New York Giants: Why It's Too Soon to Hit the Panic Button
Big Blue’s title defense appears to be hitting its first set of road bumps, as we have received a lot of bad news from New York Giants' practice the past two weeks. But with the team heading into Week 3 of the preseason, I’m here to reassure you that it’s far too soon to start panicking.
Overall, Giants fans have placed a lot of patience and trust in their team’s management. In times of apparent turmoil, Giants fans have kept faith in the team's front office and coaching staff to field the best possible team each year. Even when their tactics don’t make sense to us, we utter “In Reese We Trust” to ourselves and go along with it—we may look crazy, but at least we have confidence in our team.
In spite of this, even the most diehard Giants faithful must have felt their hearts sink to their stomachs when it was announced that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would be missing Friday night’s matchup with the Bears due to back spasms, or when the team’s latest locker room antics went viral.
In fact, there’s been a lot of cause for concern so far this preseason and, for the most part, the fans have kept their cool. When wide receiver Hakeem Nicks went down with a broken foot in May, everyone expected both Nicks and the organization to find a solution and rebound. Although the outlook may be a bit bleaker at this point in time, there’s no reason why that same confidence should not be displayed moving forward.
In this article, I will pinpoint a few of the Giants’ most pressing issues and the measures I expect Tom Coughlin and Co. to take in order to right the ship come September 5.
Key Players in Danger of Missing Week 1
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The Giants have a few players that are currently fighting to get back on the field for the start of the regular season. Unfortunately, most of these players are expected to be big contributors in 2012, and their presence and health could be essential for the team’s success.
We have monitored Nicks’ foot injury closely all preseason, and so far it looks like he will be ready to go for the season opener against Dallas. That’s very good news for the Giants considering Nicks accounted for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley looked impressive on his 77-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Jets last weekend, but we might have to wait a bit before we can see that type of action out of Hosley again. The play resulted in a case of turf toe for one of the team’s most promising rookies.
Linebacker Michael Boley has been in and out of the starting lineup this preseason thanks to a nagging hamstring issue similar to the one that slowed him in 2011. Boley is probably the Giants’ most talented linebacker; he normally wears the communication device, and without him on the field for the start of the season, the Giants defense will be short a leader.
Now Pierre-Paul, who might be the team’s most valuable player not named Manning, finds himself on the list of starters with significant injuries. Pierre-Paul showed limitless potential when he was healthy in 2011, but if his recent back spasms continue into the regular season, we may have to wait a bit longer for his true ability to be unleashed.
(Left tackle Will Beatty and defensive tackle Chris Canty also have uncertain outlooks for the start of the season, but their injury issues will be addressed in later slides.)
The Solution: Luckily, the Giants have elite depth at three of these positions. They are already in search of a player to fill the vacancy at the third wide receiver position, which has led Manning to imply that the Giants may utilize a three-wide-receiver-by-committee approach this season. That strategy will allow plenty of opportunities for the backups to step in and produce if Nicks does not look like his usual self early on.
Like the receiver position, the Giants’ cornerback and linebacker positions are also chock-full of talent. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been known to experiment with many different defensive formations, so he should have no issue finding an effective alternate if Hosley and Boley are still lingering below 100 percent.
Even though the Giants are still searching for answers at backup defensive end, they are one of the few NFL teams with three starting-caliber pass-rushers. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck should be able to carry the workload until Pierre-Paul is fully healthy.
A Depleted DT Position
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Injuries have struck the Giants especially hard at the defensive tackle position. New York once boasted the league’s deepest and most feared defensive lines in the league, but the unit has become dangerously thin in the middle now that defensive tackles have started dropping like flies.
A year ago, Canty was a starter and a pivotal part of the Giants’ pass rush. This preseason, he has spent a lot more time on the sideline as a surgery on his knee has restricted him to the physically unable to perform list.
With Canty on the PUP list, the Giants were left with Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard as the only returning defensive tackles with game experience with the team. They were expecting former second-round draft pick Marvin Austin and free-agent acquisition Shaun Rogers to bolster the interior defensive line, but injuries have forced the team to diverge from the original plan.
On August 14, Rogers went down with a blood clot in his leg. He was originally declared out for the season, but after a getting a second opinion, Coughlin says there may be a “ray of hope” for Rogers return (h/t The Wall Street Journal).
On the same day, Austin and reserve defensive tackle Martin Parker were diagnosed with back issues. The team waived Parker, whose herniated disc was far more severe than Austin’s injury. Austin is still trying to overcome the injury and work his way back into the action.
The Solution: The Giants brought in ex-Broncos Marcus Thomas and Carlton Powell, as well as undrafted free agent Oren Wilson, to strengthen the defensive tackle position. There’s no guarantee that any of these players make the final roster, but you can bet that they will push players like Joseph and Bernard, who are ahead of them on the depth chart.
The Giants have handled situations like this in the past. Last preseason, the Giants lost five corners but were able to overcome the setback and win the Super Bowl. The Giants have a lot of experience dealing with multiple injuries at a single position, which should help them rise above the current defensive tackle epidemic.
Persistent Problems Along O-Line/Running Game
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Last year, the Giants had the league's worst rushing attack, and after watching the preseason game versus the Jets last week, it doesn't look like things have changed much. That should come as no surprise since this year's offensive line is just a slightly adjusted version of last year's unit.
Chris Snee and David Baas have reclaimed their starting jobs at right guard and center for the 2012 season. David Diehl, who played left guard and left tackle last season, has shifted over to right tackle (for now). Kevin Boothe, who was a versatile reserve lineman for his first five seasons with the team, has been running with the first team at left guard all preseason, and Will Beatty, who played 10 games last season before landing on injured reserve, has one final shot to prove his worth at left tackle before becoming a free agent in 2013.
Beatty is off to a poor start as back issues have forced him to miss a lot of time this preseason. Given Beatty's health condition, veteran Sean Locklear, who the team acquired through free agency earlier this offseason, is being tested out at left tackle. The Giants may consider shuffling the lineup, but so far, the position is one glaring question mark for Coughlin.
The Giants hope to have a resurgent running game in 2012, but that will not be possible if the interior line does not perform up to par. Boothe has been an effective run blocker but has limited experience as a full-time starter. Baas has yet to live up to the deal he signed last summer, and Snee has looked like a fraction of his former All-Pro self.
The Solution: Most of the problems with the running game stem from the offensive line's performance, but Coughlin may be able to work around that by adding fresh legs into the backfield. Reports say that rookie David Wilson has been practicing with the first team this week and could be well on his way to becoming Ahmad Bradshaw's complementary back (h/t Ebenezer Samuel, New York Daily News).
Wilson adds elusiveness and quickness to the Giants' rushing attack. If he can take a few carries away per game from Bradshaw, then Bradshaw will be able to stay healthier later into the season. Throw D.J. Ware, a solid third-down back and reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield, into the mix and the Giants should be able to work around the issues along their offensive line.
The Dreaded Ice-Tub Incident
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By now, everyone has seen the video of Pierre-Paul dumping second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara over his shoulder into a cold tub at Giants training camp (if you’re one of the few who has not seen the video, you can watch it here).
The incident stirred up some debate for multiple reasons. First of all, when Amukamara rose from the tub, he wasn’t laughing with his teammates, making it more than just harmless prank—it was an act of hazing. Stuff like this goes on in every football locker room, but Amukamara’s comments following the video’s release and the fact that Coughlin had to get involved leads us to believe that things may have been taken a bit too far.
Aside from Pierre-Paul’s offensive language, the other issue was that the video was posted online for everyone to see. Punter Steve Weatherford, who was also the cameraman, posted the video from his Twitter account. The video went viral, and supposedly after a stern talking to with Coach Coughlin, Weatherford removed the video and issued an apology to his Twitter followers.
The Giants have historically been a no-nonsense organization, and while incidents like these may happen, they happen behind closed doors. This is a franchise that has vehemently refused to have HBO’s Hard Knocks cover their training camp for this very reason. Coughlin often calls his team his “family” and the last thing he wants is media vultures (like me) painting a picture of his locker room in disarray.
The Solution: There’s no coach more qualified to deal with a situation like this than Coughlin. He knows how to discipline his team, and from here on out, I’m sure he will make it very clear that a repeat of the “Ice-Tub Incident” will not be tolerated.
Leaders like Tuck, who have spoken out in Amukamara’s defense, will also play a large part in making sure that hazing is not being taken too far. In the long run, this is a minor incident, and the Giants are much too talented to allow their locker room to become divided over issues like these.