EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The moments following the end of their 6-10 season were not, the New York Giants decided, the time to talk in depth about the future. Asked whether he thought the team was headed in the right direction and whether he wanted to be back, coach Tom Coughlin said he wouldn't address the latter but, "I think it's headed in the right direction, yeah."
But is it? And more importantly, is that the right point of view for the Giants to take as they begin their offseason evaluations?
Coughlin's micro focus is one of his coaching strengths. His ability to lock in on one week's preparation at a time and block out external noise ensures that his teams are generally well-prepared for their games. And if your focus is on each individual game, you could certainly talk yourself into thinking that the Giants are moving in the right direction. The offense looked much better in December against weak opponents. Eli Manning had a fine statistical season. Odell Beckham Jr. would get anyone excited about the future.
"You look at the games we lost, and we really feel like we beat ourselves," running back Rashad Jennings said. "And when that's the case, you know you can fix it."
The problem is, that game-to-game micro focus can distract from the big picture. And for the Giants right now, the big picture is one of disappointment and mediocrity. Their regular-season records the past six years are 8-8, 10-6, 9-7, 9-7, 7-9 and 6-10. Even if you add in the 4-0 postseason record that followed the 2011 season, Coughlin is still just 53-47 over the past six years -- not a record that screams "headed in the right direction."
The case for keeping Coughlin isn't necessarily that much stronger than the case for moving on. Before settling their heads once more on the pillow of status quo, the people who run the Giants need to make an honest evaluation about where their franchise stands and how much work they have to do to return it to a championship level.
For example: Coughlin seemed to be delivering a message, postgame, in support of embattled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, whose unit ranked near the bottom of the NFL. Unsolicited, Coughlin said, "Defensively, I think we had a good plan and that the plan was well-taught." And while he has the right to defend (and choose) his own staff, the takeaway was clearly that there's a disconnect between Coughlin's evaluation of Fewell and the public perception that Fewell is a goner. If the front office and ownership believe Fewell must be replaced, there could be a fight over that between them and Coughlin in the coming days.
Which, again, is fine. These decisions shouldn't come without careful, even painful consideration. Fewell's a good guy and a good coach, but the performance of the defense this year and in recent years is the kind that gets coordinators fired. An honest self-evaluation should lead the Giants to do on defense what they did last offseason on offense: Overhaul the whole thing. Refresh it. Bring in a new coordinator, a new scheme and rebuild it with new people in key positions. It may be too extreme to say the defense is "broken," as John Mara said the offense was a year ago, but at best it's stale. The Giants trade on the idea of stability in leadership roles, and in general that's a good and too-unusual way to operate. But it can't be a crutch that keeps you from making tough decisions when they need to be made.
The Giants should be looking at absolutely everything and everyone with a critical eye. It makes no sense that the job status of GM Jerry Reese, with his draft record, isn't even questioned. It shouldn't be automatic that Coughlin, who has won playoff games in only two of his 11 Giants seasons, returns just because the Giants don't want to be a team that fires coaches. And if performance dictates otherwise, it shouldn't be a slam-dunk that Fewell or special-teams coordinator Tom Quinn comes back just because Coughlin likes coaching with them.
Huge decisions loom about player personnel, of course, at the end of all of this. They can't get lulled to sleep by the fact that the offensive line was a bit better in December than it was in September. All offensive lines are. The Giants' line still needs better players. They need to overhaul the pass rush -- the Giants' sack total was inflated by a strong finish -- either around a re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul or around a viable playmaking replacement. They need to address safety and linebacker, look honestly at the run game and decide what the best thing is to do about Manning and his contract.
It's entirely possible that losing Sunday's game was a good thing for the Giants. Something about 6-10 feels a lot worse than 7-9, and if that reminds them of how much work they really have to do on this work-in-progress roster, then good. Because no matter how much they may want to convince themselves they're headed in the right direction, the Giants can't lose sight of how far they are away from where they want to be.