When you think of Plaxico Burress’ Giants career nowadays two things come to mind: his game winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLII and the fact that he accidentally shot himself in the leg the following season, ending any realistic shot Big Blue had of repeating.
During the 2007 season, though, before these two polar opposite events defined Burress’ time in a Giants uniform, all anyone could talk about when it came to the 6’ 5” receiver was that he wasn’t practicing.
Due to a badly sprained ankle, Burress did not practice the entire season in order to remain healthy for game-day. The lack of preparation did not affect his performance, however, as Burress recorded his best season as a Giant, hauling in 70 catches for 1,025 yards and 12 TDs.
It looks like we could have a similar situation in 2012 with arguably the Giants best receiver.
Hakeem Nicks missed most of the preseason due to a broken right foot he suffered in late May during minicamp. He has barely practiced since the regular season started, choosing to ride a bike instead as his teammates prepare. While Nicks will likely practice more this season then Burress did in 2007, it is possible that he will sit out more often than not, especially during September and October.
Can Nicks be effective, like Burress was five years ago, if practicing is treated as a special occasion?
The early returns say no. Nicks only had four receptions for 38 yards in Week 1 against the Cowboys. He clearly struggled to get separation from the Dallas cornerbacks and was not in sync with Eli Manning.
Nicks’ strength is predicated on his superior route running. It makes up for his average speed at the wide receiver position and allows him to get open more often than not. Once he catches the ball his size and strength (Nicks stands at 6’1” and weighs a healthy 208 lbs) allows him to break tackles and gain significant yards after the catch.
Missing practices will hurt Nicks’ route running. It will still be good but not as precise as it is when he is practicing on a regular basis. His timing with Manning will also suffer. They should still have a good rapport but not as strong as in 2010 and 2011.
As the season moves along, Nicks’ performance will improve. He will get some games under his belt and likely practice more. This will allow his route running to return to an elite level and get back the timing he has had with his quarterback over the last two seasons. While the first half of 2012 looks to be a struggle for Nicks, a strong second half will lead to another 1,000-yard season and somewhere between seven to nine TDs.
More importantly, he’ll be peaking if and when the Giants attempt to defend their title in the postseason.
For the last 10 days, all the Giants have heard about is how they can’t run the ball or stop the run. Expect both of these units to be motivated and angry on Sunday against Tampa Bay, which will lead to significantly better results than in Week 1.
The Giants secondary should also perform better with the likely return of Prince Amukamara, but it will be the Giants pass rush that ultimately holds the Bucs passing game in check. I would be surprised if Josh Freeman throws for over 250 yards and doesn’t record multiple turnovers.
This game seems prime for a blowout. The Giants are more talented, have the added incentive to not go to 0-2 and have likely listened to their coach berate them for over a week. Meanwhile, a mediocre at best Tampa Bay team is 1-0 and has to be looking at winning this game as house money.
My prediction is a 31-13 win for New York.