For Giants fans, the current century of football hasn’t been all good and certainly hasn’t been all bad. What it has been, though, is a dizzying mixture of the two.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Giants have only once won ten games in back-to-back seasons. About half, eight out of seventeen seasons up to 2016, have resulted in playoff trips.
Fans like me are seemingly always watch- ing our “G-Men” go to battle with knife’s edge stakes at play. And those past NY Giant teams in which we have invested our hope and belief are maddeningly inconsistent, seemingly as a rule. No player embodies this inconsistency more completely than Super Bowl superstar quarterback, and interception record-setter, Eli Manning.
Sure, there have been some obviously lost seasons over this 17 season span (which roughly coincides with the span of my own fandom— and life). Former Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s last few seasons didn’t leave much to the Giants fan’s imagination after Week 8 or so.
But the 2017 season has brought a new level of decrepitude for millennial fans. Entering Week 13, the team is 2-9.
Through the first two games, the Giants made no pretense of being even decent, dropping contests haplessly by scores of 19-3 and 24-10. Then, the team went on a streak…of three losses by five points or less.
Each of these games seemed to indicate that the Giants could be counted on as a middling contestant bound for a .500-or-so record. And then, one by one, in increasingly inexplicable fashion, each game suddenly slipped away before the bell. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s gruesome ankle fracture (the kind with a viewer discretion label slapped on it) in the 27- 22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers put a jarring exclamation point on the team’s steady plunge into mediocrity. The Los Angeles Rams hit that same note with a sledgehammer the following week, ravaging the Giants 51-17 at MetLife Stadium.
One problem that has consistently reared its ugly head in the Giants’ 2017 travails is their offense. Bringing in receiving weapons like star Brandon Marshall and rookie Evan Engram was supposed to unleash the passing game by diverting attention away from Beckham Jr. It was theorized that the two additions would be big, fast bodies over the middle that made it impossible for opposing defenses to focus all their efforts on stopping the perennial vertical threat of Odell. (Sports Illustrated, “Off-season report card: New York Giants, 05.30.2017).
Though this plan was ultimately hampered by Beckham Jr.’s health, it was also faulty to begin with. The real issue for the team was not their receiving corps. Sterling Shepard, drafted the previous season, was a great compliment to Beckham Jr. in his role as slot receiver, running many routes over the middle. Increased physicality in the middle of the field was needed, but it was needed in the form of a tight end, not another top receiver.
What dogged the Giants last year and what, in my opinion, has caused almost all of their considerable 2017 struggles, is the meager offensive line. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been terrible for a few years now. Before the season even began, ESPN Giants’ Staff Writer Jordan Ranaan wrote that, “[He] showed a handful of the low- lights to several ex-NFL offensive linemen and some independent offensive line coaches. They all agreed it was brutal. One said: ‘Worst I’ve seen, period’” (ESPN, “Erack Flowers Remains Serious Concern for Giants at Left Tackle,” 08.17.2017).
I think the Giants, even before Week 1, dropped the ball on their offensive line problems. The front office failed to sign former Lions tackle Riley Reiff, who has gone on to be a leading left tackle for the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings. Instead, the Giants were only able to get D.J. Fluker, a former first-round pick who was shifted in from tackle to guard after failing to live up to his potential. As Scott Polacek of Bleacher Report wrote at the time of Fluker’s signing, “The fact that Los Angeles chose not to bring him back to a line that isn’t exactly loaded with talent sends a message to the rest of the league” (Bleacher Report, “D.J. Fluker, New York Giants Agree to 1-Year Contract,” 03.13.17).
What really drives home how the Giants’ front office decided to mail in the team’s 2017 offseason is the fact that Reiff signed with the Vikings days after the General Manager Jerry Reese made the call to spend a significant portion of the team’s free agent money on receiver Brandon Marshall, a former star wideout moving towards the back end of his career.
I was excited about Marshall, make no mistake about it. “No mercy w the wrs,” I texted my friend, noting how the team now had Beckham Jr., Marshall and the highly regarded rising sophomore Shepard. But he and I were both wary of what was simultaneously not being done—fix- ing the offensive line. “We cant seriously go into the season w flowers and bobby hart [right tack- le] tho,” I sent. “Flowers is absolute garbage,” he replied, “I think we should draft a tackle in the first couple rounds…”
Sure enough, the Giants did not draft any tackle in the early rounds. Quarterback Davis Webb was taken with the third round pick. This was supposedly a value pick, taking a future QB in a later part of the draft. The jury on that pick will of course be out for at least another season or two.
But the jury is in on the Giants’ offensive roster construction for this season. Any type of offense, whether a vertical power-running offense, or a spread, west-coast type offense, needs offensive linemen with the requisite attributes and skillsets for the respective systems. What had been an obvious 2016 problem was allowed to fester over the course of the offseason, and it ultimately derailed the 2017 season.