Jeff Risdon. 16th August, 2007 - 7:47 pm
Last season: 8-8, lost in NFC Wild Card
Coming: LB Kawika Mitchell, QB Anthony Wright, K Lawrence Tynes, RB Reuben Droughns
Going: RB Tiki Barber, LT Luke Petitgout, LB Carlos Emmons, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, LB Lavar Arrington, K Jay Feely, WR Tim Carter, CB Frank Walker, T Bob Whitfield
* At this writing DE Michael Strahan is still officially with the team, and I believe his retirement bluff will be called and he will play
Key Rookies: WR Steve Smith, CB Aaron Ross, DT Jay Alford
What I like: The Giants have an intriguing collection of offensive skill players. TE Jeremy Shockey (rightfully) takes a lot of guff for his apathetic blocking and often pathetic attitude, but when he?s dialed in he?s a legit field stretcher with great hands and an innate feel for getting open. WR Plaxico Burress is a proven big-play threat with a package of speed and size that?s near impossible to cover. RB Brandon Jacobs is a huge physical specimen who has excelled as a short-yardage back, yet he does have good agility and speed. He?s a nightmare to tackle one on one. His backup Reuben Droughns is a power runner as well, and he?s a solid veteran and a reliable receiver. QB Eli Manning has shown occasional brilliance, and when he and his weapons are all firing together this offense is scary good. I?m not real high on the OL as a whole, but the G-Men do have two very solid, high football-IQ guys in C Shaun O?Hara and G Chris Snee, who should be a perennial Pro Bowler. RT Kareem McKenzie is a very good run blocker.
The DE combo of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora is no worse than the 3rd best in the league. Their quickness and ability to use leverage are unparalleled, and the duo can take over games for surprisingly long stretches. MLB Antonio Pierce is a coaches? dream, an overachieving film rat who does nothing exceptional but everything consistently well. Pierce is a vocal leader and an infectious worker, something every good unit needs. Mathias Kiwanuka is morphing into an OLB from DE, and I think his speed and savvy will allow him to excel in every aspect except downfield coverage. He?s a great pass rusher and his height and leaping ability will help clog passing lanes. S Gibril Wilson blitzes quite well and plays like a LB against the run. 1st rounder Ross should start right away and his propensity for press coverage and run support will represent an immediate upgrade. P Jeff Feagles is still one of the very best in the game at directional kicking and hang time, and nobody covers punts better than David Tyree. I?m one of the very few people who believes disciplinarian Head Coach Tom Coughlin is the right guy for this team, a task master who tries to keep the focus between the lines. Which is good, because he?s awful at every other aspect of the game, just like most of his prominent players?
What I dislike: Oh the torture this squad must inflict on long-time Giants fans! I could digress on Eli Manning for weeks, but I?ll boil it down to two major deficiencies: accuracy and leadership. Manning is not even close to adequate in either, and that stymies consistency and momentum. He?s simply not in the upper half of starting QBs, and new QB Coach Chris Palmer sure as heck isn?t going to elevate Manning?s game. Palmer has spent the last 8 years ruining the careers of two other disappointing #1 overall QBs, David Carr and Tim Couch, and how he still gets work is baffling. What really exacerbates these problems is the temperamental, inconsistent play of Shockey and Burress. Both will take off quarters at a time, and both are often divisive presences in the huddle and the locker room. The Giants must overhaul their entire running offense away from the skills of Tiki Barber to Jacobs and Droughns. Jacobs? extremely upright running style leaves him prone to injury and fumbles, and Droughns lost his starting gig in Cleveland to a rookie backup fullback for a reason (several, actually). Left tackle is an open competition between lead-footed G David Diehl and Guy Whimper, who so lacks technique that to call him ?raw? is an insult to garden salads. There is no LG who belongs in the NFL, and the OL depth is inferior to most teams. Behind Burress at WR is a huge question mark. Amani Toomer is coming off a bad knee injury and has never been a big threat; Sinorice Moss is also coming off injury and he?s one of the smallest players in the league; rookie Steve Smith has impressive potential, but so did Lindsay Lohan (not to mention the departed Tim Carter, who won?t be missed).
Defensively the biggest issue is the secondary. The team is switching to a more press coverage style, but other than Ross none of the corners are well-suited for it. Sam Madison declined precipitously, Corey Webster is slow-footed and often looks lost, and RW McQuarters probably drained the bottom of his pretty shallow talent well last season. The safeties are even worse in coverage, though Will Demps might benefit from a more attacking style on the outside. The Giants are heavily dependant on getting a great pass rush from Umenyiora and Strahan, and when they are slowed this defense has major problems. OLB is a huge question--Kiwanuka and Gerris Wilkinson have potential but have yet to show anything at the position. The depth everywhere but DT is laughable, and the DT rotation is best described as ?functionally adequate?. Note that if Strahan indeed follows through on his threat to retire, this defense immediately plummets to one of the worst in the league.
The most striking weakness on this team is cohesion. So many key players dance to their own beats, and the tone-deaf Coughlin and out-of-key Manning have lost any chance they had to conduct this group to beautiful music. The constant sniping and in-fighting, the noisy huddles, the incessant media pressure that clearly impacts the team, it all just forces so much pressure, volatility, and negativity on a team ill-equipped to handle it. Losing the one genuinely likable leader on the team in Barber is only going to make things worse, though his extended retirement slog was a burden. The only thing the Giants are lacking from complete locker room chaos is Terrell Owens, and wait until next summer (or sooner!) when Dallas tires of him and the G-Men bring him in.
Best case: The team rallies around all the negativity and Eli Manning finally shows one iota of leadership and charisma, not to mention accuracy and consistency; Jacobs pushes 1600 yards and 20+ TDs; Strahan and Umenyiora net 25+ sacks between them and the secondary shows marked improvement; every starter on the OL, LB, WR, and DE stay 100% healthy all season and the team can make another late run at .500 to sneak into playoff contention.
Worst case: The last 8 games of 2006 (the Giants were 2-6 and largely uncompetitive) were not an aberration but a portent of a team in desperate need of an overhaul. If Manning doesn?t dramatically improve, Jacobs can?t come within 500 combined yards of Barber, the new LBs and DBs don?t provide immediate upgrades, and Strahan either doesn?t play or has lost even a little, these Giants might struggle to win 5 games.
Prediction: There will be times where this team looks like a legit contender and dominates, even against strong teams. I would encourage Giants fans to embrace those 10 quarters of greatness, because most of the rest of the season is going to be a painful headache. Another 8-8 finish is not out of the question, but I believe this team is more apt to finish 4-12 than in the Wild Card mix. Because they should be able to run the ball and the high-talent players show up just often enough, the Giants eke out a 6-10 finish with a couple of jaw-dropping wins and a few head-banging losses.