New York Giants 2012: 5 Reasons Big Blue Can Be Even Better
After middling success for most of the 2011 campaign, the Giants found their stride when it mattered most, closing the season with six consecutive victories and their fourth championship during the Super Bowl era.
Eli Manning solidified his standing as an elite quarterback, Tom Coughlin stood up from the pressing hot seat he had been on for months, and Big Blue hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in four years. It was truly a sublime season for the fans at MetLife Stadium.
Who's to say the G-Men can't be even better this year?
The Giants' unadorned offseason may remedy the "Super Bowl hangover" that defending champions seem to often face. And with a few defensive starters returning from injury, it seems New York has a chance at returning to the big game, or at bare minimum, improving from their pedestrian 9-7 regular season record.
Here are a handful of reasons that hint at an even better Giants' team taking the field in 2012.
A Competitive Schedule
Much to the Giants' chagrin, Big Blue will see an even tougher set of opponents this year after a formidable schedule in 2011.
But, as loyal Big Blue fans know all too well, the Giants have played to their level of competition in recent years, putting up a fight against the league's premier teams while falling flat against lower-tier squads.
This maddening inconsistency was on full display in 2011, as four of the team's seven losses came against teams with sub-.500 records. Factor in narrow three point victories against the 6-10 Bills and Dolphins, and the Giants' trap game struggles are a definite cause for concern.
Thus, while the arduous 2012 schedule may have Coughlin and company sweating, there is upside to facing such strong opponents. The Giants exceeded expectations against the Patriots and Packers last regular season, and a tough schedule may keep the G-Men focused and competitive again in 2012.
Improved Performance at TE
While remaining characteristically quiet in free agency thus far, general manager Jerry Reese did make an impressive signing in former-Cowboy Martellus Bennett.
At 6'6" and 270 pounds, Bennett's physicality at the tight end position will be welcomed with open arms.
Scouted as the 13th-best tight end in all of football last year by B/R's own Matt Miller, Bennett will give Eli Manning's offense a dangerous new dimension. With vertical threats Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks already in place, Bennett and a potential draftee will be able to wreak havoc on mid-level routes.
An above-average blocker as well, Bennett's presence should further aid the stagnant running game. If the Giants can improve on their league-worst 3.5 yards per carry, they'll clearly be a much better team.
An Infusion of Youth Along the Offensive Line
With three of USA Today's five draft analysts sending a first-round tackle to the Big Apple, all signs point to a rejuvenated, talented new offensive line for 2012.
The Giants' protection unit was suspect last year, showing signs of brilliance at times, but more often than not, posing as a liability for Manning and the rest of the offense.
In the NFC Championship game, the 49ers registered 12 quarterback hits and a half-dozen sacks, nearly keeping Big Blue from the Super Bowl.
It may take quite a bit of transitioning, but the Giants should tout a better offensive line in 2012, fostering improvement on the ground and granting Eli Manning more time in the pocket.
More Time for Synchronization
The emergence of wideout Victor Cruz was a main propellant for New York's postseason run, and with a full offseason to work with Eli Manning, the UMass alum can become even more lethal in the passing game.
Meanwhile, shortened by the league's lockout last summer, Manning and frequented target Hakeem Nicks didn't have a full training camp to practice together either. A complete offseason will allow Eli and his young receivers to continue to gel together.
On the other end of the spectrum, another full offseason will allow third-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to further instill his defensive scheme and work with New York's young secondary. Developmental time for Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara is nothing but beneficial for Fewell's system.
A Healthy Terrell Thomas
Terrell Thomas' absence in the Giants' secondary was sorely felt last year, as the G-Men ranked 29th overall in pass defense.
The former first-round draft pick tallied five interceptions in both 2009 and 2010, and gradually emerged as the team's primary corner before tearing his ACL in an August 22nd preseason game.
Thomas' hard-pressed style of play and knack for the ball will fortify a porous unit that allotted 28 scores through the air.
A fierce blitzer who promotes formational flexibility, the newly re-signed defender should make the Giants' defense significantly better this year.