10 Players Most Responsible for the New York Giants' Success or Failure in 2012
As with any team in the NFL, after the season is over, you can usually point to a handful of players that were vital to their success or failure. It was no different with the 2011 New York Giants. Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul were huge factors in the Giants' run to Super Bowl XLVI.
Who will be those players in 2012? I have narrowed it down to 10 players who the Giants need to play at a high level to continue their success from 2011.
Obviously, this is a team sport—probably more than any other—but these 10 players will be relied upon to sustain the winning attitude more than others.
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Given how much Eli Manning carried the Giants last season, it would be foolish not to include him as one of the pivotal players for the 2012 campaign.
Eli threw for nearly 5,000 yards and led seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011; I think it is safe to say as Eli goes, so go the Giants.
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Part of the reason Eli Manning was so successful last year, and in turn why the Giants were so successful, was in large part to the emergence of Victor Cruz.
Cruz became one of the best wide receivers overnight, and is now renowned for his ability to work the middle of the field and create big-play opportunities. He was third in the NFL in receiving yards and second in plays of 40 yards or more.
He did most of his damage from the slot, and Eli will need him to be just as dangerous in 2012.
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It is no secret that the Giants have transformed into a pass-heavy offense, and the third wide receiver position has become an important cog to what the Giants like to do. With the departure of Mario Manningham, rookie Rueben Randle has an opportunity to make an impact right away.
Randle impressed at rookie minicamp and seemingly has the inside track to be Eli's third option behind Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. If he is as advertised, he can very much help the Giants by playing the outside and allowing Cruz to remain in the slot where he was so effective.
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Interpret this any way you want, but I believe Mitch Petrus will be the starting guard opening day and he needs to be an improvement over David Diehl this season.
The Giants took a huge step backward in their rushing attack, ranking dead last in the NFL in the 2011 regular season. Hopefully with a reshuffling of the line, they can get back to their usual winning formula.
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There are a plethora of possible starters that could take over for Kareem McKenzie, but as with the left guard spot, whoever takes over the right tackle position needs to be an improvement over McKenzie.
David Diehl, James Brewer, Brandon Mosley and Sean Locklear are all expected to compete for the right tackle spot. They say competition brings out the best in players and hopefully that is the case here. The Giants have to upgrade their offensive line; they cannot expect Eli Manning to bail them out time and time again.
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One of the trying tasks for the New York Giants this season will be replacing Brandon Jacobs, who spent the previous two seasons backing up Ahmad Bradshaw. David Wilson, who rushed for over 1,700 yards with Virginia Tech in 2011, is the early favorite to replace the production lost by Jacobs.
Though Jacobs was a big back and seen as a mauler, Wilson adds more upside as a backup that can hurt teams in the passing game as well as be a home-run threat.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is really excited to see what Wilson can do. Given the health concerns of Bradshaw, Wilson had better learn the playbook quick as he could see action as the full-time starter sooner rather than later.
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Jason Pierre-Paul was an absolute monster in 2011, and quite honestly he likely saved the Giants season when he blocked a potential game-tying field goal against Dallas in their first meeting. He led all defensive lineman with 86 tackles and was third among them with 16.5 sacks.
JPP has yet to tap into his full potential, and with the Osi Umenyiora situation as cloudy as ever and the Giants losing Dave Tollefson to the Oakland Raiders, the defense will need JPP to be even better than he was in 2011. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see JPP as a Defensive Player of the Year finalist.
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When the Giants lost Jonathan Goff to a torn ACL in the preseason last year, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell turned to Michael Boley to be a leader for this defense. He responded by having one of the better seasons of his career, finishing second only to Antrel Rolle on the Giants with 93 tackles.
Boley assumed the leadership and play-calling duties for the Giants. He also played the middle linebacker role in Fewell's 4-2-5 defense. The Giants have flirted with the idea of sliding Boley to the middle full time.
It was clear the Giants missed Boley when he missed multiple games due to injury. Wherever he plays, he is an important piece to Fewell's plans.
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With the Giants losing Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas coming off knee surgery, the development of 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara becomes a huge factor in the success of the Giants defense in 2012.
After ranking 29th against the pass in 2011, the Giants hope the return of Thomas, the emergence of Amukamara and the addition of Jayron Hosley and Antwaun Molden will help improve the back end of the defense.
However, it is Amukamara they will be counting on to play the nickel corner. Sometimes they may even play him outside while sliding Thomas in to cover a slot receiver. Either way, if Amukamara improves, it will make a huge difference in the flexibility Perry Fewell has with his defense.
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With the Giants likely losing Deon Grant to retirement or free agency, Tyler Sash will be called upon to play the third safety. Perry Fewell likes to go to a 4-2-5 defense in passing situations and has no intention of going away from that in 2012.
Injuries to Kenny Phillips in training camp last season allowed Sash to get reps with the first-team defense and progress his development. Fewell admitted he was impressed with the rookie, so relying on him this season is not out of the question.
Sash was a big hitter and ball-hawking safety in college. If he can continue that success in the NFL, the Giants will go back to being one of the better pass defenses this season, much like they were in 2010.
It will be difficult to replace Grant's presence in the locker room, but don't be surprised if Sash emerges as one of the team leaders next season.