The Giants of the 2007 and 2011 seasons won Super Bowl championships through grit and tough play in the trenches. They rushed the passer, ran the ball and kept mistakes to a minimum – all the hallmark of a team coached by Coughlin.
They’ve been short of that standard the last two years, missing the playoffs both seasons, and little happened in the preseason to indicate that they’ll be on track to win another championship as they start the season against the Lions at Ford Field on Monday night.
“We’ve made some strides in the running game from last year,” Coughlin said in a conference-call interview with the Detroit media on Wednesday. “We didn’t get after the passer quite as much as we’d like in the preseason, but I think the potential is there for that.
“We’ve made some strides – done some good things and some bad things.”
This is a season of change for the Giants, and they’re hoping it is for the better to improve on last season’s 7-9 record.
Quarterback Eli Manning is running a new offensive system, with a key addition to the running game. The defensive secondary has been revamped, but the pass rush might not be better. And the offensive line remains a concern.
Here are the key developments, stats and issues facing the Giants as they seek to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence since beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI:
Giants’ 2013 review: A 0-6 start wrecked their season. They went 7-3 the rest of the way – including a 23-20 win over the Lions at Ford Field in Game 15 to finish 7-9.
They had problems across the board. Manning completed only 57.5 percent of his passes with 18 TDs and 27 interceptions. Andre Brown was the leading rusher with 492 yards, and the defense had only 33 sacks.
Giants’ preseason: They were 5-0, with four games decided by four points or fewer.
Offense: The addition of free-agent running back Rashad Jennings gives the Giants the kind of power back that’s been a key element of Coughlin’s offense. Jennings has never been a true feature back in five previous seasons, but he rushed for 733 yards, six TDs and a 4.5-yard average per carry last year with Oakland.
Behind him are rookie Andre Williams and veteran Peyton Hillis, who had a 1,177-yard season for Cleveland in 2010 but only 1,153 yards the last three seasons combined with the Broncos, Chiefs and Giants.
Former Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo is the new offensive coordinator with a version of the west coast offense that is still a work in progress – and slow progress at that.
Manning completed only 48.8 percent of his passes in the preseason. The Giants have been without first-round receiver Odell Beckham Jr. because of a hamstring injury that will keep him out for the start of the season.
Manning was sacked 39 times last year, but he faced a rush that pressured him more often than the sack total indicates. The retirement of four-time Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee, who played only three games last season because of an elbow injury, doesn’t help.
Coughlin sounded exasperated when asked about the offense. He tied some of the problems to learning the new offense, including terminology.
“That question has been asked a million times, because everybody jumps on the bandwagon over, ‘Where is the offense?’” he said. “On occasion we did score some points, but our first group didn’t score a lot of points, not that that’s unusual. I can’t remember a year that we did.”
Defense: When at its best, the Giants’ pass rush ranked with the NFL’s best. They lined up four linemen in what was called the NASCAR line, and they went after the quarterback like it was a green-light finish in the Daytona 500.
The 2007 team led the NFL with 52 sacks, and the 2011 team was tied for third with 48. Retirements and personnel losses have made an impact. The Giants had 34 sacks last season for a three-way tie for 25th place.
Osi Umenyiora signed with the Falcons last year, and Justin Tuck signed with the Raiders this year. Umenyiora and Tuck both had 15 sacks in their last two seasons combined with the Giants. That’s a lot of production to lose.
Jason Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks in 2011 but only 6.5 in 2012 and 2 in 2013 as he battled through injuries that limited him to 11 games and six starts in ’13. The Giants added cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond to a secondary that already had Prince Amukamara developing into a solid cover corner and Antrel Rolle as a safety who plays the run and the pass.
Having middle linebacker Jon Beason healthy to face the Lions in the opener is a bonus.
“We need him,” Pierre-Paul told reporters earlier this week. “Everybody knows that we need him. He’s off the PUP list, and he’s ready to go.
“He’s fired up.”