The New York Football Giants are back. The good news is that the Giants enter the season with no expectations at all. Well, no positive expectations. The only expectations the team has is that they might actually be worse than they were a year ago when they started the season 0-6 and finished 7-9. How is that good news? That’s good news because the Giants thrive when there aren’t any expectations attached to them. If they were being picked to go 12-4 and win the NFC East then I would worry about them. The bad news is that if the people who are saying the Giants could be looking at their worst season since 2004 are right then football season isn’t going to fun for me or any Giants fan.
With the Giants’ season kicking off on Monday night in Detroit, I did an email exchange with Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit to talk about having Jim Caldwell as his team’s head coach, and what we can expect on Monday night.
Keefe: Last season, the Lions were 6-3 before losing six of their last seven games to finish 7-9 and miss out on the postseason, which led to the firing of Jim Schwartz. I had forgotten about Schwartz since last season and it wasn’t until the Giants’ Hall of Fame Game against the Bills in August when I saw him as the defensive coordinator for the Bills did it hit me that he is no longer with the Lions. And then I remembered that Jim Caldwell is now the head coach of the Lions. Jim Caldwell! The seemingly most lost head coach to ever put on a headset in the NFL, who at times looks confused as to why he is on the sidelines of an NFL game.
It seems like this core of Lions players are entering a crossroads season where they will either get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 or lead another head coach to be fired. The team might have the most talent in the entire league, but hasn’t been able to put it together and consistently win and now they are asking Caldwell to lead them in doing so.
I’m still in shock that Caldwell is coaching the Lions, but it doesn’t matter to me since they’re not my team. However, they are your team and Caldwell is your head coach. And while it was definitely time for Schwartz to go, are you on board with Caldwell?
Yuille: I am now. When he was first hired? Not so much. At the time, I had a lot of the same thoughts as you about Caldwell. He was a disappointing hire, especially after the team was seemingly spurned by Ken Whisenhunt, who ended up taking the Titans’ job instead. Generally speaking, the Caldwell hire was an uninspiring one, and the Lions’ overall coaching search was quite uninspiring as well.
Quickly, I warmed up to the hire once Caldwell outlined his vision for the Lions and put together his coaching staff. It obviously remains to be seen if this will all lead to success, but he brought in a lot of promising coordinators and position coaches, and unlike Jim Schwartz, he seems to actually be focused on fixing the Lions’ biggest weaknesses in order for them to take the next step.
Keefe: Last season in Week 1, I thought the Giants might have the most explosive offense in the league following their 31-point effort in Dallas, despite losing the game, with Eli Manning throwing for 450 yards, Victor Cruz having 118 receiving yards and Hakeem Nicks having 114. But then Eli decided to throw more interceptions than touchdowns, Cruz didn’t break 1,000 yards and Nicks didn’t find the end zone once all season.
When I look at the Lions’ offense and see Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush, I have nightmares thinking about how the Giants are going to force the Lions to punt even a single time on Monday. There has been a lot of hype around the Giants’ secondary and how it could possibly be the best in the league, and in Week 1 it’s going to have to be to slow down the Lions’ receivers.
How excited are you to watch about the Lions’ offense?
Yuille: I’m both excited and nervous at the same time. On the one hand, it will be nice to see Golden Tate and Eric Ebron on the field in a regular-season game, and it will be just as nice to see Joe Lombardi unleash his new scheme as offensive coordinator of the Lions. He based his scheme on what he saw when he was Drew Brees’ quarterbacks coach in New Orleans, and the hope is that the Lions will become a more balanced and more efficient offense going forward.
At the same time, I’m nervous simply because we’ve been fooled before by the offense’s talent on paper. The Lions are quite strong at all of their offensive position groups, but all of that talent won’t mean anything if they can’t do simple things like take care of the ball, avoid stupid penalties and convert drives into points. The turnovers aspect is especially concerning considering that really led to the Lions’ downfall last year, and that’s an area where Matthew Stafford has to be much better.
Keefe: There are only so many “special” players in sports to watch and I’m fortunate to have grown up with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as homegrown talent and watch their Hall of Fame and all-time great careers unfold on my team. In Detroit, you have Calvin Johnson, the best wide receiver in the world, who you have already been able to watch for seven years and will watch him for at least six more.
What’s it like to get to really watch and root for Johnson every Sunday as a real fan and not as a fantasy football fake fan?
Yuille: It’s quite amazing to see someone as talented as Megatron on a weekly basis. We’ve been quite fortunate in Detroit over the years to see a lot of special players, and even right now we get to watch Miguel Cabrera and Pavel Datsyuk, who are both considered among the very best at what they do. For the Lions, it’s tough to compare anybody to Barry Sanders from a talent standpoint, but Megatron is on track to be one of the very best in franchise history, and he’s an extremely likable person off the field as well.
Keefe: For a long time, the NFC East was the so-called toughest division in the league. But last year, the Eagles won the East at 10-6 the Cowboys finished 8-8, the Giants 7-9 and the Redskins 3-13. The East hasn’t sent two teams to the playoffs since 2009 (Philadelphia and Dallas) and this year, it very well could end up being the worst division in the league, which is saying a lot because the AFC South still exists.
The NFC West had consistently been the worst division in football when the NFC East was on top, but with three strong and two elite teams there, that’s no longer the case. But above the NFC West is the NFC North, where all four teams look to be good in 2014 and now that the Vikings have a franchise quarterback on their roster, the North could have four of the league’s top quarterbacks going at it for several years.
Are you worried about the enhanced competition in the NFC North and which teams scares you the most in the division?
Yuille: The NFC in general worries me because there are so many good teams. It’s possible that the Lions could go 10-6 this year and still miss the playoffs depending on how the standings shake out. And especially in the NFC North, it’s possible they could put together an excellent season and only finish third.
Within the division, the Packers are definitely the team that scares me the most. I know a lot of people are quite high on the Bears this year, but the Packers are still the team to beat. The Lions haven’t won a road game against them since 1991, and Aaron Rodgers may very well be the best quarterback in football. It’s tough to see the Lions making any real noise in the division unless they take care of business against Green Bay.
Keefe: The Giants and Lions played last year in Week 16 in what ended up being a Giants’ 23-20 overtime as they played out the string in a lost season. But that game did mean something for the Lions, who needed a win to stay alive in the NFC North playoff race and the home loss to the Giants was unexpected and the final straw for Schwartz.
Here in New York, no one believes in the 2014 Giants, and while that’s a good thing because the Giants as a franchise are always better when there aren’t any expectations for them, the reasons no one believes in them are frightening because of the amount of question marks they have. The Lions aren’t exactly the best season-opening option for the Giants and their long list of unknowns.
Monday could end up being a disaster for the Giants and they could get run out of Ford Field and I will have to spend the next week listening to how Eli Manning’s career is over and Tom Coughlin should be fired. There’s a good chance the Lions’ pass rush has its way with the Giants’ inexperienced and makeshift offensive line and the Giants’ offense continues to be as sloppy as it was in the preseason. But knowing the history of the Giants and Lions, neither team can ever be trusted to put together a complete effort or meet expectations and because of that, it’s hard to know how Monday’s game will play out.
What do you expect on Monday?
Yuille: I expect a Lions victory. Ford Field is going to be absolutely crazy with Monday Night Football in town, and Detroit in general is going to be quite amped up, especially with the Tigers and Royals battling for first place in the AL Central at Comerica Park on Monday afternoon. An energetic crowd doesn’t automatically lead to victories, of course, but between that and the way the Lions match up with the Giants, this should be a win for Detroit. I expect the Giants to keep it close for a few quarters, perhaps via some untimely turnovers, but I ultimately think the Lions will pull away for a 27-17 win.