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 »This Week in History
New York Giants
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  Steve Spagnuolo is returning to the New York Giants to serve as their defensive coordinator.

The Giants also hired former St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton as their cornerbacks coach.

The 55-year-old Spagnuolo takes over for Perry Fewell, who was fired after serving five seasons as defensive coordinator. The Giants missed the playoffs with a 6-10 record in 2014 and finished 29th in the NFL in total defense.

Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2008 when they won Super Bowl XLII.

"I was hoping to take the next step, God willing, and be a coordinator again. I'm ecstatic that it's with (head coach) Tom Coughlin," Spagnuolo said. "Tom is the highest-character guy I know. The feeling I have is one of excitement. We're going to work our butts off, and hopefully we will do great things together."

During the past week, the Giants interviewed former Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, and former Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson.

"We spoke to a lot of very good candidates," Coughlin said. "The energy, enthusiasm and strong personality that we saw before in Steve Spagnuolo, all of that was very evident again. His desire to be a Giant again was very, very obvious."

After leaving the Giants, Spagnuolo was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams and defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints. He was with the Baltimore Ravens for the past two years as a senior defensive assistant.

What a difference a year has made for the Giants offense and defense.

Starting with the good, it was one year ago around this time that co-owner John Mara famously declared the Giants 28th ranked offense as being "broken."

The Giants set out shortly thereafter to fix the offense, starting with the addition of Ben McAdoo to replace offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who retired.

McAdoo's system, which he has always maintained is a combination of input from all of the Giants' offensive coaches and which consists of some of the old system's principles as well as elements from the West Coast offense, turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

The Giants offense finished 10th in the league, averaging 367.2 yards per game. The unit also upped its scoring from the previous season, finishing with 380 points this year, up from 294 from a year ago.

"Offensively, we made great strides from the beginning of the year where a lot of things were different," quarterback Eli Manning said. "The timing from me and the receivers was off.

"We struggled, and (last Sunday) and the last few weeks, we were doing some really good things, making big plays and moving the ball."

After initially struggling to adapt to the new terminology and concepts, many of which were foreign to Manning, things began to click as the season began to wind down.

Manning finished 2014 by reaching several milestones, including a career-high completion percentage (63.1 percent), his second-highest touchdown total (30), and the second-highest passing yardage total in a season (4,410).

"I played better than last year," Manning said. "I felt good in the offense. I felt we had opportunities to win a lot of games, but we've got to win those games.

"I've got to play better; the team and the offense have got to play better in those moments to win those games."

With the offense headed in the right direction, Manning believes that the Giants are only warming up.

The Giants' passing game, which finished seventh in the league (267.0 yards per game), exploded thanks to the arrival of rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

The Giants first-round draft pick, who missed the first four games of the season because of a hamstring injury, finished as the team leader with 91 catches or 1,305 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns, while posting nine straight games of 90 or more receiving yards.

With Victor Cruz due back from his season-ending knee injury to join Beckham and Rueben Randle, and with hopes of having a healthy duo of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams at running back, Manning and the Giants are looking for even better production in year two of the offense's rebuild.

"If we can come back and start where we are right now and continue to make progress, I think we're just kind of scratching the surface of where we can get to," Manning said.

It's been the exact opposite for the defense, which last year finished ranked 10th overall in the league, only to fall to 29th this season.

That's disturbing, considering the Giants spent a great deal of money on new contracts for corners Walter Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Robert Ayers and linebackers Jon Beason and Jameel McClain.

However, injuries struck down three of those big-money contracts Beason, Ayers and Thurmond, all of whom ended the season on injured reserve.

Rodgers-Cromartie gutted out the season by dealing with a back and hamstring issue, while staples such as cornerbacks Trumaine McBride and Prince Amukamara were lost for the season as well because of injuries.

"You can't have 22 guys go on IR," Beason said. "Before you can have a great team and go out and win games, you have to stay healthy. We're not making excuses next man up for sure but you just can't win that way."

Injuries aside, the Giants were particularly vulnerable to giving up the big play. The Giants pass defense gave up 62 passes of 20-plus yards, tying them for third-most in the NFL.

The run defense wasn't much better, allowing 17 runs of 20-plus yards, the second most in the NFL.

"I think we gave up way too many big plays in the beginning of the season," safety Antrel Rolle said. "That is something we must work on."

The big-play issue along with the drop in rankings could ultimately result in some changes made on the defensive side of the ball, starting with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

"I think it all works together, with coaches and players," Rolle said. "I think defensively we had a lot of key injuries and at the same time, there were times where we probably could have been in better situations as coaches and players. Us players made the plays when the opportunity presented itself."

Despite the issues, Mara and general manager Jerry Reese don't believe the team is that far away from being a competitor again.

"Obviously I am very disappointed about this past season; sick about it, as a matter of fact," Mara said. "With that being said, I do think there is some reason for optimism going forward.

"We had some young players really develop who we are excited about. We have had two pretty strong drafts in a row that we feel good about. We were still 6-10, so obviously we have a lot of work to do.

Reese added: "I don't think we are that far away because I do think we have a nice mix of young players along with some veteran players that we can get to where we want to go."


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