By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
The New York Giants are at a crossroads. 2009 was supposed to be a continuation of nice little run that resulted in four straight seasons with playoff appearances, an NFL Championship in 2007, and the top-seated NFC playoff team in 2008. But after an impressive 5-0 start in 2009, the roof caved in as the Giants finished the next 11 games 3-8. And in actuality, the collapse even felt worse than that.
Despite the fact that the Giants swept Dallas in 2009, most predict the Cowboys will own the division in 2010. Some of these people think the Giants can finish as high as second in the division; others believe New York will have to fight to keep out of the division basement.
What we know for sure is that there are a lot more questions heading into 2010 than there were heading into 2009.
Can the Giants Stay Relatively Healthy? The early returns appear to be no. Training camp has not even started and the Giants have already been hit pretty hard. Domenik Hixon, a critical contributor on special teams, is gone for the season. Kevin Boothe, a versatile back-up lineman who could play all five offensive line spots and allowed the Giants to be comfortable carrying one less lineman on game day, will miss all of camp and the preseason. Chad Jones, the third-round pick who would have been a factor on special teams and possibly a future starter at safety, may have had his career end before it started. And this week we learned that Osi Umenyiora will have to play through a hip issue that has already caused him to miss non-contact practice time. The Giants say they will “manage” it, but they said the same thing about Kenny Phillips last year.
There is a direct correlation between team performance and a team’s overall injury situation in the NFL. A team that stays relatively healthy – especially among its core players – will likely be more successful than teams that do not. The Giants ran out of steam in 2008 when injuries started to pile up. Injuries were a huge factor in 2009. How will 2010 turn out? The defensive line has been injury prone the last couple of seasons. And the secondary, offensive line, and running back corp was the same way in 2009.
Does Coach Coughlin Still Command Respect? Three years removed from an NFL title, this sounds like an insane question. And it would be had the Giants not performed like they did in the final two games of the season. I think many fans have put out of their mind just how embarrassingly dreadful the last two games of the season were. The Giants were out-scored 85-16 and had not the Panthers and Vikings called off the dogs, both teams would have easily put more than 50 points up against the Giants. And the offense collapsed too. The team appeared to have lost its confidence and fight – and to many – it appeared that the effort was not there. “Quit” is a dangerous word but when a solid NFL team cannot even compete on the playing field, that word is sure to come up. Coach Coughlin certainly seemed to be at a loss. And the Giants followed up as bad a defeat in their entire history – the loss to Carolina in the final Giants’ game at Giants Stadium – with an equally atrocious effort against the Vikings. That was a damning indictment on Coughlin. He needs to regain control of this team and instill confidence, pride, and yes, fear, in it again. Fear of non-performance.
Was Perry Fewell the Right Hire? Tom Coughlin is batting 1-for-3 in terms of defensive coordinator hires. He won a Championship with Steve Spagnuolo but was forced to fire Tim Lewis and Bill Sheridan. Was Fewell the right hire? Only time will tell. Fewell had mixed success in Buffalo – his team was strong against the pass but not against the run.
Do the Giants Have a Viable Punter? C’mon, a punting question is the fourth most important question surrounding this team? I think it is. Football is a game of field position. Field position can help or hurt your offense and defense. 10 yards does not sound like a lot, but it is. It could mean the difference between a touchdown and a field goal, or a field goal and no points. A punter is critical. And right now, with Jeff Feagles gone and the restraints of an 80-man roster limit in training camp, the Giants’ punting game is in the hands of untested, inconsistent, green-as-grass Matt Dodge. Will the Giants have to pick up a veteran at the end of the preseason? Will there be a decent veteran available if that is the case?
Can the Giants Become One of the Better Running Teams in Football Again? Two years ago, the Giants had the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. Everyone was talking about the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” backfield and “the best offensive line in football.” A year later, many folks say the Giants’ running backs are an ordinary bunch who can’t stay healthy and that the once-vaunted offensive line is over-the-hill. In 2009, the Giants became less smash-mouth and more of a finesse, passing team. Obviously the Giants need to regain their physical offensive aspect. Much depends on the health and productivity of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. But the offensive line, fullback, and tight ends need to return to form and block better. They also need to stay healthy. Injuries were an issue with the offensive line and fullback last year too.
Will the Loser of the Umenyiora-Kiwanuka Competition Rock the Boat? Perhaps the most intense New York Giants training camp battle will be for the starting weakside end position. Umenyiora has done and said all the right things this offseason, but it is clear that he will be one upset camper if he is not designated the starter. Mathias Kiwanuka has publicly said he expects to start and will be very disappointed if he does not. Whoever loses this competition, will he be the good soldier and not rock the boat both behind the scenes and in public? An unhappy Umenyiora caused morale issues last season.
Will the Giants Be Able to Field a Decent Linebacking Corps? The Giants carried nine linebackers on their roster last year. NINE! And they all pretty much sucked. Michael Boley at least had a viable reason (injury) but the others did not. Two starters have been let go – Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark. And there have been three additions – Keith Bulluck, Phillip Dillard, and Adrian Tracy. The Giants hope and expect Boley to man the weakside spot. And they are praying Clint Sintim – who was a huge disappointment in 2009 – will do the same at the strongside spot. Unless he’s done physically, the aging Bulluck, who is also recovering from a December ACL injury, will likely man the middle. Can Boley, Bulluck, and Sintim get the job done?
Can Kenny Phillips Return and Play Like He Did Against Dallas? It’s funny that so much has been made of Kenny Phillips since the Giants lost him near the start of the 2009 NFL season. Why? Because, to be honest, Phillips has not made much of an impact in the first two years of his NFL career. He has only started five games in two years. And in the 18 games that he has played in, he has only really stood out in two. But one of those was the last game he played – the game against Dallas – and he was stellar in that contest. Much of the faith that has been placed on Phillips appears to be based on that game and his potential. He is a very good athlete who can cause problems for passing games if he is healthy – especially if he is combined with the equally athletic Antrel Rolle. If Phillips can play at a high level, the Giants will have turned an area of weakness to a real strength.
Can the Giants Find Productive Returners? The loss of Domenik Hixon was huge as he was a threat to score as a kickoff and punt returner. That’s a rare commodity. Now the Giants must find someone who can not only gain field position, but also safely secure the ball. Another option was lost when Chad Jones was lost for the season. The Giants may be forced to use someone like Mario Manningham, Ahmad Bradshaw, and/or Aaron Ross now. Pray it’s not Sinorice Moss.
Can the Giants Finish 2010 on the Upswing? Only once in Tom Coughlin’s tenure as head coach with the Giants have the Giants finished out a season on a strong note – and that was in 2007. Strong starts were largely wasted or almost wasted down the stretch in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2009. Coughlin is on the wrong side of a trend. Other than 2007, he’s 0-3 in playoff games.
So there you have a list of my personal key questions. I am not overly worried if the team can stay healthy. But due to recent historical experience, I do worry about the health situation. Let’s just pray the Giants have already hit their injury quota.