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Is there hope for the New York Giants?
They entered 2023 poised to build on a surprise run to the playoffs. There are (many) issues here. We're about to see how much guts Joe Schoen's crew truly has.
Brian Daboll is an emotional coach. And players love it. All of it. He cultivates genuine 1-on-1 relationships, so when the New York Giants head coach does decide to rip you for a mistake — when he turns into “a little, small meatball getting angry,” as one player told us — they know it comes from a good place.
Coaches can spend decades failing to strike this balance. To Daboll, it’s natural.
So, that’s what made Monday night’s 24-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks different. Demoralizing.
When quarterback Daniel Jones threw an interception that was returned for a 97-yard touchdown, Daboll didn’t necessarily look mad. He looked… disappointed. Which is always way, way worse. Like getting the “K” text from your wife, instead of a verbal outburst. Cameras first captured the recipient of that pick-six celebrating on the sideline. Devon Witherspoon was the favorite player of NFL scouts in the 2023 draft and, with that play, injected Legion of Boom swagger right back into this defense. On his sideline, he strutted like the DBs a decade prior. On the other sideline? Arms are outstretched, Daboll gestured toward the field and appears tell Jones, “You had Walls!” in more exasperation than anger.
Yes, the QB did have Darren Waller open in the corner. Jones looks like he’d rather be anywhere in the world than MetLife Stadium.
It got worse.
On the sideline, Daboll tried to show his quarterback the play on a tablet and, again, he’s not fuming. He looks fed up — tired — in casually flicking the tablet to the side of his QB. Naturally, the head coach was asked at a later press conference if he intended to strike Jones with the table. The fact that Daboll was able to keep a straight face should seriously earn him an acting gig. Honestly. If he answers “Yes, absolutely,” does John Mara immediately contact the NYPD to cuff and book the head coach? Daboll should’ve assured all of New York that he actually prefers to Frisbee tablets from a distance, roughly 15 yards, for MAXIMUM impact.
Of course, the Giants’ week of misery didn’t end here. Right tackle Evan Neal, who managed to block his own teammate at one point in the loss, took a 2-by-4 to the hornet’s nest in an interview with NJ Advance Media. You’ve heard the comments by now: “Why would a lion concern himself with the opinion of a sheep?” the 2022 seventh overall pick said. “The person that’s commenting on my performance, what does he do? Flip hot dogs and hamburgers somewhere?”
The good news is New York plays at Miami and at Buffalo next.
Suffice to say, the honeymoon for this new regime is over. Arguably no team in the NFL is off to a more disappointing start. Because there was hope — real hope — into the 2023 season for the New York Giants. After Joe Schoen and Daboll’s crew pulled off an improbable 9-7-1 debut season, contention was the expectation. Instead, a pair of losses would sink the Giants to 1-5 and possibly prompt a few angry fans in Gotham to dust off their paper bags by the time New York plays again at home again. At this rate, they may even long for the days of medium sodas on “Fan Appreciation Day.”
But don’t bail.
Take a deep breath. Count to 10. These are not Dave Gettleman’s Giants. Joe Judge is not on the sideline. Daniel Jones is still under center and we’ll get to the complicated case of the quarterback with the 23-35-1 record through five seasons. The Giants just may limp to a last-place finish in the NFC East. But, no, it is not time to pen another autopsy. The opinion here is that smart people are still in charge and — when this hailstorm passes — everyone who’s currently losing their mind will fall in love with the vision of Schoen and Daboll again.
Simply, it’s hard to find glimmers of hope when the storm’s raging.
The return of running back Saquon Barkley sure would help the Giants get back to their identity.
A functional offensive line, too.
But more than any singular personnel move, I think it’s worth revisiting our conversation with Schoen. No. 1, he knows the stakes of the job. “Ultimately, ‘Dabes’ and I are going to be judged on wins and losses,” he said. With this as the cold-hard reality in the sport’s most cutthroat market, Schoen constructed a roster full of players he and Daboll believe are wired for this type of turmoil. Such is the challenge for every member of every front office. Former Chicago Bears director of personnel Josh Lucas recalled on the podcast all the times he tried figuring out how much true adversity a college prospect faced. Some stories are jarring. The sort of stuff you wouldn’t even repeat. Other prospects might’ve twisted their ankle. GMs need to know how players respond to tough times — psychologically — because, in the NFL, hard times are a guarantee. And magnified. And can flat-out end your career in a city like Chicago and New York.
A calloused mind is a necessity.
Schoen gets this. A valuable lesson learned through those 3,360 Marriott nights scouting.
“The biggest thing — part of our process and we did it in Buffalo, too — is just the character,” Schoen said our August chat. “You could watch one thing on film and say, ‘Man, that dude’s a baller. He can catch the ball, he can throw the ball, he can do whatever.’ Getting around the kids and doing the research on who they are as people and what drives them, what motivates them, what’s going to keep them hungry when they have more money in their pocket… you see the makeup of Buffalo’s roster. A lot of good guys who work hard and are dedicated to their craft. We brought that here to the Giants, in terms of the type of people and individuals you’re bringing into the building that also have talent. When those two match up, they have very good habits and they’re very talented, you’re going to have a much better chance at success. Over time, maybe drafting some of those at different places that were talented but maybe didn’t have the right makeup — there is a margin for error there.
“More times than not, the fabric of who the player is, is eventually going to come out in the end.”
The character of this team will now be revealed.
Everyone expects the Giants to be humiliated by both Miami and Buffalo. They’re 11-point underdogs this weekend and the widespread expectation is for the Giants to dig themselves new rock bottoms each week. So, who cares about the playoffs right now? The Giants need to show fight. Any fight. Win or lose. Maybe it’s one of Schoen’s waiver-wire finds, Isaiah Hodgins, stretching out for a fourth-down catch. Or Jalin Hyatt dusting a cornerback deep. Or Kayvon Thibodeaux, this regime’s first pick, chasing down Tua Tagovailoa for a sack-fumble. New York needs to show general signs of life against a team that recently dropped a 70-burger on the Denver Broncos. Speaking of burgers, that’s why I wasn’t appalled by Neal’s comments. One radio host certainly was. Don La Greco of ESPN Radio 98.7 FM, spoke on behalf of this fan base’s molten-hot inner core with an epic tirade, screaming “I’d cut his ass! I would!”
And… “I’d rather have a guy who’s flipping hamburgers block than your piece of garbage ass. Who the hell are you to talk to fans like that?! You piece of garbage!”
And… “You’re better than the people who pay your salary? These Giant fans were here before you and they’ll be here after your sorry ass is cut. What a piece of human trash.”
And… “I would cut his fat ass.”
C’mon, Don. Quit beating around the bush.
My 2 cents: Neal’s anger is actually encouraging. This brief moment of honesty with a reporter shows that the 2023 Giants do, indeed, have a pulse. Neal has been bad. Really bad. His 25 pressures allowed are second-most in the NFL through four games. Pro Football Focus currently rates Neal No. 68 out of 71 eligible offensive tackles. He’s on track to go down as a colossal bust, so who knows? Barking back publicly, thus slapping a bull’s eye on his back may be exactly what Neal needs. Sure beats an offensive tackle curling up into the fetal position in a dark corner. His career’s on the line, and he knows it.
There’s no need for Daboll to contrive us-against-world vibes. Nobody expects a thing from the Giants.
Schoen, in theory, is building a 53-man roster that meets this moment head-on.
Here’s what the GM said he looks for in a player:
“Dependable. They’re going to know where they’re supposed to be. They’re not going to fold under pressure. They’ve ran the route before. They’re not going to jump offsides. Those little things — like you said, it’s a 9-8 league, it’s about those little competitive advantages you can get by having the right type of guys. We were like that last year with the Giants. The team, we may not have been the most talented but we came together as a team because a lot of those players were wired the same way. They held each other accountable. They practiced right. They’re crisp. People knew their assignments. And they knew they could rely on the player next to them to do their job. Again, you can win some guys just by having those types of players on your roster.”
The Giants are averaging 11.5 points per game, worst in the NFL. Barkley has a chance to play against the Dolphins. If he returns, he’ll be running behind a banged-up line. Shane Lemieux (groin), John Michael Schmitz (shoulder) and Andrew Thomas (hamstring) are all likely out after not practicing Thursday.
No question, the Giants will need more out of their quarterback.
The reaction to Jones’ 11th Hour contract extension back in March was deafening. The Giants were widely mocked, memed, shamed. But Schoen and Daboll saw good reason to invest — so did we — and, of course, the devil was in the details of the four-year, $160 million pact. This was essentially a two-year deal. If worst comes to absolute worst, per Spotrac, Schoen can theoretically escape Jones’ contract before next season with a $69.3 million dead cap charge vs. the $47.1 million to run it back. If he plays through the 2024 season, the dead cap charge is $22.2 million.
Obviously, this is a sad conversation to have the first week of October. The Giants would much prefer to ride out the duration of the four-year deal because that means Jones warrants the money.
The hope was for Jones and Daboll to ascend together.
Not to discuss wayward tablets and escape hatches in a contract.
Look, there’s a good chance no starting quarterback in the NFL could’ve done a damn thing behind that offensive line on Monday. It was all-time dreadful. Injuries have exposed the worst of Jones’ game. When he can’t run bootlegs cleanly, when he can’t play off a run game, this is the result. Sacks. Misreads. He even admitted that he heard one play call incorrectly on the headset at the end of the first half. Still, Jones is the 10th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. The Giants are paying Jones to rise above the muck because the Giants clearly saw something in him the skeptics did not. He isn’t a slice-ya, dice-ya anticipatory quarterback, and may never be.
But it’s time for the qualities Schoen bet on to pull the Giants through this wretched stretch.
“Nobody’s going to work harder than the kid,” Schoen said then. “He’s big. He’s athletic. He can make all the throws. He’s accurate. Upgrading some of the talent around him, I think that’ll show.”
The Week 2 comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals absolutely did. Against the same defense that beat up Dak Prescott one week later, Jones became first QB in NFL history to do the following in one half: Throw for 250+ yards, rush for 50+ yards, throw multiple TD passes, rush for a TD and have zero turnovers. Joy was short-lived as Jones crashed back to earth without Barkley, without a few linemen. Fans will take moral victories at this point. Jones must justify his team’s faith these two games against these two contenders. He was paid to give the Giants a chance against Tagovailoa and Josh Allen.
Next to Neal, no NFL player has been ridiculed more this week.
Another reason Schoen paid up was that he believed Jones could take all of these bullets and emerge a better QB, a better leader.
This is the same quarterback, remember, that Daboll set up to fail in training camp one year ago. The Giants needed to test his mental toughness, so they told the defense what plays the No. 1 offense was running. Daboll essentially begged the media to pile on, simply to see how Jones could handle the heat.
Said Schoen: “He’s perfect for this market. He doesn’t let the media get in his head. He’s very even-keeled. He doesn’t get too high or too low. A good leader. He really came into his own this year. Year 2 in the offense, Daboll and his relationship, Shea Tierney, Kafka, all those guys, he’s way more comfortable this year. To go from a guy who we didn’t exercise his fifth-year option to getting the contract that he did, you saw a ton of growth in him last year.”
The fear now is if the O-Line injuries are making Jones skittish. Subconsciously, even. Perhaps that is why Jones was so quick to force a throw to Parris Campbell on the pick-six. Hang in the pocket a split-second longer and it’s a touchdown to Waller. It’s a 14-10 game with the full quarter to play.
Instead, Witherspoon dashed to the end zone. Jones ate dirt. Most viewers declared the Giants effectively dead.
The relationship between Daboll and Jones was always the No. 1 reason to stick with a QB chosen by the previous regime. Daboll’s been hard on the quarterback, like he was with Allen, and Jones can handle it. In Week 1 of last season, the coach tore into Jones after an end-zone interception and he answered with a 12-play, 73-yard TD drive to win. These two now need each other more than ever. Other teams are navigating injuries. The Houston Texans, under OC Bobby Slowik, scored 37 points vs. Jacksonville and 33 points vs. Pittsburgh despite a decimated O-Line. The Seahawks were ailing up front, lost Geno Smith temporarily and found a way to club New York.
To his credit? Daniel Jones fully realizes this is a defining moment in his career. He didn’t say much at his locker this week, and he didn’t need to. If ‘ol Don is at one end of the personality spectrum, you’ll find “Danny Dimes” — now nicknamed “Danny Crimes,” by Shannon Sharpe — on the other.
On the tablet incident: “We’re all frustrated. It’s a costly mistake. I can’t afford to do that. So, we’re all frustrated. Part of it.”
On turning the page: “You have to put it away immediately and get back out there and play ball. So, can’t afford to dwell on any of that very long. … I’ve got to play better and make better decisions.”
On getting the ball to Waller: “It’s important. He’s a talented player and poses a big threat for defenses. So, I’ve got to a better job of finding him and getting him the ball. … There are some opportunities where I’ve got to get him the ball and give him some chances to make plays.”
On his belief in the team: “We’re all still confident. I’m certainly confident in the group we have, and what we can be. It’s about what you do on the field and what you do on gameday. So that’s what matters and that’s what we’re focused on.”
On saying he was shocked after the loss: “We didn’t expect to be in this position. But it doesn’t really matter now. It’s about what we do from here and how we correct the things we need to correct.”
On the 10 sacks: “There’s some situations where I can get the ball out of my hands quicker and put our offense in a better situation.”
Daboll, the 2022 coach of the year, has likely spent many hours parsing through the film of Buffalo’s 48-20 win over Miami. Stefon Diggs isn’t on his roster. But he was hired to bring over some of that Bills magic. Daboll needs to pick up some schematic clues from his ex-quarterback’s 21-of-25, 320-yard, five-touchdown masterpiece. Even the Giants should scheme up big plays against Vic Fangio’s struggling unit.
Two years ago, there was no stopping the SS Gettleman-Judge from smashing into the iceberg.
The quarterback, Jones, appeared broken beyond repair.
The salary cap was a mess.
The roster was drained of talent, the result of draft busts and terrible contracts.
In one season, Schoen and Daboll cleaned up the cap, squeezed a career year out of Jones and — they believed — attacked the roster with calculating, case-by-case care. This duo could’ve ripped apart the roster the same way Schoen’s friend, GM Brandon Beane, did in Buffalo. The Bills didn’t talk themselves into their 2017 playoff team being anything special, manipulated up the draft board for Wyoming’s Allen, went 6-10 in 2018, and have been in the playoffs every year since. Conversely, these Giants identified a handful of holdovers (Jones, Barkley, Dexter Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, Leonard Williams) as core pieces and reset just about everything else.
Now, we’ll see if the Year 1 success was smoke and mirrors or a genuine foundation.
Waller needs 10 targets a game. Campbell needs to average more than 4.4 yards per reception. Darius Slayton needs to catch more than three passes in a game.
A healthy Barkley could unlock the other weapons.
If Jones is as mentally tough as the Giants think, he’ll have one of the best games of his life in South Florida.
In the meantime, fans can take Neal’s advice. Boo all you want. I’d still count on the two most important people in this building, Schoen and Daboll, finding a way to turn your jeers into cheers.
Neither will allow this team to lay over and die.