NEW ORLEANS -- There was absolutely nothing the New York Giants could do. That's sometimes a cliche, or hyperbole, or a way of evading a true, in-depth analysis of what went wrong. But in this case, it cuts to the heart of what happened to the Giants here on Monday night and where they are as a team after their third straight loss.
The Saints destroyed them. They rolled up 577 yards of total offense and moved the ball at will on their way to a 49-24 victory behind Drew Brees and his ensemble cast of seemingly interchangeable offensive weapons. And all night, from the very beginning, there was nothing the Giants could do to stop them.
The only reason this might possibly be a surprise is because of where the Giants were three weeks ago. After beating the Patriots in Foxborough, they were 6-2, well in front of the NFC East and feeling as though they could beat anyone. But that was the mirage, and this is the reality that has underlay this Giants season since their stagnant offseason and the start of training camp. They don't have enough, personnel-wise, to hang with a team like the Saints.
That's not on the coaching staff, folks. That's on GM Jerry Reese. The Giants aren't one of those teams on which the head coach has final say over personnel moves. With the Giants, Reese does. And while he seems to get a bit of a free pass from his fan base, he hasn't done a good enough job making those moves over the past few years, and the cracks in the roster are showing it.
The Giants do a couple of things very well. Their quarterback is excellent. Their wide receivers are very good. And when they get pressure on quarterbacks with their down linemen, their defense can be smothering. But Reese has for too long failed to prioritize the offensive line and the linebacker position, and that's where the Giants are losing games now.
Opposing offenses are keeping extra men in to protect their quarterback, exposing the coverage problems at the second level of the defense. And while the line blocked a bit better in the run game Monday night, the Giants remain the worst rushing team in the league because that line has played soft during a rotten run-blocking season.
The problems aren't scheme-related or coach-related. The Giants' problem right now is that their roster was too thin to begin with and is seriously fraying due to the rash of injuries that has befallen it.
The best word to sum up Giants coach Tom Coughlin's feelings after this game was "exasperation." This was a man who believed he and his players had done everything they could but that it wasn't good enough.
"We just weren't able to cover them," he said.
"When we don't get to the passer, we have trouble," he said a bit later.
Someone asked him if he was considering "wholesale lineup changes," and he harrumphed.
"Have you looked at the roster since we lost a couple of guys here lately?" he asked his questioner. "How many wholesale lineup changes do you think we could make?"
Asked directly if he felt he didn't have enough on defense to compete with the Saints, Coughlin quickly said "no." He said he "knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I still thought we would win."
That's the way he should feel, of course, and no one's expecting him to rip his GM for handing him an insufficiently deep or balanced roster or to publicly admit the players he's using aren't good enough. But the pervading feeling in the Giants' locker room late Monday night was one of resignation. They believed they'd played as hard and as well as they could, but that it wasn't good enough.
"We ran into a buzz saw," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We weren't able to do anything we wanted to do defensively."
That's likely to continue Sunday, when they face Aaron Rodgers and the 11-0 Green Bay Packers. That's another game where it looks as though the Giants won't have enough to compete. Another game against a high-powered offense with an array of weapons too wide and varied for the undermanned Giants to handle.
They'll play hard, as they always do. And Manning and the pass offense will give them a chance late if they can keep it close. But there exists the chance they won't be able to put a good enough team on the field to win, which is what happened Monday.
"We look forward to the next game because we feel like this is our playoffs right now," Tuck said. "We aren't going to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We're going to go out there and fight."
The Giants' problem isn't heart or desire. A lot of it is injuries, sure. They've been crushed by critical injuries since the preseason, when the defense lost Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff, and the bad luck has continued lately with damaging injuries to Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Boley and others. But the inability to overcome those injuries simply points out the fact that the roster Reese built wasn't deep enough or strong enough in its foundations to begin with.
If you put together a team that can't run the ball and can't cover on defense, and you ask the quarterback and the defensive line to mask those deficiencies, you're asking for trouble. You've consistently ignored the parts of the game that represent the ability to control it, and you've invited your opponents to put you on your heels -- to force you to come back every week and win in the fourth quarter.
This Giants' roster isn't good enough. They won some games early on guts and emotion and toughness. They took advantage of the soft part of their schedule to build an early lead. And as a result, no matter what happens next week, they still have a chance to overtake the Cowboys and win the NFC East.
But even if they do that, once they get into the playoffs they're going to see teams like the Saints and the Packers and the 49ers, who started them on their current losing streak. And when they come up against teams like that, they're not going to have enough to hang with them, and there's not going to be anything they can do.