Dec 302009
 
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12/30/2009

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, January 3, 2010: The Giants have one game left to play, but the season is basically over. So I will use this article to outline my thoughts on what the Giants need to do in order to make the playoffs in 2010.

Coaching Staff: The defensive problems are not all his fault, but Bill Sheridan has to go.  It pretty obvious that he does not INSPIRE – and that is the key word here – confidence and passion.  Actions speak louder than words.  Heading into the regular-season finale, the Giants have allowed 383 points (28th in the NFL).  After Sunday’s game, that total will likely be over 400 points!  Yes there have injury issues at all three levels of the defense, but there is no excuse for this unit to be one of the very worst in the NFL, and THE very worst in red zone defense.  Defensively, the Giants had discipline and confidence issues all year.  They went from a cocky bunch to a demoralized rabble.

The #1 challenge of the offseason is for Head Coach Tom Coughlin to hire the right defensive coordinator.  With the Giants, he does not have a very good track record of hiring coordinators.  John Hufnagel and Tim Lewis were fired for good reason during/after the 2006 season.  Bill Sheridan should shortly be fired.  Both of Coughlin’s special teams coordinators have been average at best.  This is not a strong coaching staff.

So does Coughlin play it safe and hire a safe candidate like the respected but older Dick Jauron?  Or does he roll the dice and try to find a younger but more unproven candidate?  Regardless, he had better get it right this time.

As for Coughlin himself, much of the blame for the performance against the Panthers must rest with him.  His team was not ready to play despite having all the motivation in the world to play well.  Most damning is the fact that, at least publicly, Coughlin admits he doesn’t know what is wrong.  It’s his job to know what is wrong and to make sure performances like Sunday don’t happen.  He needs reinvigorate himself and do a better job, or step aside for someone who can.

The Panthers game wasn’t “just another loss.”  It was one of the worst performances in franchise history in one of the franchise’s most important games.  Games like that get people fired.

Defensive Line: What was supposed to be the unquestioned strength of the defense, and perhaps the entire team, was an abysmal failure in 2009.  Justin Tuck suffered a serious shoulder injury early and was never the same.  Jay Alford was lost before the season started.  Chris Canty missed almost all of training camp and the entire preseason; he never did really adjust to the 4-3 defense.  Fred Robbins was coming off serious offseason knee surgery and looked like a shell of himself.  Barry Cofield was coming off less serious knee surgery, but more was expected out of him.  Rocky Bernard – an excellent player in Seattle – was a free agent bust.  And the biggest enigma of all was Osi Umenyiora.  Umenyiora was an impact football player in 2007.  He missed all of 2008 with a knee injury.  In 2009, he got benched.  Was it the knee?  Or is there a bigger problem there?

The only player on the line who had a “good” year was Mathias Kiwanuka, and it remains to be seen if he will develop into the type of weakside edge rusher that scares other teams.

Let’s start with the givens.  Tuck, Kiwanuka, and Canty will be major cogs in 2010.  Tuck just needs to stay healthy – he’s been hampered by injuries the past two seasons.  Kiwanuka is a player.  Canty flashed enough, despite his limited 4-3 experience, to indicate he will be an asset (it’s interesting to note how much double-team attention Canty received from other teams).

Now come the question marks.  Absent an uncapped free agent period, does unrestricted free agent Barry Cofield return?  One would think we’ve probably seen the end of Fred Robbins and possibly Rocky Bernard’s tenure with the team.  Jay Alford returns but he is coming off of major knee surgery and wasn’t all that dynamic a player before he got hurt.  The #1 personnel need on this team may be a defensive tackle who can push the pocket.  Those are VERY difficult to find.

At end, everything depends on Umenyiora.  If he is on a permanent downward track, that’s a huge hole for the Giants to fill.  The Giants need at least three quality defensive ends.  If Umenyiora is traded (while his market value is low), the Giants need to draft a replacement high, possibly even in the first round.  The best thing for the Giants would be for a reinvigorated Umenyiora to return to form.

Linebacker: Like Canty, Michael Boley’s play was seriously compromised by missing training camp and the preseason.  He was starting to look like an impact player before a second injury sabotaged a chunk of the regular season.  But he’s the prototypical 4-3 weakside linebacker – a guy who may be a bit light against the run, but who can cover.  The Giants need him, especially against the Eagles.

The question marks start with the other positions.  Ideally, the Giants need a kickass, fire-breathing, run-stuffing, TE-covering middle linebacker who can inspire and lead the defense.  Good luck with that.  Can such a player be found in the draft?  Can a rookie come in and truly lead a veteran defensive unit?  Antonio Pierce is likely done with the Giants, but I wouldn’t completely discount a return, if for nothing else, insurance purposes.  But can Antonio accept possibly being a backup?  I’m not sure.  Jonathan Goff might be the eventual starter, but can the Giants really risk counting on his development?  It’s too bad he didn’t play earlier.

The strongside linebacker tends to be a 1- or 2-down player so the spot is not as critical. But Danny Clark will be unrestricted and the Giants should make no effort to re-sign him.  Is Clint Sintim better suited for linebacker or defensive end?  That remains to be seen.  The Giants will likely need to bring in a cheap veteran here as insurance.

Defensive Backs: I think the Giants are in great shape at cornerback with Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Aaron Ross, and Bruce Johnson.  Absent an uncapped offseason, Kevin Dockery probably won’t be back so the Giants will likely add another corner.

One of the most glaring weaknesses on the whole team is safety.  Pray – and I do mean pray – that Kenny Phillips can not only return, but return to form.  The Giants desperately need him.  It would not be shocking to see none of the other safeties on the roster being on the final 53 next season.  The Giants NEED to add 2-3 QUALITY safeties via free agency and the draft.  If they don’t, they’ll never match up well with the Eagles who have two very young and very explosive wide receivers.

Defensive Summary: A lot of needs – probably too many for one offseason.  The Giants will have to be very good and very lucky in free agency and the draft to address issues at defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, and even perhaps defensive end.

Whomever the Giants bring on defense, special consideration should be given to players with fiery leadership qualities. There is an obvious leadership void on the defensive unit.

And, again,  most importantly, the need a QUALITY defensive coordinator.

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and has officially entered his prime.  The big question is who will be the primary back-up next year: unrestricted free agent David Carr, another veteran, or Rhett Bomar.

Running Backs: I don’t think things are as dire here as some suggest.  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are good running backs.  But both do have injury histories that suggest possible future complications.  Nevertheless for 2010, both will still be integral parts of the offense.  Jacobs is the hammer; Bradshaw the big-play guy.  The suggestion that either can’t put up big numbers anymore is ludicrous.

They do need relief however.  D.J. Ware had a horrific season.  He got hurt on the very first play of the season and never did seem to get back in the flow of things.  Then he suffered a serious concussion.  By the end of the year, he was surpassed on the depth chart by a rookie.  Does Ware get one more chance in 2010?  He has talent but he did not produce when called upon.  With Jacobs out against the Vikings, this is a great opportunity for Ware to redeem himself.

One of the early tragedies of the season was the Achilles’ injury suffered by promising rookie running back Andre Brown.  Can Brown truly recover from an Achilles injury and be the same player?  Gartrell Johnson seems to have some talent, but we did not see enough of him.

Madison Hedgecock was limited by injury.  He should rebound but the Giants will likely bring in some serious competition this year as he did have an off year.

Wide Receivers: Who would have thought that this position would end up being one of the strengths of the team?  The Giants have good players here and a lot of them.  Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks developed so well and so fast that Ramses Barden wasn’t even needed.  He will get his shot in 2010.  I really hope the Giants can re-sign Domenik Hixon as he is an impact player on special teams and a very good reserve receiver.

Tight Ends: Kevin Boss continues to evolve into one of the better tight ends in the NFL.  He was a bit too inconsistent as a blocker in 2009, but he will continue to work at it.  What the Giants really need is a blocking tight end.  The offensive line gets too much of the grief for the Giants’ running game woes in 2009; the tight ends didn’t do a great job of controlling the edge on outside-the-tackle runs.

Offensive Line: Contrary to most, if the Giants went into 2010 with Diehl, Seubert, O’Hara, Snee, and McKenzie starting, I’d be absolutely fine with that.  I think these five are still very good players.  Now that said, William Beatty was so impressive as a rookie that one has to think he is going to press a starter.  He looks like the ideal candidate for left tackle.  If he does win that job, Diehl could move to right tackle or left guard.  The #1 “wish list” item here would be for a big, athletic center/guard to groom behind O’Hara.

Offensive Summary: As long as everyone returns healthy, the Giants are in really good shape on offense.  I think they need a blocking tight end.  Another center/guard-type would be ideal.

Special Teams: The Giants can live with Lawrence Tynes, but also could do better.  Jeff Feagles had his worst season as a Giant.  He says he hasn’t decided on whether he will return or not.  He already admitted he wasn’t in good enough shape.  Replacing a punter is not as easy as it seems.  This may be one of the hardest positions to fill if Feagles does not return.

Big key here is keeping Domenik Hixon in the fold.  Finding some young linebackers and defensive backs who can kickass in coverage will help.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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