Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Tale of Two Seasons: New York Giants Season Preview

2008 Record: 12-4

The 2008 New York Giants are the reason the Lombardi Trophy isn't handed out in September, October, or November. For three months of the year, the Giants were the team to beat in the league. They looked nigh unstoppable with their bruising running attack and aerial threats both short and long. Then Plaxico shot himself, and the team imploded. A 1-3 December, followed by a 23-11 ousting by the Eagles in the NFC Divisional round left the Giants with a bad taste in their mouth.

They cut the chord on Plaxico this offseason, which should be an improvement for their team in the long run. They also get Osi Umenyiora back from injury this season, which makes their defensive line even scarier than the one they had last year. Justin Tuck showed that he is the real deal with a Pro Bowl year last season, and the Giants have great depth along their line to go as many as 5 deep at both end and tackle. Their first-round pick was spent on Hakeem Nicks (WR-North Carolina) in the hopes that he can blossom into the big bodied replacement to No-catch-ico in the passing game.

The Giants need to hope that Nicks steps up quick or someone takes a huge step forward because there wasn't much going on in the passing department after Plax shot himself. The receiving corps were led in 2008 by Domenik Hixon (43 rec, 593 yds, 2 TD), Amani "It Is Not A" Toomer (48 rec, 580 yds, 4 TD), Steve Smith (57 rec, 574 yds, 1 TD). None of those are exactly inspiring stat lines, but the Giants are also reportedly very high on former Michigan star Mario Manningham, so it looks like we might see Receiver-by-committee this season for the Giants. Also lurking in the background of the picture is David Tyree of Super Bowl XLII-catch fame.

If there's one reason Giants fans shouldn't be concerned, it's because they don't need a passing game to win. Any team with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw should be just fine. Jacobs did get banged up last year, but he's an unstoppable force when he's in the game. The Giants O-line is one of the better units in the business, and don't give up a lot of sacks to Manning.

Without Burress in the lineup any more, look for the Giants to focus on a ball-control wear-down-the-other-team style of smash-mouth football that they have shown they can play in the past. Without any deep threats, Manning will be running a lot of timing patterns, getting the ball out fast, which will cut down even further on the number of hits he takes. The Giants don't need Manning to put up huge numbers to win (as evidenced by a 4-0 stretch in November last year where Manning was out-passed in 3 of them, had a high output of 240 yards, and the Giants put up over 30 points in each game). Jacobs put up 15 touchdowns last season, followed by tight end Kevin Boss who scored six times, including the game winner in Pittsburgh. The Giants aren't going to shock and awe anyone with their offense, but then again, neither did the Steelers last year.

The Giants defense is one of the best in the game, and their front four, which we've already touched on, is one of the best in the 4-3 business. Their linebackers, however, leave something to be desired. They added Michael Boley from Atlanta, who was inconsistent throughout much of last season. Antonio Pierce in the middle of the unit has also struggled with inconsistency, and the other OLB position has yet to be decided, with second round choice Clint Sintim (LB-Virgina) in the mix. Like most 4-3 defenses, the Giants D isn't built around getting pressure from linebackers. Tuck led the team with 12 sacks last season, followed by fellow end Mathias Kiwanuka (8), and DT Fred Robbins (5.5). The Giants added D-lineman Chris Canty from Dallas via free agency, and with Umenyiora back the Giants will have a formidable front 4.

Their secondary, on the other hand, also has some holes. The Giants had 17 INTs last season, good for 9th in the league, with no player having more than 3. However, the Giants only recovered 5 fumbles last season, the second-lowest mark in the league. In spite of this the Giants managed a +9 turnover differential, the 5th best mark in the league. Turnovers aren't everything, but they do help, particularly when your offense, like the Giants, doesn't turn the ball over.

As we've discussed, the Giants offense isn't predicated on Manning out-passing the other quarterback, and that was evidenced last season by him only out-passing his opponent in 7 games (and getting out-passed by the likes of J.T. O'Sullivan, Tavaris Jackson, Joe Flacco, Jake Delhomme and Joe Flacco). However, the Giants went 7-0 in those games, which does point to the need for the Giants to have a balanced offense. Between Jacobs, Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward (lost to TB in free agency), a Giants rusher was the leading rusher in 12 games last season. The Giants were 11-1 in those games, once again pointing to the need for this team to control the ball and the clock. As we saw a few times last season, this team isn't built to come from behind and win games. However, the team can put up points if their offense starts rolling, as evidenced by their 7 games with 30+ points last season. The Giants get in trouble when they are forced out of their running game and the ball is put in Eli's hands. In their December collapse last year, opponents out-passed and out-rushed the Giants.

Ian's Prediction: 10-6

This is an airtight division and no team stands head and shoulders above the rest. Everyone has flaws here. The Post-Plax Giants had a New York Mets-esque collapse. Without Plax in the lineup, teams don't have to guard against a deep threat, and can key more on stopping the run. This puts the ball in Eli's hands and creates turnovers. In the month of December, Eli posted passing totals of 123, 191, 181, and 119. These four were followed by a 169-yard, 2 INT performance in the divisional round against Philly. After the calendar flipped to December, Eli posted 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 5 games (including the playoff game). If it wasn't for the Cowboys and Redskins also collapsing at the same time, the Giants could have found themselves in deep trouble at the end of the season. However, they hung on to won the division, but crapped all over themselves in the playoffs. This year's team faces a tough schedule with two difficult stretches. The first comes right before their bye with games @NO, ARI, @PHI, SD. However, the real gauntlet again comes in December with DAL, PHI, @WAS, CAR, @MIN. If there's any consolation for the Giants, it's that the hardest games in both stretches come at home. The Giants could easily post another 12-4 season and could just as easily go 4-12. Injuries, particularly to their running backs will decide the fate of the Giants season.

John's Prediction:

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