As opening week in the NFL approaches, one of the most anticipated weeks in all of sports, I thought it would be good to have some pre -week 1 analysis on the Giants and to detail the NFC East, usually the most competitive division in football.
More posts on the rest of the divisions in the league will follow.
As we all know, last year the Giants had an extremely disappointing season, losing as the 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs to hated rival the Philadelphia Eagles. The season was especially disappointing as the Giants had been defending superbowl champions and had started the season 11-1 before the massive turmoil unfolded and led to the team’s ultimate demise. It wasn’t just the 1st round loss itself; it was the way in which the team lost, as it looked like an extremely mediocre team, unlike the one that had charged to an 11-1 start while obliterating anyone in its path.
As we all know, everything started to go to pieces when Plaxico Burress shot himself in a NYC nightclub towards the end of the season. Not only did his suspension for the rest of the year hurt the Giants on the field, but it hurt them off of it as well as all of the media talk was about Burress, a player who could no longer practice with the team. It was clear that all the players became fed up with it, as they had (besides Antonio Pierce who was involved in the incident) just as much knowledge of the situation as we had. The team fell apart and made an early exit in the playoffs, a year after having such an incredibly magical run.
However, Burress is now gone, off to jail, and the Giants must move on. The 2009 season looks to be very promising, and I will go through position by position for the pre season report.
QB: Eli Manning is coming off a mediocre season, but its extremely difficult to begin to criticize him especially after he won a superbowl 2 years ago. He didnt play badly last year, but his play clearly suffered once Burress was lost as he failed to throw a single TD pass to a Wide Receiver in his absence. The wrs like Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon who had benefitted immensely from the attention Burress received before were now forced to become 1 and 2 wide receivers, and clearly were not ready for it. Defenses were able to put 7 or 8 guys in the box to stop the Giants’ usually dominant running attack of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward and dare Manning to throw. Manning often found guys with good throws, but even when the receivers did manage to get open they often had key drops (see Domenik Hixon vs. the Eagles). This year he has a lot of good, but not great wide receivers, and we’ll see what he can do. He’ll need Jacobs and Bradshaw to help him out this year, and will count on the O-line to protect him.
David Carr is the 2nd and final QB. The Giants have chosen to go with 2 QBs again this year, as Manning never gets hurt and Carr has proven to be a reliable backup. If, worst case, Manning gets hurt and Carr does need to play, he has proven that he can get the job done.
RB: With Derrick Ward gone through free-agency, the Giants will go with a 3 back group of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware.
We all know what Jacobs will give you. If given a little room, he can give you not only a hundred yards a game and a TD or 2 but can also run over linebackers, even the ones who are bigger than he is and can start to tire out the defense.
After taking a backseat to Derrick Ward last year, even following his great play in the playoffs the year before, Ahmad Bradshaw will move back into the number 2 role and will look to play a huge role in the Giants offense this year. He is a good change of pace from the bruising Jacobs, as his style is more of a slash and cut guy, while he can also carry the ball up the middle. Danny Ware will be number 3 and has been impressive in training camp and in preseason games, and he should get some touches during the season.
FB: Not really much needed to be said here. Madison Hedgecock has been a brilliant pickup for the Giants and has been a great battering ram for the running backs over the past couple of years. He could improve his hands a little bit in the passing game, but not much to complain about.
WR: This is for obvious reasons the most important position this year for the Giants and the one with the most unanswered questions. How will the passing game be after the departure of Burress, not only a weapon himself but someone who created a lot of opportunities for the other receivers? Will the passing game be good enough to prevent defenses from stacking too many men in the box? The rotation isn’t really set in terms of depth chart, but here’s how it should shape up:
Steve Smith will become the number one receiver. He has been a very solid possession receiver since being selected in the 2nd round out of USC two years ago. he performed well in the superbowl and had a good season last year. The main question is can he become a #1 receiver?
Domenik Hixon will be the number 2 and other starting receiver. He has shown many flashes of brilliance, but has also shown that he can be careless with the ball. He had a terrible drop last year against the Eagles and needs to show that he can create some openings against starting cornerbacks in this league.
The remaining receivers are Sinorice Moss, who has been disappointing in his time with the Giants, Mario Manningham, a second year player who will look to make an impact this year, Hakeem Nicks, this year’s 1st round pick, rookie Ramses Barden and free agent signing Derek Hagan, a former Dolphin. Moss has not managed to stay healthy but has shown at times he can be a deep threat. Manningham has not had much of a chance yet but should get some opportunities this year. Nicks has shown us in the preseason why he was the first round pick, and should have an immediate impact in his first season. Barden is 6-6 and will do his best to imitate Burress, especially in the red-zone. Hagan has also done some good things and can get some playing time. Obviously this group of players contains no superstar, no one that stands out, but it is the hope of the Giants that they can all compliment each other.
TE: We have all seen what Kevin Boss can do. He must be more consistent, but not only has he been a force in the passing game but he has developed into a good blocker as well. Michael Matthews was recently traded to the Patriots, so that leaves us with Darcy Johnson (who has also shown some good flashes) and rookie Travis Beckum. If either Johnson or Beckum can catch some balls this year and compliment Boss, this should help the offense immensely.
OL: The starting 5 of David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie are returning as a unit and have shown they are one of the best in the league. The Giants have ok depth with Kevin Boothe, Guy Whimper, and 2nd rd pick William Beatty who should be a good player.
Defense: Giants fans should be extremely excited about the defense this year, as some quality free agent signings were made that should made the defense even more of a force than it has been. Although defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is gone and Bill Sheridan will be a new defensive coordinator, he has a ton of ingredients with which to make the soup. His first year should not be a difficult one for him.
DL: The starting 4 of Justin Tuck, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora is one of the best in the league, and the return of Osi Umenyiora from a knee injury will make a huge difference. The line has amazing depth this year, even with the season ending injury to impact player Jay Alford. Free Agents Rocky Bernard (seahawks) and Chris Canty (Cowboys), combined with Mathias Kiwanuka who can rush the passer either as a DE or a linebacker, will give the line great depth and will enable the defense to utilize consistent rotation that should keep the players fresh. Dave Tollefson also adds another option at Defensive End. Look for the Defensive line to not only get a ton of sacks, but also to be a force in stopping the run.
LB: This year’s defense has 8 (9 if you count Mathias Kiwanuka) quality linebackers who all should get playing time. The starting 3 should be Antonio Pierce, Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn, (that is, until Michael Boley returns from his 1 game suspension). Pierce is the captain and will look to put last year behind him in order to have yet another great year. Clark is a very good player and has done all that has been asked of him. While there has been much debate over where Kiwanuka should play, he will start the year as a DE. He played ok at linebacker last year, but with the signing of Michael Boley, who will start after he returns from his 1 game suspension, the Giants can afford to let Kiwanuka play his natural position of DE. The rest of the LBs are tough veteran Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl, Gerris Wilkinson (who is looking for his breakout year), Jonathan Goff and 2nd rd pick Clint Sintim. Blackburn has a lot of experience and should make an impact. Bryan Kehl has been good thus far, and Jonathan Goff will look to stay healthy and to try to make a difference. The Giants have always been high on Gerris Wilkinson, but he has not managed to stay healthy. He has the talent to be a solid linebacker for this team. The final LB is rookie Clint Sintim, who has played great in training camp and in the preseason action he saw. He could play some important snaps in his first year.
CB: The starting 2 cornerbacks are up there with any other tandem in the league. The transformation Corey Webster has undergone has been incredible. He went from being almost a bust to a great shutdown corner. His play in the playoffs of the superbowl run was incredible and he has now solidified his spot as the Giants number 1 CB. Aaron Ross has been very good although he has battled many injuries. He has a hamstring problem now but if he stays healthy he should have a good year.
The backups are Kevin Dockery, Terrell Thomas and Bruce Johnson. Dockery has improved every year and can be a good 4th CB. terrell thomas had a good rookie season and can be either the 3rd or 4th. Rookie bruce johnson played well enough to make the team and should get some playing time as well.
S: This position will be extremely important for the defense. The starting pair will be Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson. Phillips is in his second year and has shown he can be a shutdown safety when at his best. Michael Johnson has been on and off, but overall has done well for the Giants so far. CC Brown will serve as a backup.
P: Not much needs to be said about Jeff Feagles. He could put the ball inside the 10 with his eyes closed. His yard average could be better, but he has been great so there is not much to complain about.
K: Lawrence Tynes will hopefully not be a liability for the Giants. He has been incredibly inconsistent, but we all know he can make big kicks ((see NFC championship game), (even if they are on the third attempt)).
That rounds up the Giants roster. This team has a lot of talent, and the team stays healthy there is no reason why it shouldn’t win the division. The Redskins haven’t made any serious upgrades (besides Albert Haynesworth) to the point where they pass the Giants. The Cowboys have underperformed immensely and with the loss of T.O. and having Roy Williams as the number one wide receiver, the team shouldn’t play well enough to win the division.
The tricky team that the Giants should be worried about is the Eagles. They are very talented, especially at wide receiver, but the loss of Brian Dawkins at safety and the captain of the defense will be huge for the Eagles. The addition of Michael Vick possibly can help the offense, if it successfully implements the wildcat offense, but I believe it will do more harm than good. We all know that McNabb is extremely sensitive and this signing may only give him more things to think about.
The Giants should win the NFC East in 2009 and be a force in the playoffs. All that is left to do is to enjoy another great season of football.