Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.
2009 final record (overall, division): 8-8, 4-2
Division finish: 3rd NFC East
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 8th, 8th, 11th, 17th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 30th, 13th, 15th, 14th
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2009 Individual Statistical Leaders
Rushing: Brandon Jacobs, 835 yards, 5 TD; Ahmad Bradshaw, 778 yards, 7 TD
Passing: Eli Manning, 4,021 yards, 27 TD, 14 INT
Receiving: Steve Smith, 1,220 yards, 7 TD
Tackles: Terrell Thomas, 85 total tackles; Michael Boley, 84 total tacklesSacks: Osi Umenyiora, 7.0 sacks; Justin Tuck, 6.0 sacks
Interceptions: Terrell Thomas, 5 interceptions (1 touchdown)
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2010 Season Outlook
September 26 vs. Tennessee: The Titans and Giants were both considered Super Bowl contenders before the start of the 2009 season, and both ended up falling flat with 8-8 records. After a 0-6 start to the season, the Titans' quarterback switch resulted in an 8-2 rally to end the season. On the other hand, the Giants started off hot, opening the season 5-0, but they collapsed and finished the season on a 3-8 slump. The question for both of these teams is which of their 2009 versions will show up in 2010. After opening against the Raiders and a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team, this is the first real challenge the Titans should face. With a large number of key Giants players back at full health on both offense and defense, the Giants should be a tough challenge for the Titans to handle. The Titans' secondary, their worst defensive unit last year, will face an extremely difficult test containing New York's abundance of up-and-coming receivers.
October 25 at Dallas: The Cowboys and the Giants are the two teams with the best shot of winning the NFC East, so winning this matchup will be a huge deal for both teams. The Cowboys’ offensive line has shown minor signs of weakness this preseason, and you can bet the Giants are going to bring the heat and try and rush Tony Romo into making bad throws. The biggest test for the Giants will be stopping the Cowboys’ receivers from picking up yards via short routes. If the Giants’ linebackers are able to play well in coverage, then their defensive line and defensive backfield will take care of the rest of the work and shut down the Cowboys’ offense.
Domenik Hixon, WR (season-ending injury); Fred Robbins, DT; Danny Clark, LB
Key Returning Players
Brandon Jacobs, RB; Kenny Phillips, S; Kareem Mckenzie, OT
Key Draft Picks
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE; Linval Joseph, DT
Key Free Agent Signings
Antrel Rolle, S, Deon Grant, S; Keith Bulluck, LB
Key Acquisitions via Trade
The Giants' offensive attack is predicated on bruising the opponents by running Brandon Jacobs up the middle, and then letting Ahmad Bradshaw run circles around them once they're tired out. It worked to perfection in 2008, when they rode this strategy to the best record in the entire NFC. In 2009, Jacobs and Bradshaw were banged up pretty badly by the end of the year, and the offense completely fell apart. This year, they are both healthy, and Jacobs may even be faster than he's ever been. Jacobs was always fast for such a big guy, but because of his size, people often ignored that and classified him as another slow, big running back who was best for goal-line situations. Bradshaw is a better receiver and will be used in situations where the running back may be a passing option coming out of the backfield.
Of course, the reason the two running backs are so successful is their offensive line. Left tackle David Diehl and left guard Rich Seubert are pretty good run-blockers, but Seubert's pass protection skills are questionable at best. Center Shaun O'Hara, right guard Chris Snee, and right tackle Kareem McKenzie all do a phenomenal job of plowing defenders off of the ball, as well as keeping pass rushers away from quarterback Eli Manning. Additionally, fullback Madison Hedgecock is simply a vicious blocker, and having him in the backfield is as good as having a sixth offensive lineman. The only concern along the offensive line is that McKenzie missed four games due to injury last year, and his durability might be a problem. In order to buttress their depth, the Giants signed 27-year-old guard Shawn Andrews, who was a great young player for the Eagles before back problems and mental health problems caused him to miss some major time the past couple of years.
At receiver, the Giants are stacked, despite the season-ending ACL injury Domenik Hixon suffered in June. Steve Smith had a franchise-record 107 receptions last year, and second-year receiver Mario Manningham amassed 822 yards and five touchdowns. While Manningham is more of an explosive slot receiver who can pick up big yards after the catch, Smith is more of a deep threat. Hakeem Nicks is coming into the second year of his career, and he came on strong at the end of the season, which helped raise his yards per reception average to 16.8. Tight end Kevin Boss, who is also a pretty good blocker, is a big-time favorite target of Manning's in the middle of the field. They’ve really never recovered from the loss of Plaxico Burress, whose size and speed often allowed him to make Eli Manning look very good, but they are hoping that second-year pro Ramses Barden, who is 6’6”, can fill that role.
If there's one weakness on this offense, it is at quarterback. Because of the media's desire for an NFL "dynasty", anyone with the last name Manning can do no wrong in the eyes of game announcers, color commentators, and most sportswriters. Unfortunately, this gives fans the false impression that Eli Manning is a good quarterback. His decision-making is decent at best, he stares down his receivers, and he throws with an incredibly wobbly spiral, especially when there's even the tiniest bit of wind. Worst of all is his pocket presence, which is one of the most important aspects of becoming a great quarterback. What makes Peyton Manning so great is his ability within the pocket to step up at just the right time to make pass-rushers miss him completely. Eli Manning, on the other hand, is far too prone to keep dropping back farther and farther in the backfield, or he scrambles outside of the pocket even when his line is holding up well. If even one rusher gets into the backfield or starts pushing an offensive lineman back, Manning completely loses his cool and starts making poor decisions along with letting his mechanics suffer. He simply seems to lack the mental makings of an elite NFL quarterback, and while he can be effective as a game-manager in a running-based offense, last season showed that even when Manning puts up good numbers, he can't carry the team to victory if the running game isn't working well.
What carried the Giants to their Super Bowl title from the 2007 season was their ferocious pass rush, with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora as the primary defensive ends while Justin Tuck switched between tackle and end throughout the course of the game to create mismatches. Since then, the Giants have been trying to recapture that magic pass rush. Strahan retired after the Super Bowl victory, and Umenyiora missed the entire 2008 season with a lateral meniscus injury in his left knee. This meant linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka had to move back to defensive end, and Tuck had to spend a large majority of his time at end instead of rotating.
At linebacker, the Seahawks are pretty much set. Last year's first-round pick, Aaron Curry, was a hard hitter and tackler, as well as a good pass rusher. However, one area in which he still needs to drastically improve is in coverage of receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu is absolutely phenomenal, and the defense is going to be improved by his return, as he does a great job of plugging up holes to shut down opponents' running games. The return of Tatupu also means that David Hawthorne, who played very well in Tatupu's spot last year, will move outside to replace Leroy Hill, whose off-field behavior and recent knee sprain make it hard to justify keeping him on the team.
In 2009, with Umenyiora coming back, the Giants expected to return to form, but the entire defense as a whole was ravaged by injuries. Defensive tackle Jay Alford missed the entire season with an ACL tear and free-agent signee Rocky Bernard played at DT the entire season with a partially torn rotator cuff. Former Cowboy Chris Canty was signed to play a similar role to Tuck, moving all over the line to wreak havoc. However, due to the Alford injury, Canty spent a lot of time at defensive tackle, where he wasn't able to be effective as a full-time player. With Alford and Bernard healthy, the defensive tackle position will be one of strength for this team, especially with Barry Cofield to provide depth. At defensive end, a rotation between Canty, Tuck, Umenyiora, and Kiwanuka looked good enough to get the job done. To add to that, the Giants' first two draft picks were the ridiculously talented end Jason-Pierre Paul and the massive defensive tackle Linval Joseph, two players who could each be full-time starters by the end of the season.
Since the injury to Umenyiora, when Kiwanuka went to play among the defensive line permanently, the Giants have been trying to fix their linebacking corps. Even though they released star middle linebacker Antonio Pierce this offseason, they appear as if they have finally found a starting three who can hold the middle of the defense together. Former Atlanta Falcon Michael Boley is penciled in as the weak side starter, and former Titan Keith Bulluck was signed this offseason. Bulluck, a phenomenal outside linebacker for the past decade, has lost a little bit of speed due to both age and an ACL injury suffered last December. When he was signed this offseason, it was thought that Bulluck would be the Giants' middle linebacker and that training camp starter Jonathan Goff was just going to be demoted as soon as Bulluck was cleared to play. However, Goff has played very well and presumed strong side starter Clint Sintim hasn't, so Bulluck has been given the nod at the outside linebacking position. Bulluck also brings a ton of veteran leadership to the locker room, and plays with an insane amount of energy.
With safety Kenny Phillips missing 14 games because of a knee injury, the entire defensive backfield fell apart. Not only is Phillips coming back healthy, but the Giants signed Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant in free agency. While Grant will likely just be a pretty good reserve, Rolle brings a blazing-fast, ballhawking presence to this defensive backfield, and is capable of playing man coverage on receivers, which allows the Giants' defense to blitz a lot more without as much of a risk of being burnt deep. Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are very good corners, and nickel back Aaron Ross was good enough to start alongside Webster during the Super Bowl that they won.
Special Teams Overview
The Giants were absolutely phenomenal in kickoff coverage, ranking 8th-best in kickoff return yards allowed despite having the fourth-worst average kickoff distance. They were very good in punt coverage too, ranking 22nd in return distance allowed despite averaging 30th in punt distance.
Domenik Hixon handled kickoff and punt return duties in 2009, so the Giants have been experimenting with different returners this preseason. Cornerback Aaron Ross has been the punt returner, averaging 21.7 yards per return, although that statistic has been skewed upwards by one 45-yard return. Tim Brown, a rookie from Rutgers, is averaging 19.3 yards per kickoff return
Lawrence Tynes made 27 of 32 field goals last year, which isn’t shabby. However, what is somewhat worrisome is that two of his misses were within the thirty-yard line, and another were from within the thirty and the forty yard lines.
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin
It is ridiculous to think that Coughlin could be considered on the proverbial “hot seat” only two seasons after winning the Super Bowl, but that’s the nature of working in one of the world’s biggest sports markets. However, he has a 55-41 record with the Giants, and as long as his team avoids injuries, he’ll have them back in possible Super Bowl contention.
Top 2011 Free Agents
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB; Mathias Kiwanuka, DE; Kevin Boss, TE; Steve Smith, WR
1st NFC East
The Giants managed to pull off an 8-8 record last season despite a ridiculous amount of injuries. No position group was free of banged-up starters, and it’s amazing that they were able to win as many games as they did given those circumstances. With their running game back on track and their defense fully loaded, this is going to be the top team in the brutally close NFC East. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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