New York Giants: Most and Least Improved Players
The New York Giants have bounced back nicely from their brutal loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 by reeling off three consecutive wins. They are 5-2 and sit atop the NFC East with a somewhat comfortable 1.5-game lead over both the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
A few players have pleasantly surprised by contributing significantly to their strong start. Other players, however, have disappointed by not showing improvement on their performance either from earlier this season or in 2011. The following are the two most- and two least-improved players on the Giants squad through seven games.
Most Improved: LT Will Beatty
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The Giants offensive line has performed surprisingly well this season. They were widely considered a weak spot coming into 2012, even by offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, but they have allowed an NFL-low six sacks and are spearheading a running game that is averaging a respectable 116.3 yards per game.
A big reason for the offensive line's success has been the play of Beatty. According to Pro Football Focus, Beatty ranked 38th among offensive tackles in 2011 with an overall score of 5.0. Specifically, he was really poor pass-blocking with a score of minus-0.2.
Through seven games this season, Beatty has been dramatically better with an overall score of 9.8, good for 10th among offensive tackles. He has also seen a significant improvement in his pass-blocking with a score of 5.4.
A little more context will show how much better he has been protecting Eli Manning's blind side this season. In 2011, Beatty allowed 24 QB hurries, three QB hits and four sacks in only 10 games played (he had his season cut short due to a detached retina injury). So far this season, in three less games, he has allowed only 10 QB hurries, no QB hits and only one sack.
With Beatty firmly in his prime at the age of 27, there is no reason to think he can't continue his strong play through the Giants' final nine games.
Most Improved: MLB Chase Blackburn
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No one will ever confuse Blackburn as an elite linebacker in the ilk of Patrick Willis or Terrell Suggs. He is not a great every-down player and can be exposed in pass coverage, as witnessed by his minus-5.3 coverage rating, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Blackburn, however, has had a knack for the big play this year that cannot be overlooked. He has tallied two sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass defenses. He also is tied for second on the team in tackles with 42.
As long as Blackburn continues to be active and have a nose for the big play, he is an asset to Big Blue's defense, despite his deficiencies.
Least Improved: Jason Pierre-Paul
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Pierre-Paul is one of the best two-way defensive ends in the NFL, and he certainly hasn't performed poorly this year. The problem is that he simply hasn't built upon his dynamic 2011 campaign when all signs pointed to him doing just that.
Pierre-Paul only has 4.5 sacks and 26 tackles through seven games, compared to 16.5 sacks and 86 tackles in 16 games last season. He also hasn't produced consistent pressure on the quarterback like he did in 2011. This is best shown in his drop-off in hitting the signal-caller. In 2011, Pierre-Paul registered 14 QB hits. He only has two QB hits so far in 2012.
Outside of the stats, Pierre-Paul has yet to register a signature game this season. Last year, he thoroughly dominated the Cowboys in a must-win road game in Week 14, culminating in this field-goal block that sealed the victory.
Least Improved: Martellus Bennett
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This distinction is based solely on Bennett's play of late, compared to how he performed to start the season.
The talented but underutilized tight end in Dallas started off his Giants career impressively, with 15 catches, 185 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his first three games. Since then he has not scored and only has 10 receptions for 120 yards.
He may be returning to his early-season form after a five-catch, 79-yard performance last week against the Redskins.
The Giants better hope so, because Bennett will likely become more of a focus in the red zone as the season moves along. Victor Cruz and his seven touchdowns will mean plenty of double teams inside the opponents' 20-yard line. If Hakeem Nicks continues to struggle finding the end zone (he only has one TD on the season), then Eli Manning will frequently be looking for Bennett's 6'6" frame near the goal line.