New York Giants: Will Eli Manning Carry Super Bowl-Winning Form into 2012?
With another year of experience under his belt—and another ring on his finger—Manning appears ready to pick up right where he left off in 2011, in elite territory.
Here are some reasons why Manning won't be looking back after his leap into stardom last year.
First Full Season of Being in a Passing Offense
Last season this all changed.
Ahmad Bradshaw was fighting off nagging injuries throughout the season and Brandon Jacobs was unable to return to his bruising pre-payday form. Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride placed the fate of their 2011 season on their eighth- ear QB's right arm—and they didn't regret it.
Manning eclipsed 4,900 passing yards—more than any Giant quarterback in all of the team's 86 years. Eli was able to spread the wealth despite losing Domenik Hixon in the season's second game.
The Ole Miss alum dished it out to Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware for a combined 296 receptions between the four.
Manning attempted more passes (589) and for a higher average (8.38 yards) than he had in any of his seven prior seasons, while still managing to complete 61 percent of his passes.
With a taste of dominance still on his tongue, expect Manning to take it to a new level in 2012. Following a full training camp of preparation of being the focal point in the Big Blue offense, Eli will surely erase any remaining doubt as to whether he is among the NFL's elite.
Revamped Receiving Corps
With a look to Eli Manning's left and right, you'll find more reasons why he will carry his dominance in 2012.
Speed threat Mario Manningham departed for the Bay area in March. However the team spent their second draft pick on LSU receiver Rueben Randle to fill the void.
Fifth-year receiver Domenik Hixon reclaims his spot in Eli Manning's arsenal this season, as he will be welcomed after his second ACL tear in as many years.
Breakout weapon Victor Cruz has no place to go but up after his 1,500-yard, nine-touchdown season—his first as a pro.
In Hakeem Nicks' second season catching Eli Manning passes, his TD total jumped from six to 11, and accumulated 262 more yards. Manningham's second year of being largely involved in the Giants O resulted in a four TD increase and raised receiving yards to 944 from 842 the year before.
Giants fans: Use these examples to forecast Victor Cruz's sophomore campaign, and try not to giggle too much if you're in public.
The team lost reliable tight end Jake Ballard to a torn ACL suffered early in the Super Bowl. New York waived him as a formality, expecting the injured end to pass through unclaimed and sign back back immediately.
Their plans were thrown off course when New England swooped in to claim Ballard, knowing he likely won't be healthy enough to play in a game until 2013.
The team signed ex-Cowboy Martellus Bennett, who they hope will provide the same reliability to Manning that Ballard did. Bennett spent four years as understudy to Jason Witten. He's caught seven passes for 49 yards and a score this preseason.
Versatile Backfield Threats
The Giants tailback combo of Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson will undoubtedly be able to keep the defense honest, and then some.
Bradshaw missed four games last year due to injury, and totaled only 659 yards, albeit with nine touchdowns. His last full season was 2010, in which he proved his starting capability—he torched defenses for 1,235 and eight scores. When healthy, Bradshaw has proven his ability to be a feature back in the NFL.
The Giants drafted David Wilson in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft for a reason. They love his speed, and view him similarly to Bradshaw. It's not at all unfair to expect Wilson—who finished fourth in the nation last year as a junior with 1,700 yards on the ground—to immediately pay huge dividends for the Giants.
These two will not only act as supplements to Eli Manning's passing attack, but also as weapons within it.
Bradshaw ranked fifth on the Giants last season in receptions with 34 in only 12 games, including three separate five-reception games.
Wilson's number wasn't called on through the air all that often in his time at Virginia Tech—he recorded 37 receptions in three seasons there—but Bradshaw wasn't much of a receiving threat until he teamed up with Manning in East Rutherford.
Bradshaw's sophomore season at Marshall resulted in an astounding 56 receptions for 381 yards. In his freshman and junior years, however, he combined for only 31.
Bradshaw had his impressive sophomore pass-catching season to his record, while none of Wilson's seasons came close in that regard. What Wilson does have, though, is a distinguished top-tier and two-time champion Eli Manning—something Bradshaw lacked at the time he was drafted by New York.
A Hungry Defense
The Giants defense had a hard time battling injuries and overall poor play last season. Their secondary and linebacker positions all resembled revolving doors, with several players switching in and out, and no one doing a particularly great job for much of the year.
This year shapes up to be different for the G-Men. Corner back Terrell Thomas expects to return this season after missing all of 2011 with an ACL tear.
The team also traded for middle linebacker Keith Rivers to help sure up the squad's core.
You can believe the defensive side of the ball is eager to bounce back after a subpar season and help the Giants get back to their roots of a hard-fighting defensive team.
But how does this help Eli Manning?
Any team with a great defense will win football games (just ask the 2011 49ers). A quarterback on a winning team is valued that much more. Wins equate to confidence, and confidence equates to more wins.
Simple as that.
A Full Season of Prepartion
In 2011, Eli Manning and the rest of the league's players were severely restricted in how they could work out and train with their team due to the NFL lockout.
In a season that included little-to-no offseason preparation with teammates, Manning and the Giants eventually took home the Lombardi trophy. In 2012, much of last season's team has returned, with a slight change: They've had the benefit of being able to work with each other all summer long.
If Manning was able to put up the biggest numbers of his career in a season that permitted no contact with his team for much of the offseason, what will a training camp and a year of maturity do for his progression in year nine?
The Giants will begin the defense of their championship Wednesday, September 5 against Dallas.
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