New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Despite dropping their first two divisional bouts of their 2012 campaign, Big Blue is sitting atop the NFC East with a 5-2 record. Eli Manning is leading the league in passing yards, Victor Cruz is as explosive as ever and the pass rush has come alive as of late. All those factors put together bring up an obvious yet intriguing question.
Are the New York Giants on their way to winning another Super Bowl?
It's still too early to make a realistic determination on that question. In fact, the Giants have started with a 5-2 record every season under Tom Coughlin. With Manning as quarterback, Big Blue has a 26-5 record in the month of October. However, Manning has a record of 29-36 in the months of November and December.
The Giants are in an all too familiar position at this point of the season. However, this year could be the year that Big Blue avoids its annual midseason collapse. Let's take a look at three reasons why the Giants could be on their way to hoisting their third Lombardi Trophy in six seasons.
The Giants suffered a rash of serious injuries to key players at the inception of their 2012 campaign. Hakeem Nicks, Chris Canty, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Diehl, Domenik Hixon and Keith Rivers have all missed time this season. However, it seems as if each of those players will be available for Sunday's matchup.
Granted, Kenny Phillips is still out, Michael Boley is dealing with his never-ending hamstring issue and David Baas' ankle injury is a new addition for this week. The Giants only missed five players at practice on Wednesday. For the first season in years, Big Blue is not dealing with several significant injuries to key players as the team enters the toughest part of its schedule.
The Giants are one of the most talented football teams in the NFL. However, they can only sustain so many injuries before they can no longer compete with the league's elite squads. We saw that happen during Big Blue's four-game losing streak in the middle of last season.
But 2012 will be different. The Giants are healthy and playing as well as any team in the league. Big Blue has the ability to beat any team on its schedule this season and should make some noise come playoff time.
Manning to Cruz
Victor Cruz's emergence in Week 3 of 2011 saved a season that appeared to be doomed for failure. Since then, the salsa-dancing sensation has taken the Big Apple by storm.
Not only has Cruz been Eli's main threat through the air this season, but No. 80 has maintained the big play ability he displayed in 2011.Through seven games in 2012, Cruz has catches of 80 and 77 yards. He's averaging almost 13 yards per reception and is tied for the league lead with nine touchdown receptions.
With Hakeem Nicks missing a significant amount of time this season, Cruz has been the key cog in the Giants offense. He has earned Eli Manning's trust and requires significant attention from opposing defenders. While he lacks the versatility to play on the outside, Cruz's speed makes him dangerous no matter where he lines up.
If the Giants make it back to the Super Bowl in 2012, Eli Manning's chemistry with Victor Cruz will be a major reason why.
The Pass Rush
Will the Giants repeat as Super Bowl Champions?
The Giants have sacked the quarterback nine times in the past two games. Coincidentally, Big Blue has forced seven turnovers in the same time period.
The Giants' vaunted, yet previously absent, pass rush has come to life and wreaked havoc on the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. The pass rush has forced quarterbacks to make quick decisions with the football, some of which have ended up turnovers.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has started using Mathias Kiwanuka more as a down lineman and has increased Adrian Tracy's playing time. With more viable options who can get to the quarterback, teams are having trouble assigning their personnel blocking assignments. This has created more room for Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck to operate.
It's important for the Giants to get to the quarterback consistently this season. As we've seen against the 'Skins and Cowboys, the secondary is not good enough to hold up for long periods of time.
The pass rush has been the Giants' greatest asset on defense over the last two games, and it's essential that it continues to be effective for the duration of the season.
In short, the Giants win when the front seven can find a way to the quarterback. The team struggled to get sacks against some relatively weak offensive lines in the early goings. However, JPP and Co. are rolling now.
Big Blue will be extremely difficult to knock off in January if the pass rush remains lethal.