Coughlin not to blame for Big Blue mess

Trouble is coming to town for the Giants on Sunday. The blame game has begun. There was already a building sense of dread that another late slide out of the playoffs was on the way. Now everyone is just waiting for the Green Bay Packers to show up and end the wait for another Giants season to finish with a resounding thud.

You know things are bad when Michael Strahan, the Giants' Hall of Fame-bound defensive end, showed up Wednesday in what was supposed to be an upbeat, post-practice pep talk to his old teammates, but wound up feeling like a tacit acknowledgement of just how much desperation -- and déjà vu -- the Giants are feeling about their latest three-game losing streak.

Even defensive lineman Justin Tuck, normally one of the more stable, sharpest players on the team, has admitted to being stuck in a weeks-long emotional funk, and seems to have run out of answers after the beating the Giants took Monday in New Orleans.

"Maybe we can shock the world" against Green Bay, Tuck said.

The idea that the 6-5 Giants could actually topple the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and then go to Dallas next week no worse than a game out of the NFC East lead seems out of the question after Monday's loss.

As good as the Saints are, they're still seen as Green Bay Lite. And if the Giants couldn't cover, rush the passer or run the ball against them, what should be expected against a Packers team that, as Giants coach Tom Coughlin pointed out Wednesday, has a lot of "1s and 2s" next to its name in the league rankings? Coughlin swayed in Wednesday's press session between upbeat talk on what a "great opportunity" playing a 13-0 juggernaut like the Packers is, and admitting one slim consolation the Giants have to "cling to" -- let that word marinate in your mind for a while -- is "three times on the road, they [the Packers] had pretty close football games."

Coughlin didn't stress the fact the Packers didn't actually lose any of those games.

He should know better than anyone that close-but-not-quite doesn't cut it.

The reflexive answer seems always to blame Coughlin for everything that goes wrong.

And granted, Coughlin is not the easiest coach to defend. This isn't going to be an unconditional defense of him either.

But if the Giants keep losing and Coughlin is going to finally take the fall because of this season, the Giants should at least be clear and accurate about the reasons why.

If they want to change the voice in the room, change up the philosophy, pump a different sort of energy into the franchise, fine.

But the Giants' problem is not that Coughlin can't coach. He's one of the best coaches in the league. And their problem this year is not, as Tuck said the other day, that no one can pinpoint the reasons why the Giants are in danger of another late-season collapse.

The explanation for this year is right there in plain sight. It's just something no one on the inside can say:

This year's Giants team just isn't good enough to contend. Period. And it never was. It's not a team that's suffering from any lack of want-to or effort. Everyone from Tuck to Osi Umenyiora to Ahmad Bradshaw has tried to play hurt.

The Giants have had about the season you'd expect from a team that was a borderline playoff contender to begin with and has been steadily gutted by injuries since then.

Remember, the Giants' roster didn't look great coming out of training camp after general manager Jerry Reese's stand-pat summer when the NFL lockout ended. And no one was really persuaded differently on the eve of the season when Reese scoffed at the "panicking" over his refusal to match the "big sexy moves" by some other teams, and defiantly added, "We'll make the playoffs this time and we'll get into the playoffs and make a run."

Reese isn't getting reminded of that statement very much right now. But he should be.

The Giants' offensive line got old on his watch, and the plug-ins haven't been great. The Giants haven't been able to run the ball this year, which used to be a staple of Coughlin's teams. The Giants' linebacking corps had been a sore spot for three years, too, long before injuries left it leaning on several rookies right now, two of them sixth-round draft picks.

Though it'll drive the Coughlin haters crazy, it's actually possible to make a strong argument Coughlin and his staff coached the hell out of this team after players started falling like flies way back in training camp. You could maintain that the Giants' 6-2 record after their win in New England was the illusory part of this year -- not this murderous stretch of the season they're in now, where they couldn't save themselves from losing by a touchdown on the road against the once-beaten 49ers, or getting buzz-sawed in New Orleans, or being huge underdogs to the Packers.

The Giants never get to 6-2 without Coughlin doing a terrific job and Eli Manning spinning gold out of straw.

But if you really do want to blame Coughlin for something this season, don't pick the Giants' late-season performance for a change. Fault him for those three winnable games the Giants lost to also-rans Washington, then Seattle, and most recently, an Eagles team without Michael Vick. Or blanch at how lately, Coughlin, in his frustration, sometimes seemed to distance himself from disasters by saying the team was "prepared" to play, it just didn't "execute." To some players' ears, that sometimes sounds like a disgusted coach saying, "Don't blame ME."

It's not bad schemes or a lack of effort that's killing the Giants right now. They're just running out of players and they're not as good as they were and they know it. That's the answer.

Now all that remains is whether Giants ownership still has the cast iron stomach to weather another year of Coughlin, on the chance with a healthy team things would be better. And it will be a hard decision. Nobody cares about the nuances of this year's late swoon versus the other three, even if not all collapses are created equal. Not with another Giants season waiting to go boom.