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Giants Season Preview

How Well The Giants Do Will Have A Lot To Do With How Well Manning Plays

Well, it’s finally here. After months of grandstanding, bickering and posturing, after months of labor, of secret meetings, of meaningless drivel, after months of waiting, it’s finally here. Football. On our TVs. It’s about time.

While the offseason might have been marred by lawyers and negotiations, all of that is finally behind us and we can focus on what’s truly important: football.

The Giants began their offseason with a present, when highly touted cornerback Prince Amukamara fell to their laps in the first round of the draft. After a quick holdout, Amukamara would hurt his foot–a sign of things to come.

The Giants parted ways with old reliables Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert and replaced them with David Baas and Will Beatty. The Giants saw Kevin Boss go to Oakland and Steve Smith go to Philadelphia. The Giants saw  Barry Cofield go to Washington.

The theme of the Giants offseason could be summed up thusly: Promoting within, and getting hurt. The Giants saw many players go that they didn’t replace with outside free agents, hoping that the talent inside the building was enough, and saw way too many players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball go down. It wasn’t the ideal offseason.

The Giants lost Bruce Johnson and Amukamara, making corner a weak spot. And then, of course, Terrell Thomas and Brian Witherspoon tore their ACLs, making a thin unit even thinner. A weak linebacking core was made weaker when Jon Goff tore his ACL. Marvin Austin ,the 2nd round pick, who was to provide critical depth at defensive tackle, is also out for the season with a torn pectoral. After a contract dispute, Osi Umenyiora is going to miss at least the first two games after knee surgery,

It’s not pretty, but that’s where we are. The Giants do not have the roster they envisioned when the offseason started. They are certainly weaker. They have lost really good players and have not been able to adequately replace them. They will have to rely on unproven youngsters and veteran castoffs.

But the Giants will have to persevere. How they respond will tell us a lot about the 2011 Giants. If they respond well, they have the talent to go far. If not, they have the ability to self-destruct. Get ready for a topsy turvy season.

OFFENSE:

If the Giants want to go far, they will have to put up points. And it all starts with Eli Manning. Entering his 8th season, Manning has established himself as an elite QB, but he is still too prone to mistakes. While last year’s 25 interceptions looks to be an anomaly, Eli has never been the most secure QB. Still, he has a variety of weapons around him to make the offense go. The Giants will rely heavily on Hakeem Nicks, entering his third season. The receiver looks like a star, and reminds many of a young Michael Irvin. Nicks has uncanny separation skills, and the Giants are going to try to isolate him one-on-one. Defenses, though, will respond with plenty of double coverage, making Mario Manningham a key. Manningham also has star potential, and scratched the surface of his talent yet. Keeping him back, however, is mental lapses. If he can avoid those, he’s primed for a big year. Rounding out the core receivers is Domenik Hixon. Returning from an ACL injury, Hixon has not looked tentative. He will be relied upon heavily as a tertiary option. Others, like Devin Thomas, Jerrel Jernigan and Victor Cruz will be thrown at occasionally. The Giants like to use a tight end up the seam, and Kevin Boss filled that role perfectly. He’s in Oakland, and that role will have to be filled by Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe. Beckum is a natural pass catcher, but not as a tight end. He’s more of an H-Back. Ballard and Pascoe are more blockers. The Giants will have to rely more on their receivers, especially in the red zone.

If the air attack isn’t firing, the Giants have a pretty strong run game to fall back on. The Giants re-signed Ahmad Bradshaw, who’s finally healthy. Brandon Jacobs has been terrific in preseason, running with purpose and using his size to his advantage again. The dynamic duo has looked terrific in preseason. If they’re not working, DJ Ware is a solid veteran who can get some yard. And if the Giants need a big play, look no further than Da’Rel Scott, the new “fire”. Scott, who may be one of the fastest guys in the league, had an incredible preseason, ripping off runs of 65 and 97. If he gets space, he’s gone.

The Giants will be running a revamped line. The right side remains the same, with ever sold Kareem McKenzie at tackle, and All-Pro Chris Snee at guard. David Bass came over from the 49ers, and will have the challenge of learning a new playbook in a limited amount of time. The left side is completely different. David Diehl shifts over the left guard, his more natural position. Still, the transition is not as easy as saying it, and he’ll have to re-adjust. Will Beatty will get the nod at left tackle. The former 2nd round pick has all the tools, but has, so far, not been able to put it together. Protecting Eil’s blindside is paramount, and if Beatty can’t get it done, the Giants will really have to reshuffle. The Giants will be running, for the most part, to the right side. Defenses know this, so you’re going to see a lot of counters, cut backs, and play action to the left to try to free up the right side a bit.

The Giants offense can be prolific. The tools are there. Consistency will be key. Catching the ball. Limiting mental mistakes. Executing on third down and in the red zone. These are huge keys to the season. With the injuries on defense, the Giants will have to be carried by their offense. A lot of this will rest of Eli Manning’s shoulders. If he can cut down on the interceptions, the Giants will be one of the top offenses. They need to score points, there’s no question about that. How much they score will determine a lot about their season.

The Giants defense, heading into the offseason, should have been pretty good. Great defensive line, even with the loss of Barry Cofield. Decent linebackers. A very good secondary. It was set up to be a very good D. But then injuries hit. Amukamara, Johnson, Thomas, Goff, Osi, Witherspoon. Any depth, particularly in the secondary, was gone. The Giants are going to need a lot of people to step up.

The Giants defense, as always, starts with the line. Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul form a dynamic duo at end. JPP has looked terrific in preseason. When Osi Umenyiora returns, watch out. The Giants lost Barry Cofield, but Chris Canty is sold, Linval Joseph looked good in preseason, and Rocky Bernard has been terrific in preseason. The depth at defensive tackle, however, is lacking. Justin Tuck will slide inside on third downs, however. Like all of the great Giants defenses, to succeed, they will need to put a lot of pressure on the QB. Tuck and JPP should provide that, and if Bernard can continue his preseason form, he should help with that as well.

The Giants linebackers haven’t been great for awhile, and this year is no exception. The loss of Jon Goff for the year is brutal. While he wasn’t spectacular, he was certainly solid, and he made all the calls on defense. Replacing him, at least for now, will be rookie Greg Jones. Jones looked great in preseason, particularly on special teams, but most of his work was done against second and third team offenses. When they take the field for real, he will have only had two practices with the first team. It’s going to be baptism by fire. The Giants might sign a veteran after week 1, when contracts are not guaranteed. Still, he’s going to be playing a lot. Mathias Kiwanuka will be moved back to strongside linebacker, although that’s not completely accurate. He plays more of a “joker” role, meaning he will line up all over the field. He will be counted on to get pressure on the QB and to stay with tight ends. On third downs, he will move to defensive end. Michael Boley returns at weakside linebacker. Boley is very talented, but he doesn’t always play up to that. Doing so this year would be terrific. Giants have good young depth at linebacker, with rookies like Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger and Jaicquan Williams.

The secondary was slated to be a strength, and it still might be, but players are going to have to step up. Corey Webster will still be the number one corner, and he’s a pretty good one. Not shutdown, but close to it. Instead of Terrell thomas playing on the opposite side, it will be everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Aaron Ross. Ross has not been good recently, and was only decent in preseason. He has to replace the Giants leading tackler. Not an easy task. It’s put up or shut up time for Ross. Time to prove his first round status. The nickel corner will technically be safety Antrel Rolle, who came into the league as a corner. He has terrific cover skills, and while he’s better suited at safety, the circumstances dictate his presence  at corner on third downs. Kenny Phillips will also be back at safety. He’s another year removed from his knee injury, and he needs to be less tentative. On third downs, you’ll see a lot of Deon Grant and Tyler Sash. The veteran and rookie, respectively, provide aggressiveness and solid play.

The defense certainly not bad. It’s just not what it was going to be. The Giants D had problems last year. They couldn’t tackle. They gave up far too many big plays, particularly late in games. The injuries won’t help them with that. They need make the easy, simple plays. Failure to do so will make this year a lot like last year. No one wants to relieve the Eagles game. Opposing defenses are going to throw a lot, testing the secondary. That’s why a great pass rush is essential. A good pass rush can elevate a bad team to an average team. A great pass rush can elevate an average team to a really good one. On paper, right now, the Giants defense is average. If the Giants can bring a ferocious pass rush, the problems in the secondary will look a lot better.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Special teams was a huge weakness last year, but it should be upgraded. Devin Thomas will be the kick returner, and he looked explosive in preseason. Domenik Hixon is as solid a punt returner a you’re going to find. Steve Weatherford replaces Matt Dodge at punter, and should be an upgrade. Lawrence Tynes is a solid kicker. Special teams coverage, which was an issue last year, should be better. Guys like Tyler Sash, Mark Herzlich, Jaicquan Williams and Greg Jones will make an impact. As long as they can wrap up tackles, they should be fine.

OUTLOOK:

This is a different team than we expected. Injuries and unexpected losses in free agency give a different look. Still, there is plenty of talent. When looking at how this team will do, I think of a few things: Can they be consistent, and can they stand up to a hard schedule? I don’t know. Consistency has been an issue for years. And their schedule is brutal. Two games each against the Eagles and Cowboys. Saints. Packers. Patriots. Jets. That’s half their season right there. And the other 8 aren’t gimmies either. Tough games against St. Louis and in Arizona. Their schedule, regardless of the injuries, could have been devastating. With their injuries, it could be the death of them. There is a lot of talent, maybe enough to offset the problems. Still, I can’t help but see an 8-8 season, and no playoffs for the Giants in 2011. I hope I’m proven wrong, but all the evidence points that way.


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