By Curt Macysyn
The New York Football Giants (6-10) surprisingly finished out of the NFL playoff picture for the third straight season. This year's team was thought to be a post season contender, but a mid-season seven game losing streak promptly put an early end to that notion. Big Blue faced more than its fair share of injuries, and those injuries, coupled with an acclimation period to a new offensive scheme, only added to the disappointment.
The addition of dynamic reciever Odell Beckham, Jr. gives the team optimism heading into the off season. Beckham, who missed the first month of the season with a hamstring injury, still accumulated enough statistics to likely ensure a rookie-of-the-year award, proved to be an absolute game-changer.
In reviewing the 2014 season, the Giants found their fair share of up's and down's, as well as a couple of reasons for optimism heading into 2015.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Odell Beckham, Jr.'s one-handed touchdown catch versus the Dallas Cowboys
This selection is an abosolute no-brainer from every standpoint. Falling backwards and being interfered with by Brandon Carr, the dynamic Beckham reached back for a 43-yard one-handed touchdown grab, while staying in bounds against the Dallas Cowboys. The incredible catch occurred before a nationwide audience on Sunday Night Football and quickly went viral. Many have categorized the catch as the greatest ever, and Beckham's jersey was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Beckham and the Giants, the team's defense could not hold a lead, and Tony Romo rallied the Cowboys for a 31-28 victory at the Meadowlands.
MOST DISAPPOINTING MOMENT: Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee's 43-yard field goal to beat New York Giants 25-24
The New York Giants held a 21-point lead against the floundering Jaguars in Jacksonville, then an Eli Manning fumble in the end zone gave the Jags life. A Blake Bortles to Marquise Lee touchdown drew Jacksonville closer, and a Larry Donnell fumble was returned 41-yards by Aaron Colvin put the Jaguars ahead. New York actually took a 24-22 lead, before the defense gave it back. Scobee's 43-yard game winner was preceded by a Blake Bortles 20-yard run, when the Giants could not maintain containment on a quarterback read-option, a problem that haunted the defense all year.
MOST LIKELY TO BE BACK: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul was the Giants' first-round draft pick in 2010, and he was fast achieving superstar status with 16.5 quarterback sacks in 2011. But JPP has had to fight several injuries over the past few seasons, including back surgery in 2013, and his statistics declined. With 12.5 quarterback sacks to his credit this season, as well as being a dominating run stopper at times, Pierre-Paul can void his 2015 contract with the New York Giants after Super Bowl XLIX, which he will likely do. The Giants do not usually slap a franchise tag on a player, but the team desperately needs JPP back next season, or the defensive rebuild will become that much more difficult. Look for the parties to get together and JPP to be back at defensive end next year.
MOST LIKELY TO BE GONE: Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Kiwanuka to a (-18.3) for his season, which ended prematurely after week 12 due to a knee injury. According to OverThe Cap.com, cutting the Boston College veteran saves the G-men almost $5 million in cap room, which could go towards filling holes at tight end, running back or linebacker. Undrafted free agent Kerry Wynn looked good in his brief audition at defensive end, and a successful Robert Ayers recovery from a torn pectoral muscle will be helpful at the position as well.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins
There was a gnashing of the teeth by a fair number of New York Giants' fans when the team let Linval Joseph depart to Minnesota via free agency and potentially creating a big hole in the defensive front four. But 2013 second-round draft Johnathan Hankins stepped into the position, and Big Blue did not miss a beat. Big Hank proved to be both durable and effective, as Pro Football Focus indicates that he played 700 snaps over the course of the season and was graded a (+21.2), good for sixth in the league at defensive tackle.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Quarterback Eli Manning
Manning was universally panned for his 2013 performance, as he led the NFL with 27 interceptions. The veteran quarterback threw 30 touchdowns for only the second time in his career in 2014, which was a significant increase from his18 touchdown passes in 2013. While Manning endured some growing pains acclimating to new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, he also completed more than 63 percent of his passes, the highest completion percentage of his career. Surely, the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr. helped Manning immensely, but he also had to do so without a consistent tight end threat, and a sketchy running attack as well. The Giants' offense appears to be fixed, but the team must not over-rely on the production of the very talented Beckham.
MOST IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: Center J.D. Walton
Most NFL followers were surprised that the Giants passed on signing Evan Dietrich-Smith or Brian de la Puenta in free agency, as the team settled on Walton, who had not played for nearly two seasons. Although he had not seen the field for a while, Walton did not come cheaply, as he signed a two-year $6 million contract with the G-men. Since the former Denver Bronco gets paid top dollar, more should be expected than the (-19.6) grade by Pro Football Focus that Walton garnered this year. Walton's grade was 38th in the entire NFL, but on the positive side he played the most snaps of any center (1,145). Maybe the game plan is to give Weston Richburg a chance to win the position in training camp, as Richburg was slected as a center in the 2014 NFL draft. On the downside, Richburg was only slightly better than Walton with a (-13.3) PFF grade in 1,058 snaps at left guard.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.
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