Posted December 20, 2011

Coach Killers, Week 15: New York Giants

New York Giants

The Redskins' offense picked apart a depleted Giants secondary last Sunday. (The Star-Ledger/US Presswire)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

Tom Coughlin led the Giants to a surprising Super Bowl win during the 2007 season, but he’s seemed to live in a perpetual state of uncertainty since then. There may not be another coach in the league perceived to be “on the hot seat” quite as frequently as Coughlin, who, fairly or not, takes the brunt of criticism in New York when the Giants underperform.

And underperform they did in Week 15, delivering a stinker of a performance against the Redskins.

The Giants’ much-maligned defense failed to slow the Redskins, despite picking off Rex Grossman twice, and the offense mustered just three points until a late, meaningless touchdown. As a result New York suffered a disheartening 23-10 loss to Washington that bounced Dallas back into first place in the NFC East and put the Giants on the brink of postseason elimination — if Dallas beats Philadelphia in Week 16, and the Giants lose to the Jets, the Week 17 Cowboys-Giants rematch in the Meadowlands will be meaningless.

Where to pin the blame for Sunday’s letdown? Pick just about any player on the roster, and he probably deserves a little bit of a call out.

Eli Manning, of course, turned in the most noticeable poor performance, throwing three interceptions — though at least one, and arguably two of those picks were not his fault. Still, the one interception that unquestionably can be pinned on him was a killer. It came on the Giants’ first possession of the third quarter, with Washington holding a 17-3 lead. Manning had an open Hakeem Nicks but underthrew him, allowing DeAngelo Hall to make the INT.

But Manning was far from alone.

Nicks also earlier appeared to lose a deep ball in the sun, then watched it ricochet off his face mask, robbing the Giants of a probable touchdown.

Mario Manningham appeared to be responsible for one of the interceptions, cutting short an end-zone route, as Manning lobbed a pass over his head and into the waiting arms of Washington’s Josh Wilson.

The offensive line failed to generate any consistent push for New York’s run game — Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for less than 100 yards on the ground — and also allowed three sacks.

And the defense … oh, the defense.

For the second time this season, the Giants were unable to shut down Rex Grossman, who has picked up two of his five wins in 2011 against New York. Grossman tossed two interceptions of his own but also threw a key first-half touchdown to Santana Moss.

New York now owns the league’s fourth-worst defense in terms of yards allowed (385.1) and only four teams have given up more points.

A huge chunk of Grossman’s success came at the expense of Prince Amukamara, the Giants’ rookie corner, who missed all of training camp and the regular season’s first nine weeks with a broken foot. Forced to play key minutes in a banged-up and shaky Giants secondary, Amukamara has looked exactly as you might expect a rookie to look after he falls that far behind the curve.

Long story short, New York was bad on Sunday. So bad that you have to wonder if this team belongs in the playoff discussion at all.

What was apparent was that the Giants can not win if Manning is off his game at all. That’s not exactly breaking news — most of the NFL’s elite teams rely on their quarterback to carry the load — but New York’s need for Manning to play near-perfect was emphasized again Sunday.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the Giants still have two weeks to rebound. Beat the Jets, beat the Cowboys and they go to the playoffs, regardless of their up-and-down season.

One more effort like Sunday’s, though, and Big Blue can start thinking ahead to next season — and pondering whether or not that future will include Coughlin.

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