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Cover 3: Final thoughts on the season

Posted Jan 10, 2017

Three Giants writers discuss their takeaways from the season as Big Blue heads into the offseason:

After making their first playoff appearance since 2011, the New York Giants had their season come to an end on Sunday with a 38-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It comes on the heels of an 11-5 regular season under first-year coach Ben McAdoo, who joined Dan Reeves as the only Giants coaches to win 11 games in their debut seasons.

>> OFFSEASON COMES EARLIER THAN EXPECTED

In this week’s “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we asked our staffers for their final thoughts on the 2016 campaign. Here is what they had to say:

DEFENSE SHINES ALL YEAR
By John Schmeelk

As disappointing as the end of the Giants season was, it is hard to consider it anything else but a success. Before the season, 99 percent of Giants fans would have signed up for 11-5 and a playoff berth, given the fact the Giants were coming off back-to-back 6-10 seasons.

Ben McAdoo did a good job in his first year as head coach of an NFL team. He handled a number of difficult off-the-field issues and kept the team focused on football. All the non-football stuff that can often overwhelm young head coaches did not impact him. He called the plays and didn’t have any significant in-game management issues.

>> GM REESE ON GOALS MOVING FORWARD

The shining light of the season has to be the defense. The three big free agent acquisitions by Jerry Reese were all homeruns with Snacks Harrison, Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon all earning All-Pro honors. Even under-the-radar signings like Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson worked out. Rookie Eli Apple played well and showed he has everything it takes to become a top cornerback in the league someday. Before his injury, rookie Darian Thompson looked like a player, too. Jason Pierre-Paul returned from his hand injury to be a very productive player until a sports hernia ended his season early. Landon Collins developed into one of the top safeties in the league and a leader. Don’t forget the job Steve Spagnuolo did, either, taking a defense that was last in 2015 and turning it into one of the top units in the league.

Offensively, the team took a step back. Despite having Eli Manning and a talented group of wide receivers, the unit failed to score 20 points in six straight games to end the season. Odell Beckham Jr. continued to produce, and Sterling Shepard had a very strong rookie season. The tight end position was not as productive as it needed to be, and the running game was once again inconsistent despite the late season emergence of Paul Perkins. The offensive line had issues in both the pass and run game.

Heading into last offseason, the Giants had a lot of holes to fill. This season, they have the luxury of focusing in on a few positions of need to put the team over the edge in 2017. The Giants have the talent, coaches, and are in the position to be contenders again. Every year is different, and things can change quickly, but given the youth on the roster, there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to build on their success next season.

BIG BLUE UNITED
By Dan Salomone

For an upcoming Q&A series that we’ll be rolling out on the site, we went around the locker room on cleanout day and asked players, among other questions, what the highlight was from the season. All of them pointed to how close the team was, and many said this was the tightest locker room they’ve ever been a part of in their careers. That’s remarkable given the turnover from 2015 to 2016, both on the roster and in the coaching staff. Credit Ben McAdoo, Jerry Reese, and their respective staffs for not only finding some of the best pieces on the market last season, but getting the right ones and making them fit together tightly like nuts and bolts. It was indeed an evolution, not revolution.

With that said, they fell short of the ultimate goal, and it’s always an abrupt ending for 31 teams every year. Now the challenge is recapturing all the good that came from this season of transition because consistency is more difficult in this league than any other sport – just look at the post-Super Bowl XLVI playoff drought. With free agency, the draft, and assistants possibly moving on to bigger jobs, no team is the same year to year. It just doesn’t happen in this era. So the Giants will lick their wounds for a little bit, and before you know it, the gears will start turning on 2017.

STRIDES MADE ON D
By Lance Medow

With the offense averaging just 19 points per game, the defense had to do a lot of heavy lifting and more often than not, it delivered, whether it be key stops to close out games in the fourth quarter or a stretch of two games in which it surrendered just 13 total points to the Cowboys and Lions, two teams the Giants were battling with for playoff positioning.

The defense improved in every major category and that was clearly the identity of the 2016 season.  The Giants posted six wins this season when they scored 20 points or fewer (most in the NFL), and that’s mainly thanks to the defense.

The additions of Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Olivier Vernon in free agency bolstered the pass rush as well as the run defense. Landon Collins took a huge jump from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign. Janoris Jenkins earned the label shutdown corner. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a career year. Keenan Robinson brought versatility to the linebacker corps.  The Giants clearly earned a nice return on their offseason investments, which helped the defense pull a complete 180 from 2015.  The most promising aspect of this group is that the nucleus is still young and should be able to stay together for the next few seasons.