Every season, the hope is that the starters can get reps in real-time game action against an NFL-level opponent, without injury. Injuries suffered during the regular season (particularly season-ending injuries) are no easier to swallow than those that occur during organized team activities, mini-camps, training camp or during preseason games. However, when you lose a player for the season before the regular season begins, it does jolt the individual player, the team and even the fanbase. However, there is an opportunity that is created for another player, as well as an opportunity for the team to rally around the fallen player.
The Giants saw DE Justin Tuck pull up gimpy after Week 2 of the preseason, but he ended up being fine, playing very well in Week 3 of the preseason. FS Antrel Rolle well, rolled his ankle in practice and was shut down for the remainder of the preseason in order to heal. Thankfully, for Rolle and the team’s sake, the injury was not serious. The same can be said for WR Victor Cruz, who bruised his heel early in Week 2 of the preseason. Center David Baas escaped what could have easily been a torn ACL with a mild MCL sprain, and hopes to be back within the 3-6 week timeframe that was announced following examination of his knee. The biggest blow heading into the final week of preseason games has been the torn ACL suffered by SS Stevie Brown in the midst of an interception return against Geno Smith and the New York Jets in Week 3 of the preseason. Jason Pierre-Paul, who is rehabilitating after back surgery in June is looking promising for a Week 1 debut vs. Dallas, but is not 100% certain at this time.
The following will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each unit within the offense, defense, special teams and coaching, as the Giants prepare to make a historic run at Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be held in their backyard at MetLife Stadium, February 2, 2014.
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin.
All the banter about Coughlin’s departure (more so how he will leave, versus when) should cease. He has delivered two Super Bowl titles in his tenure, just as Bill Parcells did 25 years ago, and deserves to go out when he truly feels that he cannot do the job. The Giants will always have enough talent to contend, so it is just a matter of Coughlin being the stand-up man that he has always been, and knowing when he is ready to hang it up. The Giants front office values Coach Coughlin’s efforts, so they would not disgrace him by firing him. He has about as close to carte blanche rights in the NFL as a head coach can get. Despite his age (67 on August 31), Coughlin has no less energy than the Dennis Allens and Mike McCoys of the NFL (and displays it, unlike those two). The annual media huddling and generating stories about Coughlin’s demise with the Giants, or his need to retire have to stop finally. When it’s time to go, Coughlin will step down.
With that said, you already know what to expect with this team under Coughlin: attention to detail, top 10 offense, a furious pass rush and tightening the screws in crunch time.
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Gilbride.The Giants offense appears to be solid on paper, and turns out to be annually (perennially in the Top 10 in points per game, yardage per game and most passing and overall offensive statistics), but the Giants have had a nightmare of a time inside of both 20s — pinned deep by the opposing team, or in the opposing team’s Red (Green, according to Coughlin) Zone — for years now. This fact, and other curious play calls at crucial junctures in games by Gilbride have caused many Giants fans to derisively label him “Kevin Killdrive” for years. Those “Inside Both 20s” struggles also belie the overall statistics that the Giants offense posts annually. The inside handoffs on 3rd and 7, the comeback routes run three yards short of the 1st down mark at the 6 yard line, and calling sweeps and five WR sets at the 3 yard line are all problems that manifest regularly with the Giants offense. The Giants may move the ball between the 20s better than any team not named New Orleans, New England or Green Bay, but if they do not solve their Red Zone woes in 2013, they are going to find themselves in a lot more close games than they’d want, and on the wrong end of them a few times, which has been a problem, even in their Super Bowl runs of 2007 and 2011, producing duplicate 9-7 seasons each time (with games lost partially to having to settle for FGs instead of getting TDs in tight).
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, David Carr, Curtis Painter, Ryan Nassib.Eli Manning does not miss games. The Giants hope that ends up being his career epitaph, because the “pickins” are slim behind him. Manning will give you the standard 19-30, 275 yard, 2 TD, INT (on average) game, with a few bewildering throws (keen-eyed Giants fans know that when Manning makes a throw and immediately turns his back that it’s bad news), a few eye-popping accurate throws, a couple of stealth audibles into big plays, and deliver in the clutch the majority of the time. This is what Eli Manning is, and the Giants organization and Giants fans would have it no other way. Despite fluid knowledge of the offense, Carr is not someone the Giants can run with over an extended period of time should Manning ever go down. Painter is mostly still around because Nassib is more raw than those steaks that Barney Rubble used to grill on the Flintstones at this point.
Running Backs: David Wilson, Andre Brown, Michael Cox, Ryan Torain, Da’Rel Scott*.
Wilson is most likely going to get the lion’s share of the carries, but Andre Brown will get pretty much close to the same, depending on the situation. The Giants do not want to wear out the tread on Wilson’s Z-rated tires too quickly in his career and fail to get the most out of his massive ability. Brown is a chain-pusher who is a maven in the red zone in tight, and someon that the Giants will want to rely on more than five wide receivers getting open at the two yard line in the red zone. Michael Cox appears to be doing himself some favors with important carries and steady work in the return game. The Giants obviously do not want Wilson risking major injury in the return game, so it is Cox’s job to lose. Ryan Torain is insurance, and Scott may have just fumbled his way out of the Giants organization completely, following his third straight season of listless preseason efforts.
Wilson has unlimited potential, but will need to work on his blocking progressively. Brown is a better blocker, and will be relied upon more frequently in third down situations. The Giants hope that they do not miss former stalwart Ahmad Bradshaw’s superior blocking, as he will now be protecting Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts‘ fortunes on Sundays.
Fullback: Henry Hynoski.
The job is Hynoski’s when he is fully ready to go (activated from PUP list within the past 24 hours). When he is in there, he lives up to his nickname, the Polish Plow in the run blocking game. And he has soft hands, as well. His value is overlooked by many.
Tight Ends: Brandon Myers, Adrien Robinson, Bear Pascoe, Larry Donnell.Myers is the pass-catching tight end. Pascoe is the superior blocker in this bunch (and doubles as an H-Back/emergency fullback). Robinson is still developing, but appears to do everything from blocking, catching and running after the catch in slow motion. Donnell was active in preseason, but the jury is out on him. It is evident what the Giants expect from each tight end heading into the season.
Left Tackle: Will Beatty.
Beatty rated in the B/B+ range last season. He has good feet, uses his arms well in leverage against defensive ends, and protects Eli Manning’s blind side very well. He and LG Kevin Boothe tend to form the better side of run blocking along the Giants’ offensive line. Beatty’s shortcoming is untimely, drive-killing holding and false start penalties, although he is a far cry from Luke Petitgout’s propensity for each penalty. Beatty is adept at quick kick out blocks in the outside run game.
Left Guard: Kevin Boothe.
Boothe has redistributed his weight over the years and made himself into a very good guard. He has literally played at every slot along the Giants’ offensive line in his time with the team. He rated the best amongst all of the offensive linemen last season (mostly because of the various nicks and bumps that slowed right guard Chris Snee for most of 2012), with a B+/A-. Boothe cut his penalties drastically, and opened a good number of holes along a line that struggled doing so at various times in 2012. Boothe is a road grader who also has good feet in pass protection, and he is very good at pulling.
Center: David Baas, Jim Cordle.
Baas quietly settled into his role after a bumpy 2011 season. He as neither great nor bad in 2012, but he was not the turnstile that he was at times in 2011. Baas may miss the first game or two — although he could return in time for Week 1 — but the Giants have not been able to mount much of anything in the running game or pass protection (which has seen middle rushers in Manning’s face at an alarming rate) in the game and a half since Cordle entered the lineup for Baas. In short, the Giants need Baas back healthy, and soon.
Right Guard: Chris Snee, Brandon Mosley.
The hope is that Snee’s hip woes are behind him, as well as the surgery to repair it. The Giants definitely need his former presence as a road grader in the run game, and superb pass protection. Each of those attributes took a hit last season, as Snee was nicked up at various junctures for most of the season.
Right Tackle: David Diehl, Justin Pugh, James Brewer.
Diehl is a great guy. Most people know this. However, his skills have diminished rapidly, and he is once again injured. He was well on his way to possibly getting Eli Manning knocked out of a game with his blocking woes. Justin Pugh has looked decent in his maiden voyage in the NFL. James Brewer has done little to distinguish himself in three seasons. This is a position of leverage, as the Giants like to run to the right side, as well as check down in the passing game to that side. Without protection, half of the field is cut off to Manning, which has been the problem thus far in preseason. Outside of Baas’ health and return, this is the glaring concern heading into the season.
Wide Receivers: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan*.
Nicks is the Giants’ best and most versatile WR, with precise routes, impeccable body control, unmatched hands, and overall strength and agility, with surprising ability to run past some guys at times. Victor Cruz is the best slot receiver in the NFL, and consistently takes the top off of opposing defenses when Nicks is healthy. Cruz has quick feet and shiftiness, along with enough strength to manhandle most cornerbacks who attempt to cover him in the slot. Randle has impressed, and expects to line up at each the X, Y, and Z slots on the field at times this season. Randle has size, speed, hands and shifty ability. Louis Murphy is still a speed merchant, and can operate in the slot and at times, on the outside. Barden has demonstrated the ability to get open and utilize his size, albeit rarely. The Giants needed the depth and brought him back after allowing him to enter free agency in February. Jerrel Jernigan may be in his final days with the Giants with the emergence of Michael Cox in the return game; where Jernigan has done virtually nothing in four seasons, and has done even less as a WR in the offense in that same timeframe.
Defensive Coordinator: Perry Fewell.
Fewell likes to mix up looks out of a base 4-3, with some zone looks, including a plan to drop guys like DE Justin Tuck into coverage and play off his pass rush. When he has had a healthy unit, the Giants defense has shone with ball pressure, sacks and keeping plays in front of them (as evidenced by the final four games of the 2011 season and throughout the playoffs and Super Bowl XLVI), but largely, Fewell has been playing without anywhere between two to four key starters on defense out at various stretches. The Giants will already be without SS Stevie Brown for the 2013 season, FS Antrel Rolle will begin the season testing an injured ankle, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul will do the same with his back. Expect results to be mixed early on, until replacements gel, and the aforementioned Pierre-Paul and Rolle return to form, with the re-insertion of CB Terrell Thomas in the mix. The Giants will also need CB Jayron Hosley to step forward to help CB Prince Amukamara, CB Corey Webster, and a depleted safety unit, which will be missing Brown and FS/SS Will Hill for the first four games of the 2013 season (marijuana-based suspension).
Defensive Ends: Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore, Mathias Kiwanuka, Adewale Ojomo, Adrian Tracy, Justin Trattou.
The Giants make their bones on the backs of their defensive linemen. The pass rush (and run defense, setting the edge for the back seven) will have a major say in the defensive success of the Giants this season, as always. Tuck appears to be close to his former Pro Bowl two-way form. Pierre-Paul actually played a more fundamentally-sound defensive end in 2012 over 2011, but his sack totals were down due to a large number of double teams. Moore has shown flashes of why the Giants drafted him and think highly of his abilities. He will add an extra rusher if/when Fewell decides to break out his vaunted “NASCAR” package featuring four defensive ends as a front. Kiwanuka continues to be a strong, solid presence, and Ojomo is a flat out beast off the ball. Tracy and Trattou will provide the depth that the Giants love from their defensive ends, and capable of playing competent downs.
Defensive Tackles: Linval Joseph, Shaun Rogers, Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, Marvin Austin, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn.
Defensive tackle was a point of focus for GM Jerry Reese during the offseason, as the Giants’ run defense was a veritable sieve for most of 2012. While Joseph mostly graded well, Rogers was lost due to a blood clot in his leg before the 2012 season began. He should provide an immovable presence in the middle when he is in there, while Jenkins can play off Joseph, who can stuff the run and rush the passer. Jenkins still gets off the ball quickly and is more of a pass rushing defensive tackle than a run stuffer. Hankins is beginning his career, and appears to have a future as an anchor in the middle. Marvin Austin is playing for his career with the Giants, and his knockout of Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez at least puts him on film as being active. Mike Patterson is a squat DT that gets decent leverage from his 6′ flat stance. Kuhn was active in 2012 before tearing his ACL midseason. The depth that the Giants coveted going into the offseason is available, and will be necessary, as the Giants have some of the weakest linebackers and an average secondary (even when healthy.)
Linebackers: Keith Rivers, Dan Connor, Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich, Kyle Bosworth, Spencer Paysinger.
Rivers is nothing special, and that’s when he is actually healthy. He seemed like he was on his way to stardom before the cheap shot leveled against him by Hines Ward a few years ago. He always seems to be a step late on plays, or skittish when chasing down plays across the middle. Understandable. Rivers is still a big LB and has agility and speed. If he can just stay healthy, he can at least run with most TEs. Dan Connor is a solid, if not unspectacular Mike. Slower than you would want with some of the speedy offenses that the Giants face, but he knows his assignments and is usually in the right place. Williams is more of a Rover/Will who can rush the passer, come off the edge against read-option QBs, and can play deep middle when necessary. Herzlich is just too light in the cakes and somewhat slow to have an impact as a regular Mike at this time. There is hope for him, but he is best suited to provide depth at the moment. Paysinger is listed first on the charts, but he will need to show something in order to remain there. Bosworth has impressed in his rookie preseason, but he is not expected to play major minutes at all for now.
Cornerbacks: Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Jayron Hosley, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, Trumaine McBride.
Webster could not have had a worse 2012. The hope is that he has put it behind him and can regain his solid form. Amukamara has emerged as the best cornerback on the Giants’ roster. He runs with #1’s, is physical at the line, and tackles very well. He had emerged in 2012, despite the defense tailing off as a whole in the final six weeks of the season. Hosley has to make a leap in 2013, but he will begin the season recovering from a couple of nicks and bumps suffered in the preseason. His speed gives the Giants options between his operating in the slot and outside at times. Ross is depth, and has shown an acumen for covering slot receivers over the years, even though he will often give up as many key plays as he makes. Terrell Thomas is a guy that everyone is rooting for to first remain healthy, and then hopefully contribute consistently, after three torn anterior cruciate ligaments and rehabilitation stints over the past 5 years. When Thomas was healthy and on his game, he covered like a blanket, had 5 interceptions in each of his first two seasons, and played with leverage and strength against 1’s and 2’s. He was set to become an upper echelon corner in the NFL before his second (first in the NFL) ACL tear. McBride has been solid in the preseason, and will at least provide depth.
Safeties: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown*, Will Hill*, Tyler Sash, Cooper Taylor.This is not a position of depth for the Giants, particularly with Brown out for season with a torn ACL, and Hill missing the first four regular season games due to suspension. Taylor is a rookie. Sash has been solid, but he is not dependable enough to be playing last line of defense every down, as Rolle’s list of duties continues to be manifold in Fewell’s defense. The Giants could make a play to bring back SS Kenny Phillips, but unless he is healthy (quadriceps injury at the moment), he will not be of much assistance to the secondary. This places the onus on the defensive line to be dominant until the Giants can bolster the back end.
Special Teams Coordinator: Tom Quinn.
The Giants’ specials went from being one of the worst (at least in coverage on returns and returns of their own) in 2010, to one of the best in 2011 and especially in 2012. Led by the efforts of P Steve Weatherford and a steady kicking game (although K Lawrence Tynes has moved on and K Josh Brown has replaced him), the coverage teams were great in 2012, and the return game was bolstered by the emergence of rookie David Wilson in 2012. Quinn deserves credit (with an assist from specials maven, Larry Izzo, who had a huge hand in remaking the unit), after being a subject of many a groan amongst Giants fans in previous seasons.
Punter: Steve Weatherford.
Weatherford pretty much does whatever he wants with the football, with coffin corner punts, and deep 50+ yard bombs when necessary. Plus, he is a legitimate athlete, sticking his nose in on coverage, when necessary. One of the five best punters in the NFL.
Place Kicker: Josh Brown.
Brown has been a journeyman in recent seasons, but he had been consistent for years. He has a bigger leg than Tynes, but accuracy will be the focal point when the East Rutherford winds blow come November and December.
Kick Returner: David Wilson*, Michael Cox.
Cox has been auditioning in this role during the 2013 preseason. Ideally, the Giants would like to not have Wilson back there returning 65 kickoffs per season. Cox has been decent, although he is not on Wilson’s level with speed, agility and shiftiness.
Punt Returner: Rueben Randle*, Jerrel Jernigan.
It is up in the air who will be handling these duties. With Randle taking a larger role in the offense, he may not be back there, although it would not be that large of a risk to place him there. He was decent last season. Jernigan just seems to do nothing well on the football field, outside of one return against the New Orleans Saints in 2012.
Long Snapper: Zak DeOssie.
DeOssie is taken for granted by many, but if you can remember the last time he committed a gaffe, you should be considered impressive in the eyes of others.
OVERALLThe Giants will always be in the mix, because the NFC East is a dogfight every season, and the teams are so evenly matched. Even though Philadelphia is atrocious, they match up well with their NFC East counterparts due to familiarity. As long as the Coughlin-Manning-Pass Rush-centered Giants are intact, there will always be the chance of a 9 to 11-win regular season, chance to win the NFC East and make a playoff run, with those (even-keeled head coaching, consistent and clutch QB play, and a force of a pass rush. Injuries will be a factor, obviously. Clock management, another. Ability to make FGs of 3-5 yards longer will help the Giants, as well. Once the team solves its red zone woes, they will be in control of their destiny every week. In today’s NFL, the only thing that can be said with any certitude is that anything can happen on any given Sunday. The Giants have what it takes to make things happen in their favor every single week, as they have proven capable of beating the rest of the better/best teams in the NFL; particularly when the odds are stacked against them.