2011 team previews
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Recent posts by Eric Edholm
At 10-6 last season, the Giants should have felt very good, but missing the postseason was the bottom-line disappointment.
The consensus prior to the lockout had been that this team must — and should be able to — get back into the playoffs this season. Head coach Tom Coughlin's job, as respected as he is, might be riding on it.
But that all was undercut in what has been a horrible August for the Giants. First, there was the cutting of veteran OLs Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, followed by another round of head-butting between the club and Osi Umenyiora. Then came the defections of WR Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss, followed by a slew of injuries, including season-enders for CB Terrell Thomas and DT Marvin Austin.
If the Giants are to return to the postseason, Coughlin will have to do an excellent job of circling the wagons. They also must cut down on an unacceptable number of turnovers (42), clean up the special-teams mess and become more mentally tough than they were last season.
Twenty-five picks aside, QB Eli Manning has performed at an elite level for stretches, and the defense has top-five potential with coordinator Perry Fewell back. There were dominating defensive performances (Week Four vs. Chicago, Week Nine vs. Seattle) but also some head-scratchers, especially in late-season losses to the Eagles and Packers (a combined 900 yards allowed) that knocked them from the playoffs.
The Giants appear to be talented, but will the string of bad news make them weaker or stronger? The results of this season should be fascinating.
The Giants ranked fifth in yards and tied for seventh in points but left points — and wins — on the field because of turnovers and poor field position. In 10 wins, the team had a plus-11 turnover ratio; in six losses, the ratio was minus-14. QB Eli Manning (25 INTs) took a lot of the blame, but his receivers tipped or failed to catch many of those passes. The power run game has prowess, but the O-line has undergone changes. Coordinator Kevin Gilbride loves to complement the physical ground game with a deep passing game, and he has the personnel to pull it off.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning had a sound season in a lot of respects, but his INT total stands out — even with many of those passes being close to his targets. He tried to force the ball into tight spaces at times and was working with a severely banged-up WR unit by season's end. Manning has mastery of the offense and should be in line for a more consistent season. He goes through his progressions well and has grown as a leader, although he's prone to poor games. Sage Rosenfels and David Carr will battle for the backup job. The loser could be cut if the team keeps two QBs or likes project Ryan Perrilloux.
Running backs: Fumbling and durability issues cost Ahmad Bradshaw his starting gig by season's end, but he has more natural ability than Brandon Jacobs. At their best, they are a very good pair. With quick-slash ability, underrated power and explosive potential, Bradshaw could have his best season — if he kicks his fumbling habits. Tom Coughlin fixed Tiki Barber; he can do the same with Bradshaw. Jacobs is the pounder inside who held on to the ball well, although his power and tackle-breaking were not at peak levels. He often was taken down with ankle tackles — that was once near-impossible — and didn't punish defenders as in the past. But he rebounded from a motivational benching early and embraced a supplementary role. No. 3 RB D.J. Ware showed little in limited time, but he might be able to carve out a slightly expanded role with good vision and some skills in the pass game. Keep an eye on speedy rookie Da'Rel Scott, too. Undrafted FB Henry Hynoski could win the starting job as a selfless lead blocker who receives few touches.
Receivers: Injuries crushed this unit, but some good things happened along the way. Hakeem Nicks emerged as a legit No. 1 target with his large catching radius, strong frame and run-after-the-catch ability, and he might be ready for stardom. He was guilty of concentration drops but should emerge into an all-around force. He led the team in receiving despite missing three games. Mario Manningham provided a good counterpoint to Nicks and Steve Smith, emerging as a deep threat. But Manningham still has concentration issues, isn't coachable at times and doesn't have a high football IQ. Still, he's a big-play weapon whom Eli Manning trusted more last season than before. Ramses Barden appeared to be turning the corner, even challenging Manningham for his spot, but an ankle injury ended his season. Barden has upside as a red-zone threat, but health always seems to get in the way. Losing Smith was a shock and a blow to the passing game, even though he was coming off microfracture surgery and might not have been available to start the season. He was Manning's safety valve in the slot and was an effective chain mover the Giants must replace. Smith's departure could put the onus on Domenik Hixon, who is returning from a 2010 knee injury. Early returns on Hixon have been promising. Rookie Jerrel Jernigan has quickness in the slot but must prove he can catch consistently. Victor Cruz was last year's preseason hero, and he is earning the coaches' trust again. At tight end, the team has no established replacement for Kevin Boss. Travis Beckum was a productive college receiver who is undersized and hasn't meshed with this offense yet. It might be his final chance to impress. Bear Pascoe is a career tight end who played fullback last season, but he was moved back with the loss of Boss and the sudden retirement of Ben Patrick. Jake Ballard and Daniels Coats also are in the mix as blockers.
Offensive linemen: The question will be: Can this revamped group fare as well as what the Giants are used to here? Dave Diehl kicks inside from left tackle to left guard, giving way to promising OLT William Beatty. Rich Seubert might have played gamely last season, but he was cut, as was Shaun O'Hara. The new center will be David Baas, who has a bright future, though he mostly has played guard. Diehl is a functional, smart blocker, but speed rushers always have troubled him. Beatty has been groomed for the position for two years and has left-tackle feet. We'll see if he can outplay Diehl. Baas is smart and tough, but O'Hara and Eli Manning worked extremely well together, and that chemistry doesn't happen overnight. The rock of the unit is ORG Chris Snee. There's little not to like in his game: He pulls well, can lock and drive, and plays with an edge the Giants love. He's one of the better guards in football. ORT Kareem McKenzie fended off his naysayers and turned in a strong season, though a history of injuries is worrisome. Still, he can lead the way in the run game and hasn't been undressed by speed rushers, either. Reserve OG Mitch Petrus has excellent power but is stiff and needs polish. Kevin Boothe is a versatile backup who can play multiple spots. Adam Koets and Chris White will battle inside. James Brewer appears to be a long-term OT project, so Stacy Andrews (brother of Shawn, who was released) could stick as a backup tackle. There are several capable bodies, but health and cohesion remain big questions.
Perry Fewell's defense has the potential to be one of the league's more feared units, but it had some curious breakdowns last season. Injuries were a factor on this side of the ball, but health was not the only problem. The linebackers made very few big plays, and the secondary struggled down the stretch. The D-line — as deep and talented as it is — also was not above reproach at times. Still, Fewell has the pass-rush and personnel combo up front and a playmaking secondary that could return this group to an elite level again.
Defensive linemen: Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora each had 11½ sacks last season, but Tuck clearly was the team's best defender. He lined up in multiple spots, rushed ferociously with power and quickness and led the NFL with five fumble recoveries. Tuck also served as a guardian for rookie Jason Pierre-Paul and helped the rookie's quick development. Not that Umenyiora wasn't huge, too. Although Umenyiora has been unhappy much of his recent time in New York, as he is now, he gutted his way through hip and knee injuries and was a weekly factor, although he isn't quite the pass-rushing force he once was. Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson give the Giants four quality ends. Pierre-Paul showed he can heat up the edges in limited snaps and could be ready for more in Year Two. The underrated Tollefson is smart, sturdy and effective. Inside, Chris Canty was effective next to Barry Cofield but now must adjust without him and Marvin Austin, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Canty still gets stood up and blocked too easily, but his play improved over his 2009 level. It was, however, telling when he was taken out in short-yardage situations. Linval Joseph showed little as a rookie but has the physical skill and girth to earn a role. Jimmy Kennedy will play in the rotation, too, along with Rocky Bernard, but neither is the penetrator that Austin projected to being.
Linebackers: This unit underperformed last season, and there were only two 'backers on the field most of the time, with one giving way to an extra defensive lineman or defensive back. MLB Jonathan Goff did a respectable job in his first season as a starter, especially against the run. He can stack and shed and has decent movement skills going forward. However, coverage sometimes proved to be an adventure, and it was not his strong suit. WLB Michael Boley was an injury-prone playmaker in 2009 but failed to have much of a significant impact in a full season last year. He was surprisingly quiet in pass coverage, which once was considered his strength. Some scouts believe he appeared timid at times, perhaps playing not to get hurt again. When healthy, SLB Mathias Kiwanuka is a good rusher, but the question is whether he can go in reverse and track tight ends down the field. Clint Sintim failed to win the starting SLB job last season and suffered another season-ending knee injury in the final preseason game. Phillip Dillard and rookies Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Mark Herzlich will compete for reserve LB and special-teams spots. Converted DE Adrian Tracy, who has some pass-rush skill, must rebound from an elbow injury and show he can stand up to make the roster.
Defensive backs: The talent in the group is good, but the depth is starting to take a hit. Safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips proved to be a strong pair, and the thinking is that Phillips could be ready to break out after playing safely in 16 games last season following a serious knee injury in 2009. Phillips was remarkably good, but there still was some hesitancy in his game. With elite athleticism and a big frame, Phillips could be ready to display the game-changing ability he teased the Giants with before getting hurt. Rolle appeared to be better up in the box than in coverage, though he proved to have a nose for the ball and was better than many scouts expected. Still, there were some coverage mishaps. Deon Grant returns as the third safety — the Giants used a 4-2-5 alignment more than any other last season. Grant can hit but doesn't run like he once did. The loss of Terrell Thomas, the projected starter on the right side, is a huge blow. LCB Corey Webster often was asked to cover the opponent's best receiver and generally did a nice job with his combination of physicality, foot quickness and fluid hips. He can play press-man coverage, flip his hips, turn and stick with receivers step for step. Aaron Ross likely will jump into Thomas' old spot, with first-rounder Prince Amukamara likely to miss the first month of the season with a broken foot. Amukamara lacks ideal arm length and isn't a downfield playmaker but is built well and has good instincts. Ross, last year's nickel back, doesn't provide the stickiest coverage and hasn't looked as quick or fast as he did earlier in his career or in college. Injuries have hurt him, but for now he's a capable slot corner. Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon also landed on injured reserve, leading to the signing of ninth-year vet Brian Williams. He enters the CB mix with 19 interceptions in nine seasons, many as a starter. Rookie Tyler Sash might stick as a heady box safety and special-teamer.
There were numerous shortcomings, mostly in the punting, coverage and return games. Rookie P Matt Dodge was a weekly adventure, at times showing great leg strength but often outkicking his coverage or failing to kick well directionally. He also flamed out as the holder on placekicks, so he must improve if he wants to hold off former Jets P Steve Weatherford. If RS Domenik Hixon can come back from injury, the Giants might have upgraded the field-position game significantly. Quick rookie Jerrel Jernigan also could factor in on punt returns. PK Lawrence Tynes had a fine season once the placeholding was fixed. The coverage must improve, but the Giants could have the athletes needed to make improvements.
Most of the pieces are in line for a return to the postseason. The Giants know they should have been in the playoffs, and they could be a sleeper Super Bowl team if everything breaks right. If the turnovers are cut down and the health improves, this is a very good roster with the potential to be dominant.
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