Dec 242004

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, December 26, 2004: Had the Giants won last week (and they would have had the defense showed up), the Giants would have still been very much in the playoff picture. Though the team is not officially out of the race, it would take a miracle for everything that has to transpire for them to make it. So instead of looking at the Giants-Bengals’ match-up, I want to use my preview this week to look at the personnel situation on the team for 2005.

Overall Defense: General Manager Ernie Accorsi does not agree with me, but I still contend that defense wins NFL Championships. And even if the Giants had not suffered one injury on defense this past year, I do not think the Giants defense is Championship-caliber. DE Michael Strahan will be 34 next year and is on the downside of his career. SS Gibril Wilson flashes great ability, but will be coming off a serious neck injury. DE Osi Umenyiora can rush the passer. Aside from those three, who are the play-makers on this defense? The Giants need more defensive players who make impact plays and scare the opposition. Just as importantly, they need to find a fiery leader who will help inspire the unit.

You can win in the NFL with a mediocre offense and a great defense. But you can’t win with a bad defense. Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis has done a great job of hiding some weaknesses with schemes, but opposing teams can run on the Giants and the Giants have made bad quarterbacks look very good against them (Joey Harrington, Craig Krenzel, Josh McCown). The team also doesn’t create enough turnovers.

Back in 1993, Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan wanted to switch to a 4-3 defense but could not until Lawrence Taylor retired the following year. I get the feeling that Lewis would like to switch to a 3-4 defense once Strahan retires. But that is a discussion for 2006 or 2007.

Defensive Line: If you look at what Tom Coughlin did in Jacksonville (drafting Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in the first round) and what he did with the Giants in free agency last year (signing Fred Robbins, Norman Hand, Martin Chase, and Glen Steele), one gets the sense that he feels that the tackle position is the most important on defense. The Giants will likely carry four defensive tackles in 2005 and, barring injury, they will probably be Robbins, Hand, Kenderick Allen, and William Joseph. However, there are no studs in this group and if the Giants found themselves faced with the opportunity to draft or sign a superior player, I would not be surprised to see them make that move.

Robbins has been solid. Hand is a guy who does not make a lot of tackles or exert a lot of pass pressure, but he’s an imposing figure who can gum up the inside ground game. However, he’s finished the past two seasons injured, he’s getting up there in age, and his current contract expires after the 2005 season. Allen was a nice pick-up by the Giants and they may have something there. He is a big guy who plays with a lot of effort. It’s too bad that he injured his hamstring last week and won’t play against the Bengals. Joseph will start against Cincinnati, but he has been a colossal disappointment to date. The Bengals have a very good running game and this will be another good test for Joseph. I can’t see the Giants waiving Joseph in camp next year, but unless he starts demonstrating marked improvement, it is not out of the realm of possibility – especially if someone else steps up.

A guy who could pressure Joseph is Damane Duckett, who will also see a lot of playing time on Sunday with the injuries to Hand and Allen. Ahmad Childress in on the Practice Squad.

The return of Michael Strahan in 2005 will help. But how much does he have left in his tank? He wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before he got hurt. Still, he is one of the better ends in the game and he will be a big part of the defense in 2005.

The one guy who is likely to be a factor for a long time is Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora is a tremendous athlete who can rush the passer as a 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker. His run defense has improved, but still needs to get better.

The question marks start after these two. Ideally, the Giants need to find a young guy to groom behind Strahan, but that may have to wait one more year. There are injury question marks with average players such as Keith Washington (knee), Chuck Wiley (knee), and Lorenzo Bromell (knee). Wiley’s contract also expires at the end of this season. Also in the picture is Lance Legree (who has done a decent job at strongside end), Raheem Orr (who could project to 3-4 linebacker), Davern Williams, and Claude Harriott. But there are no sure things here. I think Legree stays (though he will be a free agent and could leave) along with Strahan and Umenyiora. I would also guess that either Washington or Wiley may return. But the Giants do need to find another pass rusher (I could see New York carrying five ends).

Linebacker: In my mind, the free agent acquisitions of SLB Carlos Emmons and WLB Barrett Green did not really work out as hoped. Emmons has played better of late and I expect him to be much more sound in 2005. All the time he missed in camp hurt his game. Green’s torn ACL really clouds the picture. He will be on the team, but he will probably be limited in training camp and not be quite himself for much of 2005. Nick Greisen could start at weakside linebacker again if Green is not ready. Greisen stepped up his game this year and has improved. I wonder if the Giants still see him as an outside linebacker or if he has a future inside. Regardless, none of these three (Emmons, Green, and Greisen) made many impact plays in 2004. If the Giants want to elevate their entire defense, I think they need to find some kick-ass linebackers who scare the heck out of other teams.

Could Reggie Torbor be that guy? It’s a good question, but I don’t know. Torbor can rush the passer, but he still has a ton to learn about playing the run and covering the pass. Right now, he’s just a situational player. He could develop, but he might not. James Maxwell, T.J. Hollowell, and Wes Mallard (knee) also remain in the picture. All three are athletes, but it is highly debatable whether or not they can develop into quality players.

I would also like the Giants to find a stud middle linebacker to replace Kevin Lewis. However, good middle linebackers can be hard to find and the position isn’t as important as it used to be a decade or two ago. Still, if you are looking for areas where the Giants can improve on defense, you have to look at the linebacker position and this spot in particular.

Look for linebacker to once again be a priority in the offseason.

Defensive Backs: Despite being benched for disciplinary reasons, Will Peterson is one of the cornerstones of the defense and is not going anywhere. He just signed a big, 6-year deal a few months ago.

The situation with Will Allen is not so clear-cut. Allen is under contract in 2005 and will surely be back next season. While the Giants and Allen would like to extend his contract this upcoming offseason, if Allen’s demands are outrageous, the Giants may let him walk in 2006. Of course, much depends on the development of Frank Walker and Curtis Deloatch. With Peterson not starting on Sunday against the Bengals, this might be a good opportunity for Walker and Deloatch to show what they can do against a very good receiving corps. The other factor that could influence the long-term picture is that Accorsi has talked about Gibril Wilson being moved to corner. Whether the coaching staff feels that way too remains to be seen.

There are a lot of question marks at safety. Assuming Wilson stays at safety, it might be better for his long-term health if he moves to free safety where he will see less contact. Wilson makes a lot of plays on the football, but he is awfully small for the strong safety position. I wouldn’t want to see him take a lot more shots at that neck.

Omar Stoutmire is probably no longer in the picture. But what about Shaun Williams and his huge contract? Williams has never developed as hoped. He makes a lot of mental mistakes in coverage, but he is also a good run player. Do the Giants bring him back? Will he accept a pay cut? If he goes, does Brent Alexander start again in 2005 or do the Giants go out in free agency and get another safety? The draft is also an option. Regardless, the Giants need to improve their depth situation here as they don’t want to face another situation where Terry Cousin is playing out of position.

Defensive Summary: Play-makers! Use the draft and free agency to find them on the defensive line, linebacker, and safety. The remaining two games are great opportunities to evaluate Osi Umenyiora (in run defense), William Joseph, Damane Duckett, Nick Greisen, Reggie Torbor, Frank Walker, and Curtis Deloatch.

Overall Offense: Injuries have not been a big issue on offense this year so that can not be used as an excuse. But youth and inexperience at quarterback, right tackle, and right guard has been an issue. So has some dreary wide receiving play. I think the Giants and Coughlin will continue to tinker with the offensive line and could make one major change there, but I don’t see that unit being dramatically reshaped. As Diehl and Snee improve, the entire line will improve. If you ask me, the #1 need on this team offensively is to address the wide receiver position. QB Eli Manning will continue to experience growing pains for the next two seasons, but those growing pains will be less harsh if he had some play-makers outside who could help him out. I’m talking about receivers who can make the exceptional catch (when was the last time a Giants’ receiver did that?) or break a big run after the catch (ditto?).

Quarterback: A word of warning…player development is usually not a linear progression. By that I mean that for every good game a young player has, he may also still play a bad game. So just because Manning played well last Saturday does not guarantee he will not come up with another stinker on Sunday against the Bengals. It doesn’t work that way folks. Manning is going to be inconsistent for at least two more years. Hopefully the positives will far outweigh the negatives.

But for better or worse, barring injury, Manning will be the starting quarterback on this team for the foreseeable future. The starting position is settled. What they do with the back-up positions will be interesting as Jesse Palmer will be a free agent.

Running Back: Tiki Barber had his best season ever this year, and aside from the game against the Ravens, held onto the football. He’s probably got another 1-3 very good seasons left in him if he doesn’t sustain a major injury. However, the Giants do need to find another back to take the load off of him, as well as play if Barber did get hurt. Coughlin has made it clear that he wants to find another back. Ron Dayne will leave in the offseason. Mike Cloud looks like a journeyman to me. What type of ability Derrick Ward has remains to be seen. I would not be shocked to see the Giants spend one of their four draft picks on a running back.

Jim Finn improved his game this season. I think the Giants are OK with him starting (if he doesn’t leave in free agency).

Wide Receiver: This is the position where the Giants need a lot of help. The big fly in the ointment is that the two young speedsters on the team, Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor, appear to be injury-prone (Carter definitely is). Taylor will definitely be on the 2005 squad, but Carter is going to have to prove he can stay healthy in camp and the preseason. It is very unfortunate that Carter missed almost all of 2004 and that Jamaar Taylor is missing so much time with nagging injuries.

I’d be very surprised to see Ike Hilliard return. I think Hilliard can still be an effective player in this league for some team, but his style is not what the Giants need right now. They need guys who can make plays down the field and Hilliard doesn’t do that.

The huge question is what to do with Amani Toomer? Toomer is having a terrible season. Is it all because of the quarterback situation and/or his hamstring injury? Does he want to play for the Giants anymore? The answers to those questions will likely determine his fate. He probably will be back in 2005 (he has a big contract), but I would not be shocked if he was not.

I think the Giants’ #1 priority in free agency is to come away with a legitimate starting wide receiver. I also would not be surprised to see the Giants spend their first draft pick (a 2nd rounder) on the position.

At this point, Willie Ponder and David Tyree appear to be more special teams players still. Keep in mind that the Giants have been loading up on receivers on their Practice Squad (Michael Jennings, Chris Davis, and Jason Geathers).

Tight End: Marcellus Rivers will be a free agent and he may choose to depart. To be honest, I don’t know what the coaching staff really thinks about Visanthe Shiancoe’s future. They were obviously unhappy with something he did on or off the field to demote him. Was that a short-term message or a long-term one? In my opinion, the guy is a very good blocker and I wouldn’t want to see him go.

Shockey’s reception totals will not match 2002, but his touchdowns are way up (from 2 to 6). And he could have had probably four more had he not been tackled at the 1-yard line so often. The best thing about him in 2004 was that he stayed healthy and his foot problems did not reappear (knock on wood). As the players around Shockey improve (wide receivers, quarterback, offensive line), his production will improve.

Offensive Line: This will be one of the most interesting areas to watch. I could see the Giants not adding another starter or I could see them making one big move. It is extremely doubtful that they will be able to sign a stud left tackle in free agency. Those players are rarely unprotected, and even if they weren’t, the Giants won’t outbid another team for one. So I don’t understand where this talk about moving Luke Petitgout back to right tackle is coming from. In order to do that, you need a good left tackle. The Giants are not going to put a rookie left tackle in the game (if they draft one) and the Giants are extremely unlikely to sign a good one in free agency.

If the Giants make moves, I think it would be to sign a right tackle and move David Diehl to left guard. Or they could look to add more of a mauler at left guard by replacing Jason Whittle (keep in mind that Barry Stokes and Rich Seubert are also in the picture too). Or they could move Chris Snee to center and that could cause a domino effect all across the line (except left tackle). Honestly, and I know I am in the minority, I think Diehl and Snee will be fine on the right side of the line. They have gotten better with more playing time (as expected). And Diehl has really progressed in recent weeks (Snee has been unfortunately ill). Long-term, if the Giants want to become more physical inside, they need to replace Whittle and O’Hara. But both of these guys are decent players who pass block well. The Giants can win with them in the short-term. But at some point the best thing for the Giants would be is to stop making changes and let everyone grow together as a unit. The best offensive lines out there usually are good because there is a lot of cohesion between the players.

Regardless, look for the Giants to continue to address the offensive line in order to add players who will compete for starting spots and eventually may replace current starters. The Giants have already started that process by adding guys such as Jason Hilliard, Morgan Pears, and Josh Parrish.

Offensive Summary: Wide receiver, wide receiver. Like on defense, the Giants need play-makers. The offensive line will certainly be looked at, but I don’t expect a massive overhaul. The team also needs a legitimate back-up to Barber.

Special Teams: This unit has been drastically improved simply because of the improved coaching. The big offseason question mark here is what to do at place kicker. Steve Christie has been solid, but the Giants may want to try to upgrade there.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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