The optimistic look at Ben McAdoo's first almost-half-season as Giants head coach is that they got to their bye week over .500. They have gutted out two straight wins to reverse a mini-tailspin to put themselves right in the thick of the second-half playoff chase.
The pessimistic look is that the journey to 4-3 hasn't exactly been pretty. Also, they were 4-3 last year, too. That was fools' gold, though, as they proved by losing seven of their last nine.
So the story of the first season of the post-Tom Coughlin Era hasn't really been written yet. And seven games into McAdoo's tenure, there are as many good signs as there are bad. Here's a look at some of them that may prove to be important as the Giants try to earn their first playoff berth since way back in 2011:
McAdoo's tumultuous first half-season in charge. He's had a lot of non-football stuff to deal with in his first year in the big chair (and big office), from the Josh Brown fiasco to Ereck Flowers' childish behavior, all while he gets used to running the whole football show. He has not come off well publicly, from his support of Brown "as a man, as a father" to no show of discipline for Flowers when he shoved a reporter, to a very contentious interview a few weeks back on WFAN. He's clearly not comfortable as the man out in front of the cameras and microphones, and doesn't give off the same "I'm in charge" image that Tom Coughlin did from the start.
That's an image issue, though, that won't matter at all if he wins. A bigger problem is he sometimes appears overwhelmed with managing the bigger picture of the game, as if he's so caught up in the offense he loses track of everything else. It's led to some strange clock management decisions, a few odd replay challenges, and a couple of timeouts that took way too long to call.
All that said, he absolutely appears to have the respect and belief of his players, which is probably what matters most early in his tenure. They even believe in his play-calling, even though many fans clearly don't. It's still his offense and it still makes sense that he keeps calling the plays, even though they've slipped to 20th in the rankings. But giving up control to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has to become a consideration if McAdoo is as overwhelmed as he sometimes looks.
McAdoo's play-calling. It is a bit predictable, though not nearly as much as many on the outside seem to believe. The most predictable part is his reliance on "11 personnel," which is the three-receiver, one-running back, one-tight end set the Giants run a stunning 96 percent of the time. They also seem to rely on a package of two or three basic running plays - and they don't even use those enough in their one-dimensional offense considering more than 65 percent of their plays have been passes.
No doubt that predictability is an issue. But blaming it simply on play-calling is way too simplistic. There have been many, many seemingly predictable calls that would've worked if only the receiver hadn't fumbled or dropped the pass, or if blocks hadn't been missed. McAdoo was roasted for a screen pass that was thrown to Odell Beckham last week in London that went for minus-6 yards. But Beckham had a lot of field in front of him to run for a long gain if either Roger Lewis or Sterling Shepard had blocked the defensive back covering them. Both were overrun like Wile E. Coyote trying to stop the Roadrunner (Google it, kids). How many others were undone by simple drops?
There's also the issue of protection. Everyone wants to know why the Giants don't take more deep shots, but this offense has clearly become all about three-step drops and quick passes, even out of the shotgun. A lot of that is out of necessity because Manning doesn't get the time in the pocket to let plays develop downfield because of some really shaky play from his offensive line.
And as for the reliance on "11" … well, what else can he do? McAdoo has three tight ends, none of whom can block well and all of whom have issues as receivers. He also has no fullback on the roster. The strength of this offense is the three receivers. The best thing this offense does is pass. Mixing it up a little more would probably be smart, but there isn't a ton of flexibility on the roster.
Which brings up a good point …
It's still the personnel. Years of poor drafting and questionable decisions by GM Jerry Reese put the Giants in position where they had to spend $200 million to salvage their defense, and it looks like they did OK there. It would be nice if they were getting more of a pass rush (Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon have combined for a ridiculous 2.5 sacks), but that's OK. On offense, though, they made some questionable decisions.
Their plan for offensive line depth was to bring in a bunch of low-level veterans this summer, none of whom stuck. And now they've got Will Beatty, who apparently is so not ready to play he can't even get on the field as a blocking tight end in short-yardage runs? Plus, with no fullback and no blocking tight end once Will Johnson got hurt … well, it's sort of no wonder McAdoo's offense isn't very versatile. Also, it's hard to say whether this is personnel or usage of personnel, but shouldn't DT Jay Bromley, DE Owa Odighizuwa and LB Devon Kennard be playing more by now on defense? None of them play more than 40 percent of the time and Odighizuwa is on the field so infrequently that JPP and Vernon rarely get a rest. Maybe if they did, they'd get more pressure on the quarterback.
Eli Manning is too inconsistent, but some help would be nice, too. Manning in theory should be beyond his up-and-down swings in Year 13, but he's had three mediocre-to-bad games and his eight touchdown passes through seven games just isn't good enough. When you factor in the drops in the end zone, fumbles in the red zone, penalties and other breakdowns, it's clearly not all his fault. But part of the quarterback's job is to elevate the players around him. In the last four games, the only time Manning looked like his old elite self was when Beckham was running wild. He's got to figure out ways to get help from other sources.
Injuries are still an issue. After a relatively quiet summer in the trainers' room, the Giants have returned to their rotten injury luck of the last few years. The loss of RB Shane Vereen (triceps) was a huge one for McAdoo's offense. The loss of TE Will Johnson (burner) was way bigger than anyone thought. Bobby Hart has filled in nicely for RT Marshall Newhouse (calf), but his loss still hurts the line's depth. The safety position has been decimated again, with the loss of rookie Darian Thompson (foot) and Nat Berhe (concussion). And there have been injuries to RB Rashad Jennings, CB Eli Apple, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, TE Larry Donnell, long-snapper Zak DeOssie, returner Dwayne Harris. Even Beckham (hip) is now playing through pain. I guess nobody can blame this on the old strength and conditioning coaches anymore, at least. Or Tom Coughlin's old-school approach.
A few other quick hits at the near-halfway point:
Best rookie - A good argument could be made for Apple, who looked terrific before getting hurt. But it's WR Sterling Shepard, who has a solid 31 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns. If that, and his lone big game (8-117 in Week 2), feels disappointing it's only because expectations were set unreasonably high.
Best free agent - None of the Giants' offseason signings raised more eyebrows around the league than giving CB Janoris Jenkins a five-year, $62.5 million deal. But he's made that look good by playing at a consistent Pro Bowl-caliber level (two interceptions, 10 passes defensed).
Breakout star - It's ironic this comes at a position the Giants have neglected in recent years, but safety Landon Collins has been fantastic, and his highlight-reel pick-6 against the Rams in London may have put him on the national map.
Comeback player - He is clearly not the old Victor Cruz, but he is certainly good enough and after nearly two years of being out of football what he's doing (24-331-1) is miraculous. His current pace puts him at about 55 catches for 750 yards, which wouldn't be terrible for a third receiver. It's also possible he's just getting started.
Up and comer -- The Giants haven't gone to rookie RB Paul Perkins much, but that might change in the second half. With the running game stagnant, he's shown the ability to make people miss. The sample size is small (10 runs, 39 yards and six catches, 105 yards) but he's quick to the hole and good in space. He has to become a better pass blocker, though, to be a threat to anyone's job.
Looking ahead - The Giants come out of the bye week with a very favorable schedule - three straight home games, followed by a trip to Cleveland. And of those three home opponents, only the Eagles (4-2) have a winning record. Especially with the Bears (1-6) and Browns (0-7) on the menu, there's no excuse for the Giants to go worse than 2-2 and they really could go 3-1, which would put them at 7-4 heading into December. After all their late-season misery the last few years, boy would they take that.
Revised prediction - Before the season I picked them to be 9-7, to finish in second place in the NFC East behind the Redskins, and to earn a wild card berth. I see no reason to change that now, though I'm not as convinced as I was that nine wins will be good enough for a playoff berth. They may need some tie-breaker help on that one. Also, I may have to take a mulligan on the Redskins, and switch the division champ to Dallas.
Regardless, the Giants basically are what I thought they were -- a slightly better-than-.500 team that should remain in contention. And if their offense gets back to playing even as well as it did last season, they are capable of making a run. Maybe not a championship run, but a run.