Making the case for Pat Shurmur after latest Giants loss

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants will have a decision to make at the end of the 2019 NFL season. Will they stay the course or undergo a second upheaval of the organization in two years?

Eight straight losses will do this to you. Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch will face this dilemma when this disastrous season finally comes to a close in less than a month. They will need to decide if coach Pat Shurmur, general manager Dave Gettleman and the plan they put in place early in 2018 -- and have since altered and revised several times -- is still to be trusted.

To be honest, amidst all the losses, it's hard to envision right now. The Giants fell 31-13 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. They're 2-10, they took over sole possession of last place in the NFC East, and they are in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) has them at 20% to finish with the league's worst record.

This all reflects poorly on Shurmur. He is being judged first and foremost by these wins and losses, and he's 7-21 since taking over as the Giants' coach. The heat is on.

"I'm well aware of it. I'm well aware of it," he said. "People will change what they think of us and me when we win games. I'm a realist when it comes to that, and I get it. ... I expect fans to be upset because we are, too. But we go about trying to fix it."

Shurmur reminded in his postgame news conference that the Giants have a "historically young team." This after he noted last week that they are making progress behind the scenes. Most notably, they have a rookie quarterback (Daniel Jones) and played essentially four rookie defensive backs Sunday against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Good luck with that. Patriots coach Bill Belichick would have trouble winning under such circumstances.

This is where the sales pitch for Shurmur to remain for Year 3 as the Giants' coach begins. The roster he's working with is insufficient and devoid of a single true defensive playmaker. It's hard to win games that way, no matter the opponent.

But to his credit, through all the struggles, Shurmur has not seemed to lose his players. They still seem to be buying him as a coach, and that indicates something positive about his ability to lead.

"You can see he's passionate about the game and about this team. You can see he cares about us," running back Saquon Barkley told ESPN after Sunday's loss. "Obviously, things are not going our way, and it's easy to point the finger at one person. But all around, we all have to be better.

"Guys respond to him. ... Not one person wins or loses games. We have to go out there and make plays. There are times they put us in positions, and we're not doing our jobs as players."

There are also times when Shurmur isn't doing his job. That's obvious of any team stuck in this type of rut. Shurmur's offense scored one touchdown Sunday and is averaging 19.2 points per game, which is 25th in the NFL. Could he call better plays? Find ways to get Barkley more open space? Do better with the minute details that make a difference in games? Surely there is room for improvement.

Maybe most disconcerting is that the Giants can't seem to turn this around, and Shurmur seems to fly by the seat of his pants with some of his in-game decisions. His timeout with 57 seconds left in the first half after a first-down Packers play was the latest head-scratcher, especially after the Giants got the ball back with 40 seconds remaining and ran out the clock moments later.

If Shurmur is going to remain the Giants' coach beyond this season, it will likely have more to do with his relationship and tutoring of Jones than anything else. The Giants are creatures of stability and would like to avoid another overhaul, especially when it means Jones would be starting over in a new system. We all know that is not ideal for a young quarterback.

To his credit, Shurmur, who was hired in large part because of his ability to work with quarterbacks, was a significant part of the evaluation process that pegged Jones as the successor to Eli Manning. Shurmur has been in charge of grooming Jones since the Giants made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

From watching Jones on a weekly basis, there are reasons to be optimistic about his future. There are moments in every game when he makes special plays. Shurmur at least deserves some of the credit for that.

As for the turnover woes -- Jones has 21 after three more interceptions against the Packers -- Shurmur shrugs that off as part of the process in (my term, not his) a rebuilding season.

"There is no better training ground than playing," he said.

Through all the losses, Jones still seems to think he's heading in the right direction.

"I feel like I'm making progress. Obviously, there's still a lot to work on, and I understand that," he said. "But I feel like I'm improving. The challenge is to continue to do that but do it faster and play more consistently."

This ultimately is what will decide Shurmur's fate. Dates with the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins are on deck. The faster Jones improves the better because that record keeps getting uglier.

Shurmur needs more progress from Jones and some wins to survive.