Five games certainly is not a big enough sample size to judge an NFL head coach, and there will be many more tests before a definitive evaluation of Ben McAdoo can be offered. But as he deals with a three-game losing streak highlighted by poor offense and a lack of discipline, McAdoo is confronting some very real issues that eventually will have a bearing on whether he is up to the job for the long term.
McAdoo, 39, was hired in large part because he was the best alternative in terms of providing continuity for franchise quarterback Eli Manning, who enjoyed two of his best statistical seasons with McAdoo as Tom Coughlin’s offensive coordinator in 2014-15. But Manning’s recent struggles, combined with poor play from the offensive line and a slew of drive-killing penalties, have been discouraging for a team with what appeared to be a legitimate chance to win the NFC East title.
Add in Odell Beckham Jr.’s temper issues in Weeks 3 and 4, when he failed to control his emotions despite promising to do just that after last year’s one-game suspension for head-butting cornerback Josh Norman. And also include an incident involving another former first-round pick, left tackle Ereck Flowers, who shoved an ESPN reporter after Sunday night’s 23-16 loss to the Packers when he asked the reporter to walk away from his locker during an interview with two other reporters.
McAdoo has to bear some responsibility for all of this.
Flowers occasionally has expressed disdain for the media in his brief time with the Giants, although none of his interactions had previously included any physical contact. It was a poor way of handling the situation, regardless of his feelings about the reporter he shoved. Flowers apologized to the reporter, ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan, and the team might fine him, although McAdoo said any discipline will be handled in-house.
The Flowers situation is one more brushfire for McAdoo to put out. This after he appeared to finally reach Beckham in a positive way to deal with the talented wide receiver’s emotions. Beckham was in full control of himself Sunday night and even poked fun at himself after scoring his first touchdown of the season. He went over to the kicking net and gave it a hug, a humorous way of getting past the incident two weeks earlier in which he angrily flung his helmet into the net and caused it to carom back and hit him in the face.
One of an NFL coach’s primary functions is to maintain order and structure with his team, and recent events indicate the young coach has plenty of room to grow. Penalties and behavior are a direct reflection of coaching, and the Giants can use work on both fronts.
McAdoo did a commendable job in dealing with many players’ struggles to understand the meaning of recent protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ that spawned a national debate about the anthem. And that shouldn’t be overlooked, because it was a complicated situation filled with meaningful repercussions.
The football-related issues now present a separate challenge and will offer a window into how McAdoo deals with them. His offense is the biggest problem, the one that most directly will impact what happens moving forward. The Giants have been a major disappointment in that area, and there were some subtle yet unmistakable hints offered in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to raise a major caution flag.
Beckham called the offense “one-dimensional.” Manning suggested that the Giants needed to properly adjust to the more conservative style that the Packers were using because of the injury-related absences of their two starting cornerbacks. And wide receiver Victor Cruz, when asked why the Giants kept failing to connect on certain plays, suggested it was up to the coach to answer such questions.
And then there was Flowers, who had a woeful game and was victimized on several pass rushes by the Packers, who often got to Manning despite using only a four-man rush and not sending extra blitzers. Granted, players can be understandably upset after a loss, particularly when they don’t play well, but shoving a reporter is an unacceptable way to reflect that anger.
Despite the problems, it is an overstatement to suggest there is a locker-room insurrection brewing. This still is a tight-knit group that has gotten used to dealing with losing situations in the recent past, especially the back-to-back 6-10 seasons in Coughlin’s final two years. But McAdoo needs to do his own damage control now that the locker room is his, and he needs to show his players he’s up to the job.
Again, it is very, very early in the process, and many coaches struggle at the outset. Joe Gibbs lost his first five games and thought he’d be fired before the end of his first season. Bill Walsh was 2-14 in his first season with the 49ers. Tony Dungy lost eight of his first nine games in Year 1 with Tampa Bay. Bill Parcells went 3-12-1 as a Giants rookie coach in 1983 and feared he’d be fired after one season.
All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That’s not to suggest McAdoo is on the same path; it’s simply too early to know. But every coach, regardless of how well he does in the course of his career, faces unique and difficult challenges, and McAdoo is faced with a crisis point of sorts.
How he navigates his way through the issues will give us a better idea of what kind of coach he ultimately will turn out to be.