Carl Banks Shares His Thoughts On The Giants' Season
By Allen Kim
It was a long and trying season for the New York Giants. More than a year removed from winning Super Bowl XLVI, Giants fans entered the season with tempered hopes after they failed to defend their title the previous year, falling short of even making the playoffs. There was some hope that the Giants would be able to sneak into the playoffs by capitalizing on the weak NFC East, but it was clear early on in the season that they were headed for another disappointing finish.
I spent a few minutes speaking one-on-one with former Giants LB Carl Banks at a special event at the Starter Clubhouse in Times Square (you can find part one of the interview where we talk about the revival of the Starter brand and the Super Bowl here), and he shared his thoughts on the Giants’ dismal season. As a former linebacker — he played a key role in the famed Big Blue Wrecking Crew from the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s, and he was named to the 1980s All-Decade Team along with teammate Lawrence Taylor — he was quick to point out the team’s linebacking corps as one of the biggest holes on the team to start the year.
“It’s so interesting, because having played in an era of great linebackers and being part of a proud tradition of linebackers, the position was so marginalized and minimized,” Banks said. “You almost forgot that they’re needed on the football field. They had this philosophy that, well, the defensive line will take care of everything and you can put anyone at linebacker. But what you saw was that you need to be able to stop the run and linebackers are needed.”
The Giants’ defense was a disaster to start the season. While they were able to somewhat move the ball on offense (well, at least more often than not), the defense couldn’t keep anyone out of their end zone. They were on pace to become one of the worst defensive units in franchise history, but things changed drastically once the Giants traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for LB Jon Beason on Oct. 4.
Beason didn’t play much in his first game with the team, but he immediately made his impact felt on the field when he was given a full complement of snaps in Week 6 for a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bears. He recorded 12 total tackles, and gave them the presence they’ve desperately needed in the center of their defense.
“It’s almost like they were in state of denial and hoping that some of these guys could come around,” Banks said. “But then Jon Beason steps in, and you actually saw a real linebacker. Now you see what you’ve been missing for all these years. Now your defensive backfield plays better. Now the guys in front play better because you’ve got a guy who knows how to run a defense and knows how to find the football.”
As the Mike linebacker, Beason acted as the quarterback of the defense. He relayed the plays to the rest of his teammates, and he was the one that directed players and made adjustments. It’s no coincidence that the Giants were able to turn their season around following Beason’s acquisition, and they won their next four games with their defense acting as a catalyst. While Beason, along with the rest of the team, were unable to salvage their season with a playoff berth, he made his mark on a group devoid of playmakers.
“This year, they actually put three linebackers on the field, all of which had one year of NFL experience,” Banks said. “Some didn’t even have a full year. When you’re playing major league football, you can’t do that. I think Jacquian Williams is going to be alright; he’s going to be a contributor. But Beason makes everyone better.”
The 29-year-old Beason is set to become a free agent in March, but there appears to be mutual interest in bringing him back. He had 93 tackles and one interception in 11 games, and the Giants were able to finish the year with the eighth-ranked defense and a 7-9 record after starting the year 0-6, thanks in large part to Beason. While he has a history of injuries, re-signing Beason is undoubtedly one of the easiest moves GM Jerry Reese will have to make this offseason.
Of course, Reese could also use the upcoming draft to shore up the linebacker position. Banks was actually the last linebacker to be selected by the Giants in the first round of the draft, and while they’ve managed to get by for so long without having to use their top pick on a linebacker in nearly 30 years, it’s clear that it’s a position they can no longer continue to ignore. Although, whether they opt to use their first-round pick on a linebacker remains to be seen.
“Well, the thing is, I don’t know if there’s a linebacker in this draft that’s first-round worthy,” Banks admitted. “I don’t know if there’s anybody that blows me away, so you can get quality in the second or third round, but they really do need to get that straightened out.”
While Banks wasn’t impressed with this year’s crop of linebackers, he saw the offensive line as a far more pressing need, saying, “They need an offensive line in a big, big way.” The Giants shuffled players in and out of their front five, dealing with numerous injuries and inconsistent play all season long. When the team was at its peak during their Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011, their offensives lines were, respectively, one of the strongest units in the league. It’s a stark contrast to this season, where the offensive line acted as a turnstile for opposing defenses, and the offense was wildly inconsistent.
“When you think about a team with a franchise quarterback, there should be no question from year-to-year, as long as this franchise quarterback is in his prime, where the protection should be,” Banks said. “You’ve got to invest in protecting your franchise quarterback. It’s a 10-, 12- or 13-year proposition. Lose him, and you’ll see what starting over feels like.”
Eli Manning had a disastrous season, and the patchwork offensive line largely contributed to his struggles. He was constantly being hurried, and he took more than his fair share of hits throughout the season. While he shoulders plenty of blame for his poor decision-making, even the best quarterbacks in the NFL would struggle when the protection simply isn’t there.
“The interesting thing is, you can have the same issues on a team that’s more cohesive, and somehow football just kind of overrides whatever the day’s issues are,” Banks said. “But when you’re losing, each individual struggle never seems to sync up with an offensive line that was injured from day 1 of training camp and then never got right. One of them gets hurt, then another comes back. So now all you focus on is trying to put a band aid on every little thing, and then that combined with all the stuff that may be personally going on, it just never seemed to sync right.
“Everybody says all the right things, and clearly, in this locker room, nobody pointed fingers at each other and no one pointed fingers at the coach. So they were giving the effort, but it was just a lot of bad days and it was a different issue every week.”
Despite the team’s troubles, the team was in it together until the very end. As Hakeem Nicks said when I chatted with him after speaking to Banks, “We was at the top together, we got to be at the bottom together, too.” The team was able to put together a strong second-half effort, and it speaks volumes about the perseverance and fight in the team.
The Giants built some momentum in their last 10 games, winning seven of those contests. While they suffered three tough losses in that span, they can use those wins as a blueprint for what they need to build upon next season. With nearly an entirely new coaching staff in place and a clean slate, expect to see a very different team next season.