Victor Cruz and the first-team offense has not looked good this preseason. Credit: Getty Images
The Giants rebounded from an embarrassing 0-6 start last season, but not well enough to make the playoffs.
The poor start probably cost long-time offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride his job. But the results of that change have been anything but fruitful so far this preseason.
The Giants got a chance to play in five games before the season began due to a spot in the Hall of Fame Game. And while the game is often seen as a hassle, it might have been critical for a first-team offense which still looks shaky at best.
We take a look at 10 storylines to follow throughout the Giants' regular season.
1. New offense
The biggest story, by virtue of its pitiful preseason performance, will be about whether new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense can be successful. Quarterback Eli Manning looked bad for the entire preseason, short of one drive before halftime against the Jets. The touchdown scored on that drive — which was all out of the hurry-up as opposed to the base offense — and a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings against Pittsburgh were the only touchdowns for the first-team in five preseason games. At this point, it looks like the Giants went from one failed offense to another.
2. Bouncing back
Manning faces pressure not just to understand McAdoo's offense, but simply look better than he did in a 2013 which was the worst season of his career. He threw a career-worst 27 interceptions to lead the league. Some of it was the fault of an offensive line which looked well below average most of the season. But even if he was constantly under pressure, a veteran QB should never throw for such an absurdly high number of picks. And now new quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf wants Manning to aim for a completion percentage of 70 percent. He was at 57.5 percent last season and has never been higher than 62.9 percent (2010). To say 70 percent is unlikely would be the understatement of the year. But Manning has to be significantly better if the Giants are going to make the playoffs.
3. On a 'Rolle'
Antrel Rolle quietly — if it's possible for Rolle to do anything quietly — had his best season in New York last year. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance, but partly due to the 0-6 start he was never given the credit he deserved. Rolle appeared to be nearing the end of his career after 2012 when he was already 30 years old. But last season's success could be a sign he's got something left in the tank — or could've just been a last gasp before wrapping up a very good career. The Giants are in trouble if it's the latter. There is very little depth at safety behind Rolle, and that was before Cooper Taylor was placed on injured reserve. Even fellow starter Stevie Brown is a question mark coming off a major leg injury. Quintin Demps, long since given up on as a starter, is the only other option.
4. Bent Beckham
There was a time not so long ago when Giants fans thought they'd be seeing a gamebreaking wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. after he was selected at this year's NFL Draft. Now they'd just like to see him period. Beckham pulled a hamstring on the first day of training camp and hasn't been back since. He neared a return to the practice field in late August, only to suffer a setback which head coach Tom Coughlin said will keep him out a few weeks into the regular season. Beckham is probably just as frustrated as Coughlin and the fans, but the longer he's out the more it appears his rookie season could be a waste. Remember, when the Giants drafted Prince Amukamara he was out much of training camp with a foot injury. He returned midway through the season, but struggled and essentially chalked it up as a lost season.
5. Tight quarters
For what seems like the 20th straight year, the Giants are in need of a new tight end. Not many people were fond of Jeremy Shockey's antics, but the Giants haven't had consistent production for multiple seasons at the spot since he left. Names like Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers have all come in and out in recent seasons. The answer may be Adrien Robinson in 2014, though the jury is still out on the athletic receiver. He's yet to catch a pass in the regular season, but showed some of the long-sought potential in the preseason. Larry Donnell will probably be the starter, but he's not the type of dynamic player Robinson can be if he finds some consistency. McAdoo has made liberal use of tight ends in the past, and the West Coast offense has always been conducive to the position. Daniel Fells, whose never had more than 400 yards receiving or three touchdowns in a season, is the other option at the position.
6. Line them up
There are few performers on the offensive line not in need of a bounceback season. Left tackle Will Beatty is foremost among them, especially after signing a big contract during the 2013 offseason. The UConn alum has the talent to be a premier protector on the blind side, but he didn't show it last season. If he doesn't show a return to his 2012 form this season, he's probably not long for the roster. The Giants will also be looking to replace longtime right guard Chris Snee, who retired at the beginning of training camp. Brandon Mosley could see time there due to Geoff Schwartz's toe injury. Schwartz was a critical offseason signing, but he'll be out indefinitely due to a dislocated big toe. His loss opens up the left guard spot for rookie Weston Richburg, who has looked solid this preseason at three different spots on the line. And then there's 2013 first-round pick Justin Pugh, who's entering his second season without much hype. That's a good thing for the right tackle who's become someone to be counted on at the right end.
7. Back depth
If you'd been told after last season David Wilson would be forced to retire before 2014 due to neck injuries, the loss would've been heralded as catastrophic. The running back group during the 2013 season was so awful a completely washed-up Brandon Jacobs was its top performer. But the signing of Jennings and the emergence of rookie Andre Williams has the backfield looking better than the wide receiving group in a stunning reversal from a year ago. Jennings, who played backup to Darren McFadden in Oakland, was one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason. He's a legitimate starting running back and Williams's strength should be a tremendous counter to Jennings' speed. There's not much depth behind the two — unless you're counting on Peyton Hillis — but the top two should be good enough.
8. Up with JPP
Few defensive players have been as mercurial as Jason Pierre-Paul in the entire NFL. When Pierre-Paul exploded for 16 1/2 sacks in his season season, it looked like the Giants had found the newest, best defensive end in the game. But then he struggled to just 6 1/2 sacks the following season in 2012, and dropped off a cliff last season with just two sacks as he dealt with a host of injuries. He ended up playing only 11 games due to back and shoulder injuries. He says he's as healthy as he's been since his huge season in 2011, and hasn't backed down from saying he hopes to exceed that total in 2014. Obviously that would be tremendous for the Giants, but even a solid, double-digit sack total would be enough to make a huge impact on the defense.
9. What about Beason?
There are two questions about Jon Beason and the Giants in 2014. First, he just has to prove he's healthy after suffering a broken foot in the offseason and missing all of training camp and preseason. He was back on the practice field a week before Week 1, and plans on being ready for that opener. But presuming he is at 100 percent, will the Giants see the same player they saw in 2013? The Giants traded for the veteran linebacker from Carolina in Week 5 last season and went 7-4 with him in the lineup (as opposed to 0-5 without). He instantly became a leader on the defense and probably had the second-best season behind Rolle. Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell love him and credit much of the 2013 turnaround to his play. But the Panthers were willing to part with Beason for just a seventh-round pick. Sometimes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Other times, the paint tarnishes very quickly.
10. Coughlin's conundrum
The Giants rewarded Coughlin with a one-year extension following the 2013 season in order to avoid him coaching as a lame duck. But one year is hardly a vote of complete confidence in the oldest coach in the NFL. He's still coaching for his life in 2014 and if the Giants don't make the playoffs it wouldn't be a surprise to see them ask Coughlin to see himself out the door. But there's no question Coughlin, who still works out every morning before dawn despite being 68 years old, feels he has a few good years left in him. It's unlikely the Mara family or general manager Jerry Reese want to ax the two-time Super Bowl winner, but three straight years sitting out the playoffs is an eternity in today's NFL, even for a championship coach.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter@MetroNYSports.