Giants’ decline rooted in Coughlin’s hubris

The New York Giants were not a particularly good team last year, but they were not terrible, either. Although the Giants missed the postseason en route to a 9-7 regular season campaign, they defeated two solid playoff teams in the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, who went on to make the Super Bowl. Now the G-Men are 1-6, one of three winless teams left in the NFL along with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And assuming that the Jaguars continue to play like the worst team since the defeated 2008 Detroit Lions, the Buccaneers lose to a far more talented, albeit injured Atlanta team, and the Giants live up to their second-to-last ranking, per ESPN, none of these three teams are going to win anytime in the coming weeks.

But if the past eight years are any indication of which of the defeated teams should pick up its first win, it’s the Giants. But the Giants are only narrow favorites going into their Sunday night match-up at home against a weak, one-win Minnesota Vikings team whose only win came in London. So basically the Giants are awful, and barring a ten-game win streak, they will be worse than they have been in the eight years since Eli Manning’s rookie season. So what does every cliché American football fan do at this moment in order to justify this horrific performance? Blame Eli, right?

Eli Manning has set a historically bad pace. His 15 interceptions through six games lead to a projection of 45 picks on the season, which would break Bears legend George Blanda’s already horrific record of 42 picks in a single season. Manning has had turnover problems before, most notably in 2010 when the Giants won the division despite Eli throwing a career-high 25 interceptions in the regular season. But 40-plus interceptions? Is it even possible that Eli would remain the stater if he approached that figure? Curtis Painter, one of the quarterbacks who helped the Indianapolis Colts to a sterling 2-14 record in 2011, is second on the Giants’ depth chart, followed by rookie Ryan Nassib. Any football fan can see the fundamental flaw in this setup.

To express in a single phrase, this is gruesome.

Even if Manning can’t stop throwing the ball to the other team, he still gives New York the best shot at winning games. There is only one way this can end—with Eli throwing 45 picks and getting traded in the offseason, while old brother Peyton throws 45 touchdowns, wins his fifth MVP award and his second Super Bowl ring. As fun as that confluence of numbers and circumstances would be, it’s not going to happen. Eli Manning is too good.

He has started 141 of 143 games he has been active for (he’s tougher than everyone thinks), thrown for 33,248 yards and 220 touchdowns (he’s more prolific passer than everyone thinks), and is one of eleven men in the history of the world to win multiple Super Bowls as a starting quarterback (Peyton is not in that company). You can’t spell elite without Eli. All that is true, and yet the New York Giants are still really, really bad.

Look back to March 5, 2013. That is the date when longtime Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s book Earn the Right to Win: How Success in any Field Starts with Superior Preparation hit the shelves. Now this is not Coughlin’s first book. He also wrote one about his 2007 Giants team, which beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. X’s and O’s, game tape, and metrics can explain the Giants’ two Super Bowls wins over the Patriots, as they can the Giants’ woes this season.

Tom Brady was under too much pressure; New England’s timing-based offense, great during the regular season, was too soft for the postseason. Eli Manning has been under tremendous duress, because his offensive line is so porous; the Giants can’t run the ball; what happened to Hakeem Nicks? All valid explanations for the Giants’ futility. Yet still, everyone seems to look at Eli as the big bad wolf in this situation.

Don’t overlook the underlying metaphysical reasons, though. The Football Gods don’t like it when coaches do hubristic things like publish books with pretentious titles, guarantee championships á la Jets head coach Rex Ryan,  or engineer Spy Gate, a 2007 incident when the New England Patriots were caught videotaping New York Jets’ defensive signals to gain an offensive edge. Bill Belichick and the Pats haven’t won a title post-espionage, just as Coughlin won’t win another title post Earn the Right to Win.

Never has a lesser coach won as many titles as Coughlin; never has a coach with such limited vision, style, or leadership (he throws his players under the bus all the time) won as many titles as Coughlin. Giants fans, next time you are commiserating about your lost season, don’t blame Eli. Blame Coughlin, the best bad coach of all-time, for angering higher powers by publishing erroneous books.

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