When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. TV: Fox
Welcome back, Tom.
Former coach Tom Coughlin brings his New York Giants into EverBank Field on Sunday in a matchup of teams that have combined to lose 10 games in a row. The Giants haven’t won a game since Oct. 5 (over Atlanta) and the Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t won since beating Cleveland on Oct. 19.
One team’s streak has to end, right?
Unless -- a tie?
Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:
DiRocco: It seems like this topic has come up the last several years, but with the Giants on a six-game losing streak, Coughlin’s seat is as hot as it has ever been. Is this going to be his last season with the Giants and is there anything he can do to save his job?
Graziano: Yeah, last time Coughlin’s seat was this hot, he was coaching the Jaguars! But seriously, folks, the Giants and Coughlin haven’t made any decisions yet about next year, and I think the way they play in these final five games will go into the hopper along with anything and everything else they’ll consider. Their next four games are against teams with losing records. They’re 3-0 this year against teams with losing records. If they play well and get this thing back to, say, 7-9 as they did last year, it’ll be clear the team didn’t quit on Coughlin and it’ll be easier for the Giants to keep their all-time-great franchise coach around for Year 2 of this rebuilding process they’re undertaking. If they fall apart over this final month and finish 4-12 or something like that, I imagine all bets are off. But the Giants are in a dicey situation with Coughlin, because they ARE rebuilding on offense and he IS a two-time Super Bowl winner, so there are small-picture and big-picture reasons why just firing him isn’t an easy thing to do. When and if it’s time for the Giants to move on from Coughlin, I feel pretty safe guaranteeing that it’ll be presented as HIS decision, and a celebration of his time there, as opposed to an ugly firing.
They’re clearly rebuilding in Jacksonville, and I don’t think they’d be shy about admitting it. How’s that going in Year 2 of Gus Bradley and Year 1 of Blake Bortles? Do they look like the men to save the franchise?
DiRocco: It has certainly been rough. Bradley is 5-22 since he became the Jaguars’ coach and 18 of those 22 losses have been by double digits. While fans may not have understood just how bad things were going to get, general manager David Caldwell and Bradley did – but that’s not making it any easier for them to handle. The best way to describe the situation is to think of the Jaguars as a 1-year-old expansion franchise that didn’t get the benefit of an expansion draft or extra draft picks. The Jaguars and Carolina Panthers had those advantages in 1995 and were both playing in conference title games the following season. These Jaguars are still trying to piece together a roster from scratch. One of those pieces is Bortles, who seems to have everything you want in a franchise quarterback: size, athleticism, poise in the pocket, unflappable confidence, a good work ethic and intelligence. He played better earlier in the season and now seems like he’s trying to be too careful and not turn the ball over. Like all young quarterbacks, he has to learn to push through that. It’s hard to know right now if Bradley and Bortles are the right people to save the franchise. How much, if any, progress the team makes in 2015 should give us a clue.
Dan, Odell Beckham Jr.’s ridiculous catch against the Cowboys aside, what’s your projection on how good he can be? Megatron-level? Dez Bryant-level?
Graziano: Beckham was the No. 12 pick in the draft, so hopes were always high. I doubt he ends up comparable to either of those guys just because he doesn’t have their size. But obviously he can jump, and his speed and his hands are exceptional. Eli Manning and the Giants coaches have been especially impressed with the precision with which Beckham runs his routes, for a player so young. He seems driven to be great. After he missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, he gravitated toward running back Rashad Jennings to ask him about his elaborate pre-practice and pregame warm-up routines, which are designed to limit the risk of soft-tissue injuries, and now he and Jennings do them together before practices and games. I think he can be a legitimate star receiver in the league as long as he stays healthy. He did leave Sunday night’s game briefly with a back injury, so that’s something to watch in terms of how much the Jags can expect to see him Sunday.
Which of Bortles’ young receivers do you think has the best chance to emerge as his No. 1 for the long term?
DiRocco: Marqise Lee was a big-time player at USC and has a lot of speed and big-play ability, but he struggled early in the season picking up the offense. He wasn’t always sure where he was supposed to be, didn’t completely have an understanding of the route adjustments he needed to make based on coverages, and didn’t run consistent routes. Plus, he had a hamstring injury that cost him three games. That’s why Allen Robinson, who was taken 22 picks after Lee in the second round, has had a bigger impact as a rookie. He’s still the team’s leading receiver (48 catches) despite the fact that he’ll only play in 10 games (he’s out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot). But Lee has the rare combination of speed and play-making ability. Defenses have to account for him because of that. It may take him another season to fully adjust, but I think he’ll eventually become Bortles’ No. 1 target.
The Giants rank 31st in total defense and rushing defense. What’s been their biggest issue and is it something that can be fixed over the final five games?
Graziano: Well, they’ve had a lot of injuries, but mainly in the secondary, where three of their top four cornerbacks are out for the year and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is playing hurt. Up front, they’re without middle linebacker Jon Beason but have otherwise been fairly healthy. The guys who are supposed to dominate in the front four just haven’t. They’re not generating any pass rush at all. Before the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday night, Tony Romo had time to text his wife, “Hey, I’m gonna throw this touchdown pass as soon as Dez gets open and then I’m gonna head home. You need me to pick anything up?” Jason Pierre-Paul is playing for a contract, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to wow anyone into giving him the one he’ll want. They just don’t tend to win enough of their physical matchups, on either line, really.
Which brings me to my final question: The Jaguars are way up there among the league leaders in sacks, and Manning has faced a lot of pressure over this six-game losing streak. How tough is Jacksonville’s defensive front, and do you expect a big game from them Sunday?
DiRocco: The unit has played very well and what makes the pass rush so effective is that the production has come from across the front. Defensive end Chris Clemons, who had three sacks against Indianapolis last week, leads the group with 7.0 sacks. But 14.5 of the team’s 33 sacks have come from the interior of the defensive line. The two biggest contributors there are tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (5.0) and Ryan Davis (5.5), a part-time player who primarily lines up inside when the Jaguars go to their third-down rush package. The Jaguars got to Andrew Luck five times in the first half last week and that kept the Jaguars in the game. I think the defensive front is going to have to put the same kind of pressure on Manning to keep the game close because the offense is struggling so badly right now. Getting five sacks would be great, but it’s more important to pressure Manning into some bad decisions and hopefully get turnovers to put the offense in good field position.