end since leaving Dallas. Harris was able to take some of the burden off Beckham at critical junctures in several games, making big catches and scoring important touchdowns. He was mostly in the slot to “replace” Cruz, but, in effect, ended up replacing the productivity of Randle, who was lost in space for good portions of the season.
The rest of the receivers are young and inexperienced, aside from Hakeem Nicks, who looked like he had been lounging in his recliner for most of the season before the Giants came calling out of desperation. It is a shame what happened to him with his various leg ailments, because he looks like a shell of his former self, but maybe an offseason of work can help him if he and the Giants agree to his return in 2016.
Defensive Ends: B.
Robert Ayers played well, when he wasn’t in and out of games with various nicks and bumps, and really took off upon the return of Jason Pierre-Paul. This took away some of the attention from Ayers himself (while teams did not fear Kerry Wynn, George Selvie or Cullen Jenkins — when he was at either end position).
Jason Pierre-Paul was his normally active self in his eight games, although obviously hindered by his hand injury. He was disruptive in the run game, as usual, and got tons of quarterback pressures, several of which would have been sacks if he had been able to use both hands as he expects to do following recent surgery to help with flexibility in his hand.
Selvie and Wynn did their best, but they are not highly skilled and it showed whenever Ayers and/or Pierre-Paul were both out of games.
Damontre Moore has ability, but he matched big plays with big penalties or galling misreads. A senseless locker room fight led to his eventual dismissal from the team.
Defensive Tackles: C.
Johnathan Hankins played well inside, but he had very little help. The fact that the untalented Markus Kuhn started (!) several games before landing on IR late in the season, just shows how big of a hole the Giants had at that position. Jay Bromley got important reps and can be a rotational player going forward, but the team must address this position this offseason. Cullen Jenkins is just about at the end of the line in his career, which has been a very good one, but it is time to upgrade next to Hankins. No one else distinguished themselves at defensive tackle after Hankins’ injury in Tampa, which landed him on IR.
Devon Kennard has had a history of dealing with multiple injuries dating back to his time in college at USC, and those reared their ugly head again this season. Not his fault, but he played decently before the injuries clearly affected his ability to run effectively. He was late to the right spot, and too quick to the wrong spot (if that makes sense), depending on whether teams ran right at him or screened to his side. He did not cover tight ends well all season (then again, no one on the Giants did all season, and all of the linebackers and each of the guys who played free or strong safety all took their lumps). Absent were the big plays that he made toward the end of his rookie season in 2014.
Jon Beason was an all world player in college at Miami (FL), and was the anchor of the Carolina Panthers for years, but once he tore his Achilles a few years ago, he has been in and out of the lineup for numerous games both in Carolina and in East Rutherford. It is certainly not from a lack of effort. If anything, his relentless style of play puts him into position to be injured or reaggravate those injuries.
Uani Unga was a good story at first, and his perpetual motor paid off in preseason and early in the regular season. But in reality, he does not belong on the field on anyone’s defense. However, he was forced into that role upon Beason’s season-ending injury. Unga himself was in and out of the lineup with various injuries soon thereafter, forcing Jasper Brinkley into the middle of the defense. Brinkley was only picked up after Dallas cast him off before the season began. If Brinkley had not been in the stead for the Giants, the team might have had every “worst” statistic on defense after the season. He shored up the run defense and handled his responsibilities when he didn’t come off the field in some passing situations.
JT Thomas was always hurt this season also, and was lost in space for most of the season at Will, which is a position the Giants have still yet to fill 15 years after Jessie Armstead left the team in free agency. The linebacking corps must be upgraded to at least AVERAGE NFL standards if the Giants expect to be contenders again.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has the freedom to play press, bail, trail, shuffle, or “off” (the latter is his preference). He does this because he has elite closing speed and can “bait” quarterbacks into throwing passes that he can jump and take for interceptions. He did this quite often this year, but he dropped two critical “pick six” interceptions (at Washington, vs. Carolina) and dropped a couple others that were gimmes. Otherwise, he was everything that you want from a corner, other than taking himself out of the game a bit too frequently.
Prince Amukamara played well before he had his annual trip to the injured list while making a perfect form tackle. Once he came back, he began to stare into the backfield far too often and gave up several big plays. He can be a very good to All-Pro level corner when he’s on, but if reading the QB is his thing, he ought to consider moving to free safety, where those attributes are better suited. As he is a free agent this offseason, one has to wonder what tenor the negotiatons will take. Considering his constant injury issues, if he re-signs with the Giants, it likely won’t break the bank.
Trevin Wade was thrust into a major role and, for the most part, played well. He has glaring weaknesses, which were amplified even to fans who lack profound football knowledge. This is the case with anyone who plays on the perimeter, because everyone can see it, unlike linemen. Considering his role in the slot and sometimes covering tight ends, he did about as well as could be expected. Same goes for Trumaine McBride.
Jayron Hosley has been a flat out bust (even allowing a mulligan for the season that he was injured). He hasn’t progressed at all since his rookie season, and it is apparent that he benefited from the relentless style favored by his college defensive coordinator, Bud Foster, as he doesn’t even excel at what he did well in college (press coverage) at this level. At his size, that is not entirely surprising, but when that is the only thing he apparently did well, to see him flat out stink in every other regard in playing the cornerback position makes him virtually useless.
Strong Safety: B-.
Free Safety: F.
Landon Collins, a rookie, is the only player who played every game this season on defense. He played like a rookie. A rookie with skill, from a winning college program, but a rookie. Collins can eventually reach something close to what his idol, Sean Taylor would have eventually reached. It should be noted, the dearly departed Taylor played both safety positions with high acumen, and Collins does not run as well as Taylor. He hits like Taylor, however. Taylor excelled in pass coverage and run defense. Collins was proven as an in-the-box safety in run defense, but he could not cover a tight end if the game depended on it (and it did, in a couple of instances, with him giving up big plays). You cannot kill him for that. It was a known shortcoming for those who watched him in college (and presumably, the Giants scouting department did, although you never know with some of the picks they’ve made in the draft in recent years), but he excelled at what he is good at and has room to grow in the areas where he has always been pedestrian. A rangy free safety alongside him would help immensely, however.
Speaking of which, the Giants dropped the ball this year by not addressing the huge hole at free safety heading into the season. Cooper Taylor should have gotten more reps than he did, especially with Craig Dahl being by far the worst safety in the NFL (and starting in several games). Brandon Meriweather played decently, but he has some shortcomings at this point in his career. None of this was suitable, considering that you knew that your starting strong safety is a liability in coverage at this point in his career. By the end of the season, due to injuries, some of the corners had to slide over to that slot in an emergency basis.
Josh Brown: A-.
Brown had been perfect until the worst possible time (missing a kick in a game that the Giants eventually lost). The only issue was his ability to get touchbacks with more frequency.
Brad Wing: B+
Wing punted well for the most part, but again, like Brown, had a departure from the norm with a bad decision to punt directly to Willie Snead in New Orleans, on a play that (after the officials used the Superdome replay on the scoreboard to decide how to dole out penalties, illegally) eventually set the Saints up for a game-winning field goal. He was better early than late, but was still solid all year.
Heading towards the Magical March 1 date, the Giants have well over $40 million in cap space to decide which among their own free agents that they want to keep, and which unrestricted free agents are available on the market from other teams.
Following the Indianapolis Combine and all the jockeying by teams’ personnel chiefs through the media, we will meander through the draft, where the Giants can address a few of their needs.
After reading the above season recap assessment, you can see where the Giants’ primary focus should be via free agency and the draft:
Interior Offensive Lineman.
Some of those players may currently be in-house. Some may be out there in free agency. Others may be available in the upcoming draft, which should be pretty deep through the first three and a half rounds.
In the coming weeks, once we see the combine numbers and pro days, a more focused draft worksheet will be put into place. We will also know who will be cut from other teams (some being cap casualties, and not just castoffs who can no longer play) during the week of March 1-9. Once we see who the Giants keep, cut, and who they may (not guaranteed to do so) sign from other teams during that period, we will address draft picks in more specific details, including particular players who would fit the bill with the #10 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.