It’s amazing what a difference a month and a half can make.
In mid-December, the New York Giants were dead to rights. They had slid to 7-7 after a downright ugly loss to the Redskins (although, there’s really no other way to lose to the Redskins), the secondary was a sieve and passes were bouncing off Hakeem Nicks’ facemask.
Suddenly, fans were left to wonder if the potential they had been waiting on was ever really there at all.
And then it happened. Seven weeks and one unbelievable blitz through the postseason later, the Giants were kings of the football world.
Watching the championship parade take over Manhattan, it was hard to remember a time when that team wasn’t destined for glory. But the Giants hovered around .500 for months for a reason; don't forget just how flawed the team looked for the majority of the regular season.
New York earned the right to call themselves champions, but the fact is that this roster has plenty of holes to fill. New York’s secondary was spotty at best last year, and if that repeats itself, even Eli may not be good enough to overcome it.
The Giants will have to deal with a schedule full of tough pass offenses—in addition to two matchups apiece with Michael Vick and Tony Romo, New York will have to deal with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton.
Prince Amukamara gave up a touchdown just hearing that list.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has never seen a blitz package he didn’t like, but those schemes put a lot of pressure on the back end. Time and again the Giants put their corners on an island and have paid the price—New York’s pass defense ranked in the bottom third of just about every major category.
With the departure of Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas coming off knee surgery, New York has to find someone to put opposite Corey Webster. Amukamara missed all of last year’s training camp and half of the regular season, so a quick judgment might be unfair, but the Giants have to be worried about just how awful he looked in limited playing time last year.
Putting quarterbacks on the ground generates headlines, and that pass rush can be absolutely dominant at times, but the Giants will live and die with the play of their secondary this year.
It’s no secret Eli Manning is the engine of this team, and he can’t have the ball in his hands if his defense can’t get off the field. New York was 26th in the league in first downs allowed with 338, and over 200 of those were via the pass.
Last year’s playoff run shows just how vital the secondary will be to New York’s success this year. Eli was outstanding during the postseason, but really, he was doing what he did all season long. The Giants’ pass defense morphed from one of the league’s weakest to one of its best in January, knocking Green Bay out of its rhythm and completely smothering Atlanta and San Francisco.
These aren’t your father’s (or even your older brother’s) Giants, the team that just five years ago won a Super Bowl with a punishing running attack and dominant defense. These are the Giants of the new NFL, where franchise backs are a thing of the past and games are won and lost through the air.
If New York hopes to stay a contender, they’ll do it around Eli Manning and a secondary that can at least give him a chance.