The Giants coaches got a lot of credit for keeping the team together in 2007, for bringing along the young players that joined the team in that amazing draft class and for forming the team concept that pulled the team together. This propelled the team to go on that amazing playoff run and they didn't stop until they brought the Lombardi Trophy back to New Jersey. If the coaches got the credit when they won the championship in 2007, they should also take some blame for the disappointing end in 2008. They took a team that was well oiled, was the best team in the league by consensus, was the highest scoring team in the league after 12 games, was 11-1 and they won only one more game the rest of the year, going 1-3 in the regular season and losing their playoff game against the Eagles.
How did that happen? How did they go down so hard and fast? The easy answer is to blame it all on Plaxico. Burress shot himself in the leg, was out for the season and the other defenses in the league did not have to worry about Plaxico going deep anymore so they could crowd the line of scrimmage and stop the suddenly predictable Giants offense. Except it's not that easy. I certainly agree that Plaxico was a loss, but it was a loss that could have and should have been compensated for by coaching, personnel management and game planning. For one thing, Burress was not a dominant player last year even in the games he played. He averaged only 41 yds per game in the 11 games that he did play. He averaged 13 yards per reception and caught only 35 passes last year. His production was good last year, but those numbers will reveal that it was nothing special and the offense should not have declined so much without him. I certainly understand that the threat of Plaxico going deep is almost as good as Plaxico actually going deep. The defenses having to respect that threat opens up space for the running game and even for the passing game in other areas of the field. If Plaxico is doubled then the defense can not keep that extra safety at the line of scrimmage to stop the running game. However, the Giants had other talented, speedy WRs on the team, they just didn't get them out on the field.
Let's consider Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham. I have heard the same drivel that you have about Sinorice Moss. He wasn't impressive in practice, he didn't master the playbook, he made some mistakes with his routes and reads during the game. Those sound like after-the-fact rationalizations to cover the coaching staff as to why they didn't get him into the game rather than legitimate reasons for not playing him. If he didn't know the playbook, maybe it's because the coaches weren't coaching him well enough and couldn't teach him that playbook. Even if this is true, certainly he could have been taught a subsection of the playbook and he could have mastered that which would have allowed him to get into the games and spread the field. Look at it this way - Amani Toomer was not re-signed by the Giants and no other team has picked him up as FA either. That makes it sound like the entire league, including the Giants think that Amani has no tread left on those tires; he's done. He didn't lose it in the off-season, he showed that he was slowing down during the last half of last season. He had nothing left, but the coaches still couldn't get Moss onto the field to replace Toomer. Now, during the off-season, when Palxico goes and Toomer is off the team, the coaches don't really know what they have in Moss, because they didn't get him onto the field enough last year. And it's not like every game was a nail biter - Giants won some games by blowouts and they could have easily given Moss some playing time to test him and give him some experience. I think it was a serious failure of the coaches not to get Moss and even Manningham prepared to play and get them on the field enough. That way when Plaxico went down, they would have had a game-tested player ready to go. It may have aready been too late and with the season winding down, they may not have wished to take a chance on a new player. But he should not have been inexperienced. Giants should have gotten him on the field earlier in the year.
As a post script, Moss has been the star of the OTAs, first mini-camp and spring voluntary conditioning proram. That improvement in Moss' game didn't happen between game 17 of last year and game 1 of this year, because there were no games. He has innate talent and Gilbride, Coughlin and WR coach Sullivan kept it buried on the bench improperly.
The same could be said of Manningham. He has a ton of talent and I am hopeful it will come out this year. We should also point out that, in our opinion, one of the reasons that Reese did not make a trade for an established star WR like Edwards or Boldin is because he believes that the talent is there among the young unproven WRs on the team. He wants the coaches to use and develop that talent, He does not want a repeat of 2008, when the passing game was predictable and the offense bogged down. He wants the coaches to use the talent that he has compiled and he was afraid that if he traded for a big time WR, the same situation would occur where the young players are buried on the bench, the team retards their development and they are not ready to step in when and if they might be needed.
This is a big year for Gilbride and the offense. He has the offensive talent on this team, but he has to show that he knows how to optimize its use.