EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At this point last year, the New York Giants were 7-4-1 and in the driver's seat for a playoff berth they would eventually earn. The offensive core -- quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and left tackle Andrew Thomas -- was healthy and hadn't missed a game.
The Giants thought they were building something in Year 1 under general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll that had co-owner John Mara boast to the New York Post, "We're back!" following their wild-card playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings in January.
One year later, the Giants entered their bye week at 4-8 and with the worst point differential in the NFL (minus-133). It doesn't appear to have caused any panic.
Schoen still feels ownership is on board with what they're trying to do.
"Yeah, absolutely. We have constant communication with the Mara family, the Tisch family, and articulate the plan. They're on board with it," Schoen said last week. "As much as it hurts to go through this, there are a lot of young players that are getting valuable experience. Another offseason, another draft, we will continue to build it.
"The communication is very helpful. The fact that [president and CEO] John Mara is here on a daily basis, we can explain the 'why,' why we're doing things, how we're going to do them. They're in the loop and they're on board."
This is what Schoen and Daboll have going for them: They're a package deal. They came together (unlike the previous regime of Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge, who seemingly never aligned) and are the closest coach-GM combination to come through this organization in decades.
There seems to be little doubt that they will have time to get this right, despite the rocky season and drama that has followed. It's partially why some close to the organization believe that defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is among those who could be scapegoats for this season's failures, while the struggles on offense (where Daboll is more directly influential) remain the genesis of this team's problem.
Perhaps Schoen's biggest miscalculation entering this season was banking on that offensive core to remain healthy again, and then adding another significant injury risk in tight end Darren Waller as his top offseason acquisition. The quartet of Jones, Barkley, Thomas and Waller has played fewer than 40 snaps together this season.
"Don't want to make any excuses," Schoen said. "We've had some injuries. We've just got to continue to build the depth and we've got to continue to build the team all around so when injuries do occur, we can overcome those and still be competitive when injuries happen. It's going to happen every year. It's football; it's a contact sport. There's going to be injuries, and we've got to be able to overcome any type of adversity that presents itself."
Depth continues to be a priority for Schoen, who has tried to restock this roster since his arrival. But it was apparent from the start of this year that the roster still did not have enough, especially on the offensive line. Without Thomas, the line became a handicap that ultimately derailed the season.
The lack of growth from second-year right tackle Evan Neal remains a blemish on Schoen's résumé. Neal was drafted seventh overall last year out of Alabama, but is 53rd among the 69 qualifying tackles with an 84.0% pass block win rate. He "needs to play better," said Schoen, who also appeared committed to keeping him at tackle instead of moving him inside to guard.
Another critical mistake was cutting Tyre Phillips this summer and going with Josh Ezeudu and Matt Peart as tackle options. Phillips, who spent most of the first half of the season on the Eagles' practice squad, re-signed with the Giants in mid-October and is 28th among all tackles with an 88.3% pass block win rate.
That has helped, but the line has still conceded a league-high 69 sacks this season. (Washington is a distant second with 58.)
"We are trying to build this thing," Schoen said. "As much as we want instant gratification and instant results, there is an element of patience as you build it and try to build it the right way and you just can't address everything overnight, and we are going to continue to work on it and I do believe in building it up front, and offensive line is important."
The Giants did make a concerted effort midway through the season to focus on some of their younger players once realistic playoff hopes were already dashed. Players like wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Wan'Dale Robinson have flashed. Outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux has blossomed in his second season with 11.5 sacks, and inside linebacker Micah McFadden has developed into a solid player.
"Even guys like Micah and Thibodeaux, that have played quite a bit of football for us, that's the objective is to get players in your system that you think have a good skill set, the right mindset and play them and get them to improve, and those guys have done a good job," Daboll said. "[Tight end Daniel] Bellinger, guys who have played behind [starters], Waller's out, now Bellinger's in, so those guys have got the right mindset. I think the coaches work hard with them. They work hard to improve, but we still need them to keep improving."
The tricky part is that Schoen's track record so far is checkered. Signing middle linebacker Bobby Okereke in free agency has been a massive hit. The trades for Waller, versatile linebacker Isaiah Simmons and outside linebacker Boogie Basham haven't worked out. The two drafts he has led have been a mixed bag.
Schoen even took blame for the punt return fiasco earlier in the season in which they tried to shoehorn fifth-round draft pick Eric Gray into the role, even though he wasn't comfortable doing it.
"That's on me," Schoen said.
Eventually he found a quality solution with Gunner Olszewski, who has looked good, averaging 9.25 yards per return while exhibiting good ball security. Much like the Phillips move, it's proof that it is not too late.
The Giants are expected to have a healthy $46 million in cap space next offseason, per the roster management system. That's in the top half of the league.
The clock may be ticking, but Schoen and Daboll still have time to get this right.