EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** In 2013, the Giants' offense struggled so badly team president John Mara called it "broken." Today, it has been significantly repaired, which is perhaps the most positive development from the Giants' otherwise disappointing season.
Although the Giants finished with a 6-10 record after their 34-26 loss yesterday to Philadelphia, their offense finished the season ranked 10th in the NFL with an average of 367.2 yards per game. In the last two games, the Giants gained 514 and 505 yards, their first consecutive 500-yard games in 47 years. The team scored 380 points on the season.
Last year, the team was 28th in the league, averaging 307.5 yards a game. The Giants scored 294 points.
The offense, in its first season with coordinator Ben McAdoo designing game plans and calling plays, averaged 29.2 points a game in the final six weeks after averaging 20.5 points in the first 10 games.
"Offensively, we made great strides from the beginning of the year where a lot of things were different," quarterback Eli Manning said today, when the 2014 Giants gathered for the final time. "The timing from me and the receivers was off. We struggled, and yesterday and the last few weeks we were doing some really good things – making big plays and moving the ball. Next year and being in the same offense… if we can come back and start where we are right now and continue to make progress, I think we're just kind of scratching the surface of where we can get to."
Odell Beckham Jr. certainly deserves much of the credit for the late-season improvement. He concluded his incredible rookie season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, in only 12 games. Rueben Randle and rookie running back Andre Williams came on late in the season, and the offensive line began to jell.
But as always with the Giants' offense, it starts with Manning. He set franchise records for pass attempts (601) and completions (379), had a career-best 63.1 completion percentage, and threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Last year, Manning also led the offense, but in a different direction. His 27 interceptions were a career high, and he threw only 18 touchdown passes.
"I think he got much better," coach Tom Coughlin said after the game yesterday. "I think he really got to perform in this scheme well. I think he understands it. He has the ability to adjust pretty much everything, including the protections and placing personnel and snapping the ball, and having all these things going. I think it suits him to a tee. That's how he plays his best and that's what he wants to do. I do believe that he's worked his way through the system, he's playing well within the system right now."
Manning agrees with his coach.
"I played better than last year," Manning said. "I felt good in the offense. I felt we had opportunities to win a lot of games, but we've got to win those games. We've got to win some of those close games. There were some moments where I needed to play at a higher level than I did in those crucial moments. I've got to play better; the team and the offense have got to play better in those moments to win those games."
Manning said the team needs to run the ball better than it did this season and develop "a few concepts" and improve the timing in the passing game. The return of Victor Cruz will boost that part of the offense and, with Beckham and Randle, give Manning three outstanding targets at wide receiver.
"There are always things you can improve on with just getting on the same page with the receivers and being perfect in our route running and our precision," Manning said. "I think there's still more to get better and get better at and that just comes with more practice and more reps of doing the same things over and over again. I feel I had a good feel for the offense at the end of the year and had good ideas and adjustments and getting into good plays and getting out of bad plays. I felt confident, but I still think there is another level to get to more plays, more concepts and there's definitely room for improvement."
But the arrow for the Giants' offense is definitely pointing up.
- Fullback Henry Hynoski was asked what Coughlin's message was in the team's final meeting.
"He just said he appreciated the way we responded (winning three of their last four games after a seven-game losing streak)," Hynoski said. "A lot of teams would have just fallen into the gutter after that seven-game streak of losses, but we just never gave up. We fought. It just shows the love we have for the game and the passion and desire and that all starts with coach. He finds a way to bring that out in us and make us play right till the end like that."
Linebacker Jameel McClain, who played on a Super Bowl-winning team two years ago in Baltimore, believes the Giants have the foundation to be a playoff team in 2015.
"There is going to be a run next year, so be prepared," McClain said he told teammates last night. "Be ready right now because we have all of the dynamics to get where we need to get and we also learned the biggest lesson you can ever learn. I know the year before last, people were in this position and they went through something kind of similar (situation). But now we brought in new players, we have new people that have seen this journey and have been through this. Now we have something to build on and now people can see exactly how you can get better, where not to make a mistake, what we can do to all be better. Faces will change, but the logo will stay the same, regardless."
Two cornerbacks who spent most of the season on injured reserve said they are looking forward to returning to the field. Prince Amukamara suffered a torn biceps against Indianapolis on Nov. 3, and nickel back Walter Thurman tore a pectoral muscle on Sept. 14 vs. Arizona.
"I think I will be ready starting at OTAs (in the spring)," Amukamara said. "By March, should be the time I can start curling (with weights). Right now my arm feels well and as soon as I start doing push-ups and curls, it will build back some strength into it."
"I played a game and a half, really, during the regular season," said Thurmond, who will be a free agent. "That was pretty weak, to say the least. I really want to be out there. It's tough watching from the sideline and having them go through the different things that they went through, other guys getting injured in the line of duty and everything. It is always tough. You never want to see anyone go down, including myself, but all I can do is rehab and get back stronger and get faster, and get ready for the season."
- The Giants' 2015 opponents are set. The NFC East will face the NFC South and the AFC East in 2015, and as third-place finishers this season, the Giants will play the teams in the NFC North and West that finished in the same place in the standings.
In addition to home-and-home series with division rivals Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington, the Giants will host Atlanta, Carolina, San Francisco, New England and the Jets. They will visit New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo and Miami.
- The Giants own the ninth selection in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. It is their highest draft position since 2004, when they owned the fourth pick and took quarterback Philip Rivers, who was sent almost immediately to San Diego in the trade that delivered Eli Manning to the Giants.
- The Giants were one of three teams to finish 6-10 this season. They defeated the other two 6-10 teams, Atlanta and St. Louis. Because of the strength of schedule tiebreaker, the Falcons will select eighth and the Rams 10th in the first round.
- The Giants signed 11 players to reserve/future contracts, including nine who were on their practice squad at the end of the season: offensive lineman Michael Bamiro; wide receivers Julian Talley, Juron Criner and Chris Harper; defensive end Jordan Stanton; defensive backs Thomas Gordon and Josh Victorian; fullback Nikita Whitlock; and linebacker Unai' Unga.
Also signed were cornerback Bennett Jackson and punter Robert Malone.
Jackson was the Giants' sixth-round draft choice in 2014, from Notre Dame. He was placed on practice squad/injured list during the season with a knee injury.
Malone played 31 games for Tampa Bay, Detroit and the Jets from 2010-13. He has 157 career punts for a 44.5-yard gross average and a 37.3-yard net average.
Check out photos of the Giants rookies vs. the Eagles