Approach to the Game – New Orleans Saints at New York Giants, December 9, 2012: I hope I’m dead wrong, but I think we’re about to see the Giants all but eliminated from playoff contention. If so, it’s a damn shame to see the Giants waste a 6-2 start, but they have lost three-of-four and despite the fact the Giants are still one game ahead of the Redskins and Cowboys in first place, the inconsistent Giants most likely have to go 3-and-1 or 4-and-0 down the stretch to win the division. And I’m just not feeling it.
The Giants have started 6-2 or better six times under Coughlin. And although they have faded in many of those seasons, they made the playoffs in five of those six seasons, with two wild card appearances and three division titles. The only year they didn’t make the playoffs after starting 6-2 was 2010. And the Giants have gone on to do great things in two seasons where they really struggled in the second half of the season (2007 and 2011), seasons where the Giants also lost critical December games to the Washington Redskins. So history is on the Giants side of actually still making the playoffs and possibly making a run.
And the Giants have demonstrated this year that they can beat the better teams in the league (49ers and Packers). But these Giants are also 2-3 in the NFC East and two last-second plays away from being 0-5 in the division. Indeed, if the Giants fail to make the playoffs this year, I’m sure Tom Coughlin will look back at those lost division games as the main culprit.
If the Giants were at their best, I am 100 percent confident they could beat the Saints, Falcons, Ravens, and Eagles. But the 2012 New York Giants are not consistently at their best. Why?
- Too many key Giants are not playing near their previous best. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are either nearing the end of very good careers or having terrible seasons. Tuck in particular has been incredibly disappointing. Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Jason Pierre-Paul are not playing as well as last season. Corey Webster has been too up-and-down. When your core guys are not playing well, it’s tough for the team to play well. Think of it this way…name the Giants who are having great seasons? Overall, the Giants have average talent on the offensive line, starting running back, tight end, linebacker, and possibly secondary. If they don’t get their money’s worth from the important guys at quarterback, wide receiver, and the defensive line, then the Giants are going to be an ordinary team.
- Injuries once again have really hurt the Giants. It’s not the season-ending-type of injuries that have been the problem. The Giants have actually been pretty fortunate in that department. It’s the nagging injuries. Hakeem Nicks is one of the top players on this team but he hasn’t been himself all year. His injury issues have really, really hurt the offense. With him limited (and he missed practice again this week), teams can focus on Cruz. Likewise, Kenny Phillips’ knee injury has hurt, both in missed games and lower quality of play. Ahmad Bradshaw’s always troublesome foot has caused him to miss most of the practices again, and undoubtedly affects his game-day sharpness. Michael Boley has had a number of issues. Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers have missed a ton of time. Webster has battled hamstring and hand injuries. David Baas always seems dinged up. Martellus Bennett had a knee issue that really affected him.
- A defense that plays well in spurts, but often comes up short. Except for the impressive run in the 2011 playoffs, Perry Fewell hasn’t done a stellar job in New York. Is it the talent? The scheme? Combination of both? Regardless, too often, this defense comes up short, especially late in the second and fourth quarters. One never really gets the sense that the Giants defensively out-coach their opponent. And more than that, where’s the kickass, take-no-prisoners, dictate-to-your-opponent style that Giants’ fans crave? This defense just seems too nice.
- A draft class that was expected to do more. The 2012 class may have a bright future, but the Giants haven’t gotten much out of David Wilson, Rueben Randle, Jayron Hosley, Adrien Robinson, Brandon Mosley, and McMants. Ironically, their last pick – Markus Kuhn – saw the most playing time but tore up his knee.
- Super Bowl hangover. It happens to most Super Bowl champions. Only a few have repeated.
There’s still time. They can still do it. They’ve spectacularly proved us wrong before. I just don’t think they have it in them this time. It’s a damn shame. The division was there for the taking.
Giants on Offense: They have to put up a lot of points and score touchdowns rather than field goals against an improving defense and a defensive coordinator that knows them well. It’s that simple. Eli Manning has to have one of his best games of the season. It’s on him. The Giants will sink or swim with their best player.
Giants on Defense: The Saints are loaded with talent across the board on offense. Drew Brees has thrown 31 touchdown passes this year, but has turned the ball over a lot. They have a super tight end in Jimmy Graham and the always-dangerous Darren Sproles is the straw that stirs the drink for them. Both Graham and Sproles are huge match-up problems. The Saints also have two physical running backs (Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram) and a talented receiving corps (Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson). The offensive line is big and physical.
The Giants will have to play as well as they did against the Packers to win, but the Saints don’t have the same offensive line issues that the Packers did. The defensive line has to force Brees into making mistakes (turnovers) and Perry Fewell needs to come with a scheme to help limit the damage done by Graham and Sproles. The Giants need strong games out of their safeties and linebackers in particular.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants must out-play the Saints on special teams. Sproles is exceptionally dangerous on both kickoff and punt returns. The Giants’ return game needs to play well and help generate points.
Prediction: New Orleans has been playing much better. They’ve had 10 days to prepare while the Giants have had six. This is a bad opponent to have Nicks and Phillips ailing. Giants lose and have to pray that the Cowboys and Redskins do too.