A Giant Step Forward

Back in August I made my predictions for the NFL Season, and in it I picked my beloved Giants to make it to the playoffs for the first time since back in 2012. I’m not entirely sure whether I made this prediction through pure hope or through actual belief, but if back in August you had told me we’d make the playoffs, (albeit only the wildcard round), I’d have taken that.

These last few months have been very positive for the boys in blue, and it holds us in good stead heading into the future. The Giants finished the previous season looking good on offence, but with a whole host of problems elsewhere. We finished 31st in the league on defence (only the Saints were below us), were blowing games in the final 2 minutes, and we lost our long-term coach in the form of experienced Tom Coughlin.

In the off-season, we were bold; we spent big on the defence, bringing in Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison on big contracts, and hired young coach Ben McAdoo into his first head coaching role. Another masterstroke was re-signing Pierre-Paul, and the Giants seemed to have drafted in good areas.

The season started well for the Big Blue with 2 wins against Dallas and New Orleans, and the defence was already showing vast signs of improvement by restricting the points conceded. What these results also showed was more character throughout the team, as both these games went to the wire, but unlike the season before we were getting the job done.

The next few weeks represented a downturn in fortunes, as the Giants picked up 3 losses on the bounce, albeit two of them being difficult away games. The main worry from these few weeks was the defence, we were shipping points once again, even against the lacklustre offence of Minnesota without their star running back Adrian Peterson. Beckham Jnr was also experiencing a slip in form, rather than sending the media crazy with his performances, he was sending them crazy with his fascinations with kicking nets.

The next two weeks represented must win games before the bye-week, and the Giants complied at home to the Ravens, and at Wembley (which I was lucky enough to watch in person) against the Rams. The match at Wembley also sparked an upturn in defensive play which would characterise the rest of the Giants season, as we picked off Case Keenum 4 times, and kept the Rams to 0 points within the final 3 quarters.

For the remaining weeks of the season the defence was impeccable, arguably becoming the best in the league. We routinely kept teams to less than 20 points per game, were sacking QBs for fun, and bringing back memories of the 2008 & 2012 SuperBowl winning teams. Including the Ravens and Rams games we finished the last 11 games 9-2, including impressive wins over Dallas, Washington, and the Lions. This period wasn’t all rainbows for the Giants though, as our defensive performances were masking the troubles on the offence. Despite Odell Beckham continuing to rack up impressive numbers, the running game was still a problem, and Manning was turning over the ball on far too many occasions.

Heading into the playoffs, I was quietly optimistic. It’s well established that at this time of the year defence is what’s important, hence the phrase “defence wins championships”, and we were excelling on that front. Also, we had Eli. Yes, he had a poor season, but he is a different player in the playoffs. He’s the guy who’s beaten Brady in two SuperBowls, the guy who beat Rodgers and Brett Favre both at Lambeau field in the playoffs. He is the definition of ‘playoff clutch’.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Despite a very impressive first 25 minutes where our defence was dominating Rodgers and the offence was making big plays, we couldn’t capitalise and stretch out a handsome lead. In the final 5 minutes of the half we got too defensive with the blitzes, gave Rodgers too much time in the pocket, and the defensive play for that Hail Mary was unforgivable.

This gave the Packers an 8-point lead heading into the half as well as all the momentum, and Rodgers feasted on that. Our performance wilted on both sides of the ball in the second half, and the final score turned into an embarrassment. However, this wasn’t all on us, as the Packers have been in sensational form the past 6 games, and are really riding the crest of a wave right now.

Looking back over the season, it’s one where the positive vastly outweigh the negatives. Mainly, the defensive performances. We’ve gone from having the 2nd worst defence to a top 5 outfit, we have an incredibly young squad featuring bags of potential, and we may have found a long-term solution to the running game in rookie Paul Perkins, who had a great last 6 games.

The one big worry for the Giants is on the offence (really didn’t think I’d be saying that before the season), especially at the QB position. Stats wise it wasn’t a good year for Manning, unlike the year before which was his best season stats wise. I’m not saying that he should be dropped next season, but I do think that we should start looking to the future, and looking in this year’s draft for a QB who can train, and learn with Eli, before eventually taking his place in 1-2 years.

The potential is definitely there with this team, and together they should be heading to the playoffs a few more times. I think it’s safe to say that next year Giants fans like myself will be carrying higher expectations, and I hope the team carry over the character they showed this season. It’s been a good year for the Giants, a Giant step forward indeed.

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