Most of the Giants should be comfortably ensconced in their offseason homes by now, having had their final meetings and exit interviews Monday.
But Tom Coughlin's work has just begun. Now that John Mara and Steve Tisch have assured the world that he'll be back in 2011, at the very least, he's got to find some solutions to the problems that cost his team a second straight playoff-less season.
Here's a few areas on which he might want to concentrate.
TURNOVERS: When a team turns the ball over 42 times, they usually have a record like Cincinnati's. So one can actually look at the Giants' success as a sort of NFL-style miracle. With Eli Manning throwing a career-high 25 interceptions and Ahmad Bradshaw leading the league with six lost fumbles, it's a wonder Coughlin has any hair left.
They all know this was unacceptable behavior from a team that expected a spot in the postseason tournament. But how to correct it? That's the question.
Coughlin might start with Manning, who was saddled with his seventh tipped ball interception against the Redskins.
"I think we can," Coughlin said. "I thought that Eli last night was – he was so aware of the consequences of turning the ball over that he was acutely alert to the fact that he wasn’t going to let that happen last night. Now, we did get one off of a tipped ball, which was unfortunately a recurring issue, but I thought he did an outstanding job mentally trying to make sure that there were no mistakes made with the ball.
"I think we can (fix that) and I think we can do something with design, we can do something with individuals. There may be certain things that have to be accomplished by just knowing who is doing what and where and when, so I think that we can."
Manning is hoping for a solution, quickly.
"I'm not a 25-interception quarterback," Manning said. "I put a lot on my shoulders and I have to get better. I think obviously that’s got to be fixed. We have to fix that.
"That’s on me, the receivers, and everybody doing that, but most of it’s on me. How do we improve? A lot of my interceptions came on third down. On first and second down with our play action stuff, we were really good hitting big plays, not turning the ball over, and being successful. On third down, we weren’t as sharp. It’s something I have to look at and get with the coaches and see how we’re going to get better converting and also not turning the ball over."
As far as the fumbles from Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, Coughlin said he believes that is fixable, too, though one wonders whether either back will be amenable to changing their running styles even slightly to accommodate the "high and tight" philosophy that cured Tiki Barber.
"We all need to do a better job to get that number down," Coughlin said. "That number has cost us football games. I’ve said it all year long and that’s the reality of it. You just look at our takeaways, you look and say my God, in other years with the job that we’ve done in terms of taking care of the ball, the difference might have been plus-15, plus-18."
BIG PLAYS: The one drawback of Perry Fewell's aggressive defensive scheme was the occurence of big plays. The Giants gave up way too many points on deep balls, not the least of which was Michael Vick's 65-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek, a throw that should have resulted in a tackle, not a touchdown, but for Kenny Phillips going for the interception. Vick's scrambling also helped cost them that pivotal game.
Perhaps tweaking Antrel Rolle's job in the three-safety alignment would help, as he often looked lost in coverage.
"What we asked him to do was a little bit different from what he did at Arizona," Reese said. "He played in coverage a lot, he was down in the box a lot, around the line of scrimmage a lot for us and he did good in that role for us. He was around, he was tough down in the box, he made a lot of plays for us down in the box, so he ended up making the Pro Bowl but I think that he’s not as happy as…I think he thinks he could have played better for us. I do think he can play better and he thinks he can play better."
Also, the coaches have to recognize that Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster may be above-average cornerbacks, but neither is Charles Woodson or Nnamdi Asomugha, or even DeAngelo Hall. Somehow, the coverage has to be tightened up because Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Barry Cofield won't always get to the quarterback.
I just know some explosive plays happened on the back end," Reese said. "I'm not calling anybody out, but we gave up too many explosive plays. We'll try to figure that out and get that corrected. You can't give up explosive plays and expect to win."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Yeah, we're talking Matt Dodge here. But not just Dodge. The punt coverage was putrid this year, as was the punt return game. But Dodge made enough mistakes this year, even as a rookie, to get fired three times over.
Coughlin said he'll definitely have to win the job next year over whatever competition they bring to camp. But meanwhile, Dodge must get his directional kicking down.
"I think that provided we can get this thing resolved so that Matt is in here, Matt needs to work almost situationally every day on it," Coughlin said. "The ball is at the plus-45, let’s get it inside the 10, let’s punt the ball out of bounds this time, let’s go left, let’s go right, let’s hang the ball up this time, all of those things because they’re so important in terms of trying to take the weapons that."
"We’ve faced a great returner almost every week now. You’ve got to take that weapon away from them. You can’t let them have that kind of field position. You’ve got to be able to punt the ball long. So, a young punter that has got to grow from the experiences that he’s had and get better, that’s going to help us a lot."
The biggest question there is whether special teams coordinator Tom Quinn will be around to oversee the expected transformation of Dodge. Coughlin said he has no plans to make any coaching changes right now. But those decisions will come later, anyway.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Coughlin may have to re-assemble part of his coaching staff, anyway. Like him or not, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is reportedly being considered for the UConn job being vacated as former Coughlin assistant Randy Edsell heads to Maryland. And the Browns and Panthers, both of whom have fired their head coaches, have reportedly asked the Giants permission to interview defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
LINEBACKERS: An age-old story with this team. Jonathan Goff showed great promise in the middle, at least as far as run-stopping and pass rush goes. But did he or Michael Boley ever show much in pass coverage? Keith Bulluck was mostly a bit player as Fewell instituted the three-safety alignment that brought Rolle up as a box linebacker. They really need a fast, tough guy to develop long-term and use situationally in coverage short-term to get over the hump.
One thing is for sure. The front office will have plenty of time to deal with all those issues and more -- while other teams busy themselves with the chase for the Lombardi Trophy.