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New York Giants digging themselves huge hole with worst start since 2013

By Patricia Traina, The Sports Xchange
New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo watches from the sidelines during the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-14 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on December 4, 2016. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo watches from the sidelines during the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-14 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on December 4, 2016. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants (0-4) are off to their worst start since 2013 when they lost their first six games.

Although head coach Ben McAdoo isn't panicking, his level of concern about the state of his locker room and the collective mindset of his players has weighed heavily on his mind.

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"Yeah, I mean, its fight or flight time," McAdoo said via conference call Monday. "We have talented men of integrity in the locker room. It's not going to be easy. But we have to go out there and we have to fight."

That might be easier said than done. Following the Giants' heartbreaking 25-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a field goal as time expired, defensive captain Jonathan Casillas suggested that it might take the team longer than the usual 24 hours players and coaches usually allow for postgame celebrations or mourning.

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"We feel like (expletive)," Casillas said. "Everybody does. And it's going to feel like this for a while."

Therein lies McAdoo's concern.

"The biggest thing that I get concerned about is guys going numb," the head coach said. "We can't go numb. Can never accept this."

The problem is that the Giants have seemingly tried everything possible to get that first win only to have something new pop up to thwart their efforts.

"We may be pressing or may be hesitant, depends on which part of the game or which phase you're talking about," McAdoo said, adding, "I don't see that. Confidence is always an issue. It's a game of confidence and you build confidence through the way you practice. And then it has to transition to game day and that's really been where we're struggling."

The plan to accomplish that, per McAdoo, is to simplify.

"Simplify what we are doing schematically and let these guys go out and play and showcase their ability," he said.

"You got to fight through it. You got to work for that first one; work for the first win."

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There was only one team in the NFL that began its season 0-4 and still came back to qualify for a postseason berth -- the 1992 San Diego Chargers.

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Giants guard Justin Pugh, speaking with a straight face and is an earnest voice, believes the Giants can become the second such team to do so.

"This is what I'll say about 0-4: How cool is it going to be when we make the playoffs? How cool is it going to be when we go on this run?" Pugh said following the Giants' heartbreaking 25-23 loss to the Bucs on a 34-yard Nick Folk field goal as time expired.

"That's what you have to look at it as," Pugh said. "We're going to go on this run, it's going to be epic, and you guys are going to be like, '(Shoot), in Tampa Bay, Pugh said we're going to go on this run.' It's going to be (freaking) awesome, and I can't wait until we do it."

In case anyone is wondering, no, Pugh didn't appear to be incoherent when he made those statements. Rather, those are the words of a young team leader who while no doubt seeing the problems that keep dragging this tea's ship down, remains hopeful that things will click for them before it's too late.

That might be asking a bit too much though considering how the Giants got to 0-4. Every week it's been the same story, starting with the team failing to play complementary football in all three phases of the game.

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There have been dropped passes (two this week by top receiver Odell Beckham Jr. alone), missed tackles, a continued struggle to run the ball with any consistency, poor punting, losing the field position battle and failing to come up with a defensive turnover just to name a few of the very long list of things wrong with this Giants team after the first quarter of the season.

Perhaps the biggest concern is how, after supposedly having solid practices during the week, what they're doing on the field isn't translating to the games.

Head coach Ben McAdoo had no immediate answers.

"We're going to take a look at the film. We're going to work on our fundamentals at practice. We need to do a better job at coaching them up to show up on game day." he said.

It might be too late though. Besides having history against them, the Giants are also dealing with something they really didn't have to deal with last year when they went 11-5: injuries to key players.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon aggravated his sprained ankle and missed half the game. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison suffered a bruised knee, though he returned. Center Weston Richburg left the game with a concussion. Starting running back Paul Perkins suffered a rib injury, and receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is still dealing with a healing ankle that at times appeared to bother him this week, dislocated a finger.

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Despite having so much stacked against them with few answers in sight, both McAdoo and Pugh said the only thing they can do at this point is stick together.

"I'm not concerned at all," McAdoo said. "We have talented men of integrity in the locker room. We have to stay to work and stay together. All we have is us."

Pugh agreed. "That's the only option we've got," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy that is going to sit there and sulk, say, 'Oh, woe is me. Feel bad for me. Don't ask me tough questions.' We've got to go out there and we've got to go on a run. We've got the guys in the room that can do it."

Pugh, who was on a Giants team as a rookie that started out 0-6 in 2013, was asked what made him believe that the Giants could turn things around.

"You get one win, you get rolling, and anything can happen," he said. "The guys we have in this room, the talent we have in this room, we can go out and win any week. ... We're going to keep fighting. At 0-4, that's all you can do."

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If there is one thing on defense that has really stuck in the craw of both head coach Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, it's been the way the defense has been tackling.

According to Pro Football Focus, an advanced analytics site, the Giants missed eight tackles in Sunday's 25-23 loss to the Bucs, which brings their 2017 season total to 37.

"Both these last two games (against the Lions and the Eagles), the tackling has not been very good," Spagnuolo said before his defense proceeded to lay another egg in the tackling department against the Bucs. "Too many missed tackles. It's the first thing we talk about. Quite honestly, it didn't go much further than tackling and stopping the run."

Unfortunately, the Giants did neither against the Bucs, who racked up 434 yards against the Giants and who had six big plays of 20 or more yards in their 25-23 win.

A large part of the tackling issue involved defenders who failed to wrap ball-carriers up and who instead decided to try to shoulder-tackle guys to the ground.

"It has to get fixed from the inside out," Spagnuolo said of how they approach fixing the issue. "In other words, guys have to have the attitude to fix it, which I think they do."

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Former Giants safety Antrel Rolle, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio Monday, said he has his doubts.

"How do you fix will?" Rolle asked. "Tackling is attitude. It's all about will. We all know how to tackle; we all go through the same tackling drills. When you go in there and you're throwing shoulder pads and not coming with enough force, you're not securing the tackle, and you're not wrapping up, you're playing sloppy ball. And I saw that all over the field yesterday."

Whether it can be fixed, Spagnuolo and McAdoo are going back to the drawing board where they'll hopefully find a solution for the weeks ahead.

"It's something that we're going to take a look at this week and find ways to change it up, and make even more of an emphasis of it," said McAdoo.

"It's a fundamental part of things. We got to bring our arms. We are not bringing our arms and wrapping up. And that's a fundamental part of the game. But we need to work on when we work the drills on the practice field they show up. We have to carry it over to game day."

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NOTES: DE Olivier Vernon aggravated his ankle injury Sunday just before the half. Head coach Ben McAdoo didn't provide an update on the defensive end's status, but a source indicated that it would "be a surprise" if Vernon practiced this week. ... C Weston Richburg (concussion) is in the league's protocol, per head coach Ben McAdoo.

... QB Eli Manning's 14-yard touchdown run is the longest of his 14-year career. ... RB Paul Perkins' X-rays on his ribs came back negative, according to the NFL Network. Perkins bruised his ribs in Sunday's loss to the Bucs and will be day-to-day depending on his pain tolerance. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. (finger/ankle) is sore, according to head coach Ben McAdoo, who said the receiver is "fighting through a bunch of things." Beckham's status will be updated Wednesday.

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

--PASSING OFFENSE: C - Eli Manning tried to do his part, completing 30 of 49 pass attempts for 288 yards and two touchdowns, but once again, his top two receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall each dropped at least one pass. With Beckham still ailing, it remains to be seen how long the Giants can continue to ride that horse.

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--RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Rookie Wayne Gallman had an impressive NFL debut, rushing 11 times for 42 yards, but why the coaches continue to give Paul Perkins (9 carries, 13 yards) so many touches and why, at least to start the game, they tried to attack Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a mystery.

--PASS DEFENSE: F - Between the lousy tackling -- the Giants missed eight tackles in this game -- the confusion that led to both Bucs tight ends being wide open, and the lack of a pass rush, the Giants pass defense is in a state of disarray. Cornerback Eli Apple had another rough afternoon going against receiver Mike Evans early, that is until the coaches reassigned Janoris Jenkins to Evans.

--RUSH DEFENSE: D - Another week, another 100-yard rushing performance allowed by the league's worst run defense. Again, credit missed tackles, poor gap integrity and a lack of urgency for another disappointing showing that enabled the Bucs to keep second and third downs mostly manageable.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: F - Zero punt return yards, zero kickoff return yards, a missed 43-yard field goal, and a 15-yard shanked punt that helped set up the Bucs' game-winning field-goal drive were the latest miscues by a Giants special tams unit that has just been flat out bad this year. Once again, the Giants lost the starting field position battle and badly at that.

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--COACHING: D - Every week we hear of how well the Giants practice, yet whatever it is they're doing isn't transferring to the playing field. Part of that are some of the coaching decisions such as the continued insistence on trying to go for it on fourth down at the opponent's goal line despite the fact that this unit has yet to prove it can consistently convert on short yardage; the insistence of sticking with RB Paul Perkins, who has the lowest average yards per carry of the group, putting struggling CB Eli Apple on the physical Mike Evans, asking Brad Wing to directional punt even though he's yet to show he can do it with any consistency. ... the list goes on and on. It's time the Giants coaching staff goes back to the basics and stop trying to ask this team to run before it proves that it can first walk.

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