Put it all on Jerry Reese.
“This roster, it’s my roster,” the general manager said Tuesday as the Giants go into their bye week at 1-6 — by far the biggest disappointment of any NFL team this season. “I’m responsible for everyone on the roster, and I take ownership for where we are with this 1-6 start.”
Credit the 11-year GM for falling on his sword in the wake of the Giants’ shockingly bad start, which has featured a compilation of dreadful performances that essentially have eliminated them from playoff contention. Reese didn’t lay the blame anywhere other than at his own feet, didn’t point fingers, didn’t deflect the criticism that has come his way almost halfway through a lost season.
“If you can’t take criticism,” Reese said, “you should quit.”
But drill down on some of the reasons Reese brought up for this brutal season, and it’s impossible not to see coach Ben McAdoo as a major contributor to all that has gone wrong. Even though Reese went out of his way to publicly defend McAdoo — “It’s not on the head coach. It’s on all of us,” he said — there is significant culpability with the coach.
Of particular concern was Reese’s contention, which he stated on more than one occasion Tuesday, that the Giants “bought into the hype” during an offseason and training camp that included plenty of optimism about the team following up on last year’s 11-5 season with a potential Super Bowl run this year.
McAdoo didn’t hide from that hype and seemed to welcome it. After one training camp practice that particularly impressed him because of the speed and physicality of the players, McAdoo suggested that kind of work would serve the team well for practices in January and February. It was a not-so-veiled suggestion that yes, he believed this team would be practicing in the winter months with an eye toward Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
Though it’s fine to have that kind of swagger and for the players to embrace that level of optimism, you’d better have your team ready to back it up. Instead, the Giants were awful in a 19-3 season-opening loss in Dallas and in their home opener the following week in a 24-10 loss to the Lions.
The Giants were simply not ready to play after buying into the hype, and that’s not on the general manager. That’s on the coach.
“We just didn’t go out and strain as hard as you have to strain to play in this league,” Reese said. “You have to do it every Sunday. That fight that I saw from us last year — and I have seen it at times — but it hasn’t been consistent enough for us to win games.”
Reese also suggested the Giants didn’t play with as much hunger, particularly on defense, as they did last year.
“I don’t think we had that hunger when we first came out during the season because we could have closed some games out defensively,” he said. “So, the hunger from the defense, the hunger from the entire team has to be there as well. But the defense in particular, I saw a hungrier defense last year than I’ve seen. You have to be consistently hungry every week and get the job done.”
Not the same kind of hunger? Buying into the hype? McAdoo needed to set the tone early, and that didn’t happen.
Reese also pointed to preparation as a key element of the meltdown.
“It’s pro football. You have to do the little things right, and it starts with preparation,” he said. “You win the game during the week when you practice. That’s where you win the football games. You don’t win on Sunday.”
When asked directly about McAdoo, Reese was positive in his assessment.
“He won 11 games last year as a rookie,” he said. “It’s been a little bit tougher, you can’t sneak up on anybody in this league. He has to do better at what his job is and I think he will and here’s why I think that, is because, it’s important to him, No. 1. He’s a hard worker, he’s smart. He’s smarter than all of us in this room, I can tell you that. It’s not even close, all of us together, he’s smarter than all of us. So, it’s important to him, it means something to him. He’s not a guy that you can’t talk to and give suggestions to. He’s going to do whatever is best for this football team.”
Reese himself shouldn’t be absolved from his share of the blame, and there are many fans who want to see him gone. He didn’t adequately address the offensive line, a unit whose struggles have been a major impediment to scoring and consistency. His signing of Brandon Marshall turned out to be a disappointment even before Marshall suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Depth in the secondary and linebacker have been an issue.
But there was still a good enough roster to work with coming into the season, and still enough talent with which to win. Say what you will about Reese, but McAdoo’s inability to get the team’s mind right coming into the season and his poor work with the offense have been at the heart of what could turn out to be one of the most dismal seasons in franchise history.