Eli Manning’s 2013 season was the worst of his career since his rookie campaign in 2004. It was also the first time that the New York Giants finished under .500 since 2004.
Coincidence? I think not.
While there is no doubt that Manning needs to play better if the Giants are to make it back to the postseason in 2014, Manning was hardly the only person to blame for last year’s result.
At running back, Andre Brown was injured during the preseason which caused him to miss the first eight regular-season contests, putting the bulk of the load on the shoulders of David Wilson. Wilson fumbled twice in the season opener in Dallas and was benched for the second half of the game. The second-year back (at the time) never really found a groove after that, and then suffered a season-ending, and possibly career-threatening, injury to his neck. Because of Wilson’s ailment, the Giants were forced to sign players off the street, such as Peyton Hillis and old friend Brandon Jacobs.
The receiving corps also had a less than stellar 2013 campaign. Hakeem Nicks did not catch a single touchdown pass and second-year player Rueben Randle showed that he was not ready for a prominent role in the offense. Because of the inconsistencies of Nicks and Randle, Victor Cruz faced many double-teams, thus was not able to make the big plays that he had in previous years.
The struggles of the offensive line were perhaps the biggest reason why Big Blue’s offense was “broken.” Center David Baas and right guard Chris Snee were injured early in the season and never returned to action. Left tackle Will Beatty’s play was less than adequate, and 2013 first-round draft pick Justin Pugh had the usual rookie growing pains early on, but did become the unit’s best player by seasons end.
Where does all of this leave the Giants now? Breaking from their usual conservative approach to free agency, general manager Jerry Reese had little choice but to be active this offseason. At running back, Rashad Jennings was signed away from the Oakland Raiders, and Hillis was brought back to bring depth to the position. Wilson’s status is still unknown at this point, but if healthy, the Giants will have a solid running back corps.
To address their issues at the wide receiver position, the Giants decided not to re-sign Nicks and drafted speedster Odell Beckham, Jr. in the first-round of the this past draft. They are also hoping that Jerrel Jernigan’s performance at the end of the 2013 season is a sign of more things to come.
Reese’s biggest endeavor though was addressing the deteriorating offensive line.
Baas was released and to fill the void, New York signed J.D. Walton and drafted the top-rated center of the 2014 class, Weston Richburg. Snee is going to try to make a comeback at right guard, but after having surgery on both hips, he can hardly be counted on.
The Giants signed Geoff Schwartz, who will most likely start at left guard, and John Jerry who started all 16 games for the Miami Dolphins last season at guard, and is an insurance policy should Snee’s comeback attempt fail. Right tackle looks to be stable, as Pugh finished 2013 in strong fashion.
The biggest question mark on the line is the left tackle position. As mentioned above, Beatty underperformed last year, and to complicate matters, broke his leg in the 2013 finale against the Washington Redskins. The G-men did sign Charles Brown, who started at the position for the first 14 games with the Saints in 2013, but he was benched by New Orleans, so he is hardly a sure thing.
All of these moves, though necessary, will be moot though if Manning does not play better.
Yes, Manning had little help, but 18 touchdown passes to 27 interceptions is unacceptable. The good news is that we’ve been down this road before with Manning, when he threw 25 interceptions in 2010, and was being widely criticized for it. He responded with the best season of his career in 2011, resulting in his second Super Bowl MVP award.
Having gone through this before, and now possessing more help around him, along with a new offensive coordinator who will have him get rid of the ball more quickly, expect Manning to get back to the level of play that helped the Giants win two Lombardi trophies.
But if for some reason Manning does not bounce-back, it will be a third-straight season of playoff-less football for Big Blue. You can count on it.