It was a step along the way that needed to be reached. There is no Super Bowl without the playoffs, just as there are no playoffs without a winning record. It's learning to walk before being able to run.
The Giants made progress this past season. After three straight awful campaigns they went 11-5 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in five years. They did it with a first-year coach, a revamped program, rebuilt defense and an inordinate amount of first- and second-year players in prominent roles.
The Giants are heading in the right direction. The Denver Broncos didn’t win the Super Bowl last year following a playoff drought. It was their fifth straight trip to the postseason. The Patriots, Seahawks and Ravens before them went through similar climbs and grinds.The Giants are in midst of a process. They took a step forward this season and have a lot to be optimistic about moving forward.
Found a coach
Ben McAdoo’s first year didn’t go flawlessly. There were bumps in the road and more off-the-field potholes (Josh Brown, walkie-talkies, boat trips, etc.) than normal. The offense for which he called the plays also struggled to score points from start to finish. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was encouraging.
“Ben McAdoo has done a really nice job for us as a first-year head coach, how he handled himself, and how he handled the team,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “I think probably for the head coaches, for the most part, you don’t realize how much extra you have to do beyond coaching, so he has learned a lot, done a nice job, and I think we have a good foundation to build on.”
The Giants had a five-game improvement in 2016. That’s a massive leap. They did it by winning loads of close games. That was in part because McAdoo’s team showed poise and confidence no matter what they encountered.
They followed his lead, and he's an uber-focused grinder unshaken by outside noise.
“He did a good job of getting guys around here to buy in, and everybody has a lot of respect for him,” punter Brad Wing said. “I don’t think you’ll find anybody to say anything negative about him. He deserves a lot of credit.”
There was a different feel and demeanor around the Giants this year under McAdoo, who inherited the difficult task of replacing a legend in Tom Coughlin. There was a more new-school approach that seemed to resonate with the younger players.
It worked. McAdoo won 11 games as a rookie and the Giants undoubtedly have found their coach.
Fixed a training problem
Just look at the injured reserve list this season compared to the last few years and it’s staggering. It was reduced to one page. The Giants finished with 11 players (only one starter) on there after being the most injured team each of the past three years, according to Football Outsiders.
New strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman and McAdoo changed the entire program. They altered the way the Giants worked out and practiced, and the results were encouraging. The Giants were healthy and relatively fresh, even down the stretch. The biggest difference according to several players was the way that Wellman individually tapered workout programs. He developed a routine that was best for each player, rather than a standard for the team or a position group.
McAdoo, who has a master’s degree in kinesiology, was also heavily involved in setting a weekly schedule that allowed the Giants to maximize on-field performance. It worked, and it’s something they can build on moving forward to make even better.
The Giants spent more than $200 million last offseason to upgrade the talent on their defense. Inevitably, it was going to be better. But Reese and his scouting staff hit on almost every addition. The Giants defense went from 32nd in the NFL to 10th in the matter of a year. And they have pieces in place to remain a top unit moving forward.
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon, safety Landon Collins and cornerback Janoris Jenkins are All-Pro players. They’re the backbone for a group that should be dominant for the next few years.
“I think we did a good job on defense. Kind of flipped the mindset of what was going on last year, being last in the league in defense and this year being a top 10 D or whatever the case may be,” said veteran linebacker Keenan Robinson, who is a free agent this offseason. “People know now that with the players we have and the group we have, if we all come back obviously, then we can be something special moving forward and be a dominant defense.
“We weren’t dominant this year consistently. We were good at times, dominant at times. That’s the biggest thing I think we can fix next year.”
The Giants are healthy financially and should be able to bring back most of their pieces. A defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL should only get better with more continuity and familiarity. That was evident as the season progressed. It should carry over into next season.
It didn’t take the Broncos one season to build one of the best defenses in recent history. It took several years. After seeing the initial results, this Giants defense in its second season together could be scary.