Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is having a rough time, to put it lightly, in his second stint with Big Blue.
He is trying to field a defense out of second-stringers, castoffs and rookies and it has showed in the results, or lack therof. The Giants have allowed 423 yards per game this season, 31st in the NFL. At 314 yards per game, they are the only team in the NFL allowing over 300 yards through the air each week.
Of the Giants' 296 points they've given up this season, they have allowed 116 in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. Their secondary has allowed 12 passing touchdowns in the first three quarters combined, and 11 just in the fourth.
"Yeah, not a good sign in a lot of ways," Spagnuolo told reporters on Friday. "I don't know that I have a reason for that except that that needs to change if you're going to do the things that we're trying to do and that's where we're always trying to focus on."
The problem is the Giants' defense has lost its backbone, its core, this season. In every sport, a team needs to be strong down the middle. In football, the core of a defense are it's defensive tackles, middle linebackers and safeties.
The Giants were weak from the beginning this year when they began the season with unproven players at the safety positions. Three of those players -- Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson and Bennett Jackson -- never got out of training camp. All three have been on IR since the summer.
Rookie Landon Collins was labeled an excellent box safety coming into the NFL and he has lived up to that. In pass coverage, however, he has been a disaster. They have been trying to get by with castoffs such as Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl. In their cases, the spirit is willing but the flesh isn't able. Its no wonder their pass coverage is so bad.
MLB Jon Beason, the defensive captain, never made it past the fifth game this season and was ineffective in almost all of those games. His replacement, undrafted free agent Uani 'Unga, has been a high-energy player that has played the run well, but has looked clueless against the pass.
The Giants lost their best defensive tackle, Jon Hankins, after nine games with a torn pectoral muscle. Needless to say, there is huge dropoff in talent after him at defensive tackle.
Spagnuolo gets a pass for the ineptitude of the defense. Still, the Giants have led, or had a chance to win 11 of their 12 games this year. Those fourth-quarter letdowns have killed them.
"The common denominator is we need to make one more play," Spagnuolo said. "Look it, that's an easy answer. We're always digging and always changing, quite frankly--trying something different, trying to get a beat. Every week we try to get a beat on what a team would do against us at the end of the game and what we think are the best approaches to defend it. And I think we've been right most of the time, but when push comes to shove at the end, somewhere along the way, somebody needs to make a play."
And those plays have stuck in the minds of Giant fans all year. There's Collins' dropped interception in the final minute against the Patriots that would have iced the game. Unga got beat by Cowboys TE Jason Witten for a touchdown in the final seconds of the season opener. And this past Sunday, when Jets WR Brandon Marshall boxed out CB Prince Amukamara for the game-tying touchdown with 27 seconds left on the clock.
All the Giants really needed was to make one play there and they'd own first palce in the NFC East right now. But it just hasn't worked out that way. Spagnuolo can't fix those errors of commission, but he beats himself up over the things he might have done.
"I always go back and first look at the calls that were made," he said. "Did I make the right call here? Could I have made a better call?" A call that doesn't work, you always think there could have been a better call. So there's a few in there that I would like to have back, and I'm sure that the players would say there's a few plays in there that they would have liked to have done one little thing better, made a better decision here. And I think all of that combined, I think somewhere in there, if we do all that, we'll find a way to make that play that we need to end the game."