Credit is due to the New York Giants for one thing, at least – they turned one of the most embarrassing starts in franchise history into a competitive record.
The Giants were the lowlight of a laughable division in September and October of 2013, dropping all the way to 0-6 before they won their first game in ugly fashion against Minnesota. From Oct. 21 until the end of the season, though, they ripped off a 7-3 record to finish among the ranks of the mediocre at 7-9.
And as long as we're giving out credit, it's worth remembering that it was the Cowboys who halted the Giants' four-game win streak on Nov. 24 and essentially eliminated them from the playoffs. It was a high point in a middling season for Dallas.
It makes you wonder, though: are the Giants closer to the team that tanked the first half of 2013, or the team that got hot in the season's later months?* *
2013:Like I said, the Giants made it look respectable – but what an ugly season.
It all started with the offensive line. Eli Manning's front five was a rotating door of injuries and incompetence. New York suffered serious injuries to three longtime veterans in David Baas, Chris Snee and David Diehl. The first two wound up on IR, while Diehl was hampered through the first month of the season.
On top of those problems, left tackle Will Beatty struggled. Rookie right tackle Justin Pugh actually had a solid season, by all accounts, but he was still a rookie.
The issues on the offensive line paved the way for the No. 29 ground game in the league. Despite a 200-yard effort against the Cowboys in November, New York could not run the ball – averaging a mere 83 yards per game.
Manning was also sacked 40 times and pressured plenty more in what turned into one of the worst seasons of his career – perhaps the worst. You have to note the problems up front, but you can't completely excuse how bad Manning was in throwing for just 57 percent for a mere 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
The hiring of Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo to replace retired offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will undoubtedly generate some hope for improvement.
What they did well:The horror show on offense offset what was a surprisingly decent season on defense. I don't mean to suggest the Giants were dominant, but they certainly weren't the reason for the losing record.
One of the stories of their season, for me, was their resuscitation of Jon Beason's career after acquiring him in a trade from Carolina. Beason had just 11 tackles through three games when Carolina dealt him, and he finished the season as New York's No. 2 tackler with 93 in 12 games – roughly eight per contest. [embedded_ad]
The Giants' safeties also turned in a fine 2013 – and that came after a season-ending injury to starter Stevie Brown in the preseason. Antrel Rolle led the team in tackles with 98, and his six interceptions tied for second-best in the NFL. Will Hill returned from a four-week suspension to start the season, and he finished fourth on the roster with 77 tackles and added a pair of picks.
There's no denying the disappointing season Jason Pierre-Paul chalked up – just two sacks. But his linemate Justin Tuck, an impending free agent, recovered from a slow start to notch 11 sacks.
Draft:New York probably needs to find someone to protect Manning and bolster the ground game. Diehl is expected to retire. Baas and Snee are both coming off big injuries, cost a lot of money and are on the wrong side of 30 – they may not be back.
So the Giants may be best served in drafting another young offensive lineman to help Pugh rebuild that unity.
I just got done praising Beason, but that doesn't mean the Giants are settled at linebacker, either. Beason is a free agent, as is Keith Rivers, and it doesn't seem like Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich and Jacquian Williams are longterm answers.
Prognostication:It seems like this team is about to look a lot different from the ones that won Super Bowls in the recent past.
Sure, Manning is still around and will be for at least two more seasons. But it'll be interesting to see what core players remain to help him. I mentioned the potential offensive line losses. Hakeem Nicks is a free agent, with Rueben Randle a potential replacement alongside Victor Cruz.
Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph are both free agents, but the Giants drafted Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins at those positions last year. The linebackers may also be in for an overhaul, depending most heavily on the contract talks with Beason.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants try to transition their roster without blowing it up. It doesn't seem like they need to, but there's plenty of room for improvement.