By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Chicago Bears, December 2, 2007: Humans are strange creatures. Before the 2007 NFL season started, if you told a Giants’ fan that their team would be 7-4 after 11 games, that fan would most likely be very happy with that outcome. But if you ask most Giants’ fans today how they felt about their team, the answers would most likely not be very good.
What has changed, obviously, are expectations. After a 0-2 start (against what turned out to be the NFC’s two best teams) the expectations were that the Giants would be competing for one of the top picks in the draft. After a 6-0 run (against some of the NFL’s worst teams), the expectations were that the Giants would be competing with the best in the NFC for a trip to the Super Bowl. Now after losing two of their last three games, the expectations are on the wane again.
Humans are strange creatures.
Let me spoil the ending for you. The Giants are not going to be Super Bowl champions this year. They will likely be a Wild Card team that loses in the first or second round of the playoffs. That’s their talent level. That’s their coaching level. So enjoy these last five regular season games and any playoff games because it’s a long time before training camp rolls around again. And the Super Bowl match-up between the Patriots and Cowboys is going to be depressing enough.
Giants on Offense: The Giants have once again been sabotaged by injuries. No, not the epidemic that plagued them the previous three seasons. But enough to prevent them from competing as well as they are capable of competing. It’s very frustrating, especially when you see a team like Dallas stay as healthy as it has the previous two seasons.
The best player on the Giants’ offense is Plaxico Burress. He was having an All-Star-type season on his injured ankle. But the wear-and-tear and the lack of practice time have obviously caught up to him. Without him near full-strength, the offense has suffered a great deal. And exacerbating the situation has been the unfortunate injury-plagued rookie season of Steve Smith. I argued before the season started that wide receiver was an area of concern, especially if something happened to Plaxico. That’s exactly what has happened. One thing is clear, the Giants need to add more talent at this position – especially in terms of speed – to complement Burress and Smith. Amani Toomer is just about done. I bet you he won’t be back in 2008. Sinorice Moss isn’t developing as hoped. The Giants need a speed receiver who can be relied on.
Running back – another area significantly affected by injuries. When healthy, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward look to be a very impressive duo. The problem is they keep missing games. What made me laugh after the Vikings game were posts like, “Why is a team as talented as the Giants struggling so much on offense?” Take off the rose-colored glasses. The receiving corps, with Plaxico a shell of himself, is not that good. The Giants played that game with journeyman Reuben Droughns (their third-string running back) starting and a rookie backup. C’mon people!
That brings us to Eli Manning. Don’t focus on one game. Look at the big picture. Eli played terribly poorly last weekend. But he has been better this year. I know his numbers don’t show it, but I do think he has been more accurate and more consistent. That’s why the Vikings game was so shocking. How will he rebound? That remains to be seen. This is a big game for him and his team.
For whatever reason, the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning marriage doesn’t appear to be working. These two are intrinsically tied to each other because they arrived on the scene together. Coughlin is said to have fully supported dumping Kerry Collins and drafting Eli Manning. Manning has flashed, but he obviously isn’t what he was supposed to be. Unfortunately, what Manning was supposed to be was Tony Romo.
The Giants find themselves in a bit of bind here. Coughlin will likely make the playoffs for the third year in a row this year. But while Coughlin has proved to be a decent, serviceable head coach, one doesn’t get the sense that the team will get much better than it is under him. It just feels like the Giants will be just good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but not do any damage in the playoffs. Is that totally his fault? Of course not, but the Manning-Coughlin dynamic does not appear to be working, and if change happens, it is not going to be Manning who leaves.
Those who read my rants last year know that I did not support the extension of Tom Coughlin’s contract by one season. I felt then – as I do now – that was merely postponing his eventual dismissal. I’m not saying he will be fired at the end of this season. Worse, I can see ownership giving him a 3-year contract extension only to come to the conclusion after the 2008 NFL season that they made a mistake (similar to the Jim Fassel situation). With Bill Belichick off of the table, I wouldn’t go with another retread. I would take a gamble and look for a guy like the next Mike Tomlin. Of course, with every Mike Tomlin, there is a Cam Cameron. So there is a risk. The guy who the Giants should look at is Jason Garrett. The Giants know Garrett. He was there for years as a back-up quarterback and unofficial quarterback coach. Jerry Jones is said to be grooming him for the Dallas head-coaching job. Garrett is from New Jersey. Steal him now before it is too late. Take a gamble Mr. Mara and Mr. Tisch.
As for the Bears game, I really think the Giants should stick with a heavy run-to-pass ratio. The Bear run defense has been poor this year. And while their pass defense has also struggled, the Bears can rush the passer. The last thing the Giants need is a heavy pass rush on Manning again, and having him throw the football up for grabs. Settle down Manning and the entire offense by pounding the football with Ward and Droughns (yes Droughns – he matches up better with the Bears than the Vikings and Ahmad Bradshaw is still learning to pass block). Run, run, run. Honestly, I wouldn’t even play Burress this weekend.
Giants on Defense: The Giants have the core on the defensive line to be a good defense for some time. But they need to get faster and more athletic in the back seven. Drafting Aaron Ross was a good start. Mike Johnson may have a future at safety. Sam Madison may have a good year or two left. But if the Giants really want to compete with the big boys, they need to add a top corner and probably another safety. More athleticism and play-making-ability at weakside linebacker would really help too.
The Bears are not a good offensive team. But neither were the Vikings. Stop the run, force Rex Grossman to beat you. And guard against the big pass play deep. Once or twice a game, Grossman will launch a beautifully thrown deep ball for a touchdown. This is why I wouldn’t blitz much. The last thing the Giants want to do is give up a quick six points to speedster Bernard Berrian or the big Muhsin Muhammad. Ross isn’t going to play. Don’t take big chances.
Giants on Special Teams: Don’t kick to Devin Hester.
Summary: Don’t get so wrapped up in this Giants’ team this year. They are having a decent season. At 7-4, with four winnable games on the horizon, if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, then it doesn’t deserve to. It’s as simple as that. Even if the team does make the playoffs, they will only be there a week or two. So recognize the team’s limitations and simply enjoy the football.
To me, what will be more interesting is to watch what the Giants do in the offseason in an attempt to close the talent gap with the Dallas Cowboys.