Kevin Gilbride has been coaching for almost 40 years, including 23 in the National Football League. Any career of that length is inevitably going to have its soaring highs and debilitating lows, its emotional victories and painful losses, and performances that at times inspire and other times dispirit.
The Giants’ offensive coordinator hasn’t hit rock bottom because of his unit’s performance the last two weeks, but he’s reached depths he’d prefer not to visit.
In losses to Atlanta and Baltimore, in which the Giants never seriously threatened, the offense totaled 442 yards, 164 rushing yards, 21 first downs and two touchdowns.
“I probably don’t handle it as well as you should because it really eats away at me and it really bothers me,” Gilbride said today. “I can’t sleep. My stomach is upset. So physically I can say I’m fine. There’s no impact. I’m just going to focus ahead and I do that, but obviously my body is telling me you’re not doing it as well as you think you are because I struggle. I really struggle physically.”
This is a challenging week for all of the Giants as they prepare for their regular-season finale Sunday at home against Philadelphia. Those two losses have lowered their record to 8-7 and left them needing a victory over Philly and help from three other teams just to slip into the playoffs as the NFC’s sixth seed.
Coach Tom Coughlin is charged with reversing the team’s recent fortunes. But Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell must devise the game plans and put their players in positions to make the plays the Giants have so noticeably lacked.
“Anything to spark or creating the spark,” Coughlin said. “I think, to be honest with you, we haven’t made any really significant plays and people rally around those kinds of things as well. There are little parts of each game in the beginning where if something good would have happened, who knows? For example, how do you explain special teams playing as well as they played and the other two phases as poorly? That’s a very good question.”
The offense is accustomed to having more opportunities. In the last two weeks the unit ran 47 and then 45 plays, the two lowest totals of the season. Only six of those 92 plays gained more than 20 yards, two of them in Baltimore. The Giants converted just six of 20 third down opportunities and owned the ball for approximately 21 minutes in each game.
Gilbride was asked if he can put a finger on what happened the last two weeks.
“If I could, I would’ve solved it and put it on it a long time ago,” he said. “We’re just not making plays that we’ve had some opportunities to make, and they’re there to be had. Whether it’s a misfire of a throw, or pressure on the quarterback, you got two big plays last week. It was 17-7, we’re driving down again, and we get a holding on a ‘bob’ that was a nice first down that was a big gain. Then, the one to Domenik (Hixon) that gets called for offensive (pass) interference, so it’s been one thing after another. It’s just, there’s no consistency. We’ve got a drive going last week, we put it in the end zone, we drove down to score. But, there are too many three-and-outs, and there are too many failed opportunities to get the drive going, get the momentum started.”
Fewell is coaching the other side of the ball, but he has a similar vantage point. For example, while the offense has had difficulty converting a third down, the defense has struggled to stop those conversions. The Falcons succeeded on 69 percent (9-of-13) and the Ravens on 61 percent (11-for-16), the highest back-to-back success rates allowed by the Giants since the 1970 merger.
Those kinds of numbers are perplexing to the man whose job it is to stop the other team’s offense.
“We’ve prepared better than what we’ve played,” Fewell said. “We haven’t made plays. I think if you look at the tape, we’re in position to make plays, and we haven’t made plays.”
The Giants are currently ranked 30th in the NFL in yards allowed (387.8 a game), though they are 18th in scoring defense (22.5 points per game). Fewell can identify the reason for the discrepancy.
“It’s frustrating for me and for the defense to give up the big play,” Fewell said. “That’s been our nemesis all year. Have we worked to eliminate the big play? Yes, we have. Have we been able to do that? No, we haven’t. I can’t tell you why, but yeah, that can be a point of frustration.”
Truth be told, the Giants won a Super Bowl last year with a defense that was ranked 27th in the NFL in the regular season, giving up 376.4 yards a game. But that No. 30 ranking doesn’t sit well with anyone on the defense.
“That’s a fall from grace,” defensive tackle
One notable defensive deficiency has been takeaways. The Giants have none in the last two weeks after averaging 2.6 a game through the first 13 weeks of the season.
“We preach ‘em. We work on ‘em,” Fewell said. “Again, we’ve been in position, we haven’t made a football play for the last couple of weeks. We’ve been in position to make football plays, but it hasn’t gone our way. They say turnovers come in bunches and sometimes we get them in bunches, and right now, we’re on a dry spell, a two-game dry spell. We’re going to work like the dickens to get turnovers in this football game.”
That would be the game against the Eagles, which could well be the one the Giants must carry into the long offseason. Coughlin has repeated all week that he is far more concerned with how the team performs than the scenario that can get the Giants into the playoffs. He wants the Giants to play a game they can be proud of.
The question is...can they?
“I hope (our confidence) is good,” Gilbride said. “You never know what’s pretense, or what’s superficial. What’s beneath the surface? I would hope that we’ve been good for long enough that there will be determination, a reserve of confidence, and there’s a determination to come back and finish the season off the right way. You never know until the game starts.”
“I think they’ve been playing hard, but they have to make up in their mind that we have to make some plays,” Fewell said. “We have to get a spark from somebody. Somebody has to go through and make a football play and get everybody going, either offensively, defensively or special teams. We need somebody to make a big play for us and get us rolling.”
*The list of players who missed practice was cut in half, as cornerback
Amukamara, limited to four snaps in Baltimore, told reporters he underwent an ultrasound on Monday and “the pain just extended just a little bit down my leg.” He said he aggravated the injury covering Torrey Smith on a go route.
Asked if he will face the Eagles, Amukamara said, “I’m not sure. I’m still doing what the trainers and coaches are telling me to do. I’m still just preparing mentally. I guess we’ll just see whenever coach makes the decision.”
Bradshaw missed the Atlanta game two weeks ago because of his knee injury. He usually practices only on Friday, but said, “I feel a lot better today or this week. I guess the game helped a whole lot, just putting the pounding to it, and I think I just get immune to the pain as my injuries go. I guess I can take it a little more.”
*In a voting of the Giants’ chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America, safety
The award is named for the Giants’ late, great general manager, who was always helpful to reporters covering the team.
Here is the list of Good Guy winners since the award was inaugurated in 2001:
2012 - Antrel Rolle
2010 - Barry Cofield
2007 - Justin Tuck
2006 - Plaxico Burress
2005 - Tiki Barber
2004 - Kurt Warner
2003 - Ike Hilliard
2002 - Kerry Collins
2001 - Lomas Brown