By Jimmy Cunningham, howiGit Contributing Writer, New York, NY
Last year, the New York Giants started off as hot as any team, only to fade. Yet after insurmountable injuries in the secondary and a tough, back-loaded schedule, the Giants organization, players and fans have been left with a bad taste in their collective mouths. The goal this year? To prove that last year’s New York Giants are not the real New York Giants. The expectations of this season rest solely on a few factors: Kenny Phillips and Keith Bulluck’s health, Osi Umenyiora and Brandon Jacobs having bounce back years, and new coordinator Perry Fewell’s Tampa-2 scheme reigniting the formerly feared Giants defense. With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at the upcoming New York Giants season – position by position.
Quarterbacks- Despite Eli Manning’s general lack of respect in the media (including the founder of this blog who some may say is still sore from losing a Super Bowl to someone with an “ever-present whining-panicked-crying look”), Manning has a Super Bowl ring and MVP under his belt – more than any other quarterback in the NFC East can claim. The bottom line remains that Manning remains a top ten QB in the league. While he still has things to improve on – including holding onto the ball – the Giant’s group of very talented, young wide receivers should continue to help Manning improve. If Manning can put up at least 25 touchdowns while holding his turnovers under 20, the Giants should consider it a successful season from their star quarterback.
Running backs- The Giants have a very good tandem at running back, with both players complimenting each other well. As the pound-for-pound largest and most physically intimidating running back in the NFL, Brandon Jacobs has been considered the number one for the last few years, but that may change in the upcoming season. Giant fans last year grew frustrated with Jacobs’ lack of physicality when running, and his frustration equaled the frustration of the fans. Biting at Jacobs heals is the shifty Ahmad Bradshaw, who looks poised to take the starting job if Jacobs continues to struggle. How will Jacobs handle this pressure if Bradshaw overtakes him for the starting job? For sake of the Giants success, hopefully well. If the two of them are able to work together, the Giants will have a very dangerous offense.
Wide Receivers- While the Giants lost former starter Dominik Hixon for the season, the receiving corp. looks poised to be mentioned among the best in the league. Coming off of a career year, in which he set the the Giants record for receptions in a season and made the pro bowl, Steve Smith is one of the best possession receivers in the league. Second year player, Hakeem Nicks, coming off a remarkable rookie campaign, has been receiving rave reviews from the media at training camp and also has been seen as a fantasy sleeper by many publications this season. If Nicks can follow through with expectations and have a breakout season, while Smith continues to be the reliable possession receiver the Giants have come to expect, there is no better and younger one two punch in the NFL. Add the speedy Mario Manningham in the slot and the 6’6” Ramses Barden in the red zone, and the Giants have plenty of weapons at Manning’s disposal. Undrafted rookie Victor Cruz also has shown promise after putting on a show in the first preseason game against the Jets.
Tight Ends- While Kevin Boss in no way should be mistaken as a superstar tight end, he has grown into a reliable target for Eli Manning, as well as an excellent blocker in the running game. Second year player Travis Beckum has shown promise as well and will likely continue to improve.
Offensive Line- Back in 2008, when the Giants won the Super Bowl, critics lauded them as having the best line in the NFL. With most of that line still intact, the Giants will look to regain their form along the offensive line. The only major change will come with the insertion of Will Beatty at either the guard or tackle position. He is most likely to replace right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who despite performing at a high level over the last few years, is getting up there in age. Beatty, a second round pick last year, is a big young talent that will hopefully give the Giants more flexibility on the offensive front.
Defensive line- The Giants are loaded at the defensive end position, especially in terms of athleticism. Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and rookie Jason Pierre-Paul are all quick, athletic players that can get to the quarterback. The trouble for the Giants will not be getting to the quarterback, but rather finding a place for all of these players to contribute while remaining happy with their role on the team. The benefit to this is that on passing downs they can put them all on the field at the same time and attack the quarterback. This skill upfront allows for Fewell to call fewer blitzes which will allow for better coverage in the middle of the field, which was a major problem last season. The free agent signing of defensive tackle Chris Canty was supposed to bolster the defensive front, yet injuries kept him on the sideline most of the year. Expect a healthy Canty to produce for the Giants this year. Jay Alford, Rocky Bernard, and Barry Coefield will platoon for the Giants to fill out the defensive front. Rookie defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who has been receiving excellent reviews from the Giants insiders, also figures to play a role in the defensive tackle rotation. One thing is for sure; the depth of the Giants defensive front is something that every offense around the league will need to account for week to week.
Line Backers- With the loss of defensive captain Antonio “AP” Pierce, many expect a fall off at the linebacker position. And while AP’s skills had diminished over the last few seasons, no one can dispute that he was the leader of the defense, and had every player in the right position on every play. The Giants will be looking to free agent signee Keith Bulluck to fill AP’s shoes. Bulluck had filled the same role as AP for the Tennessee Titans over the last 11 season, breaking 100 tackles six times from the outside position and making 2 All-pro teams and a Pro Bowl. After having reconstructive knee surgery in December, Bulluck was available late in the free agency period, and the Giants scooped him up. A health Bullock could make all the difference for the Giants defense. With the Giants switching to Fewell’s Tampa-2, the middle linebacker position becomes more important than ever before. Outside linebacker Micheal Boley began last season on the injured list, yet showed promise during the end of the season. Boley, like Canty, is another player who needs to stay healthy in order to earn his contract. Clint Sintim, another second year player, will most likely fill in the other starting outside linebacker role. Gerris Wilkinson could also see a good amount of time during passing situations.
Secondary- After a porous performance last season, the Giants secondary must improve in the upcoming season, especially with the strong passing attacks in their division. Last season the secondary was decimated with injuries, most notably to safety Kenny Phillips, who missed 14 games with a knee injury. With a full recovery, Phillips will be paired with former Arizona Cardinal, Antrelle Rolle. Rolle, a former first round pick out of Miami, has experience in the Tampa-2 scheme that Fewell enforces. His play making ability could be lethal alongside Phillips, another former Miami player. Matched with the safety tandem, the Giants have three young fast corners that have all shown promise at points, but need to show more consistency. Corey Webster seems to go from superstar in the making to practice squad player every season. Terrell Thomas looks to be on the verge of a breakout season. Aaron Ross is looking to recover from a hamstring injury, a nagging injury he has seemed to have since he has entered the league. If the secondary can stay healthy, the Giants could sneak up on some people.
Special teams- The loss of punter Jeff Feagles, the most consistent Giant since he joined the team, will most likely be the most detrimental to the team. While Feagles would not wow anyone with his length on his kicks, he could put a team inside the 5 unlike any punter ever in the league. Lawrence Tynes returns as kicker, which leaves a lot of uncertainty at this position. The return game seems to be an open competition with Hixon out for the season.
Season overview- Over the last few seasons the NFC East has been called the toughest division in the NFL. With the Eagles being the most consistent team in the division, and the Cowboys receiving the most notoriety, the Giants have gone largely overlooked. Yet the Eagles have traded All-Pro Donovan McNabb this offseason, a move that will likely hurt them this upcoming season. Taking the reins of the talented Eagles offense will be Kevin Kolb, but is he ready? McNabb may have worn out his welcome in Philly, which is not difficult in a city notorious for being short-minded, but sometimes the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. The Cowboys are being picked to win the division by most pundits, yet they have been picked to win since Clinton was President, with no rings to show for it. The Giants beat the Cowboys twice last year, including in the stadium opener of Jerry “Nip/Tuck” Jones’s wet dream. The Redskins have improved with the addition of McNabb but the Redskins are a team that one will have to see to believe. Every year the Redskins make a big splash and then disappoint. The NFC East seems to have teams that all have each other’s number – the Giants have the Cowboys number, the Eagles have the Giants number, and the Cowboys have the Eagles number. That may all change, but I think the division is pretty wide open. The Giants play two pretty tough divisions in the NFC North and the AFC south. Looking at the Giants schedule I want to say they’ll go 10-6 and make the playoffs. However, there are a lot of questions still to be answered – hopefully the Giants will respond.
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