In their last three outings—two of which came at home—the New York Giants have outscored opponents with a combined record of 11-17 by an average of 1.7 points per game. That's not the mark of a Super Bowl team, But even the league's best franchises have rough stretches and New York was still victorious on two of those occasions.
So is this just one of those standard rough patches or are the Giants about to fall off a second-half cliff yet again? And if that happens, can they still sneak into the playoffs and make a run at a repeat?
Let's attempt to answer that question in our latest progress report.
What They Should Be Thinking
You could argue that we haven't outplayed a team since we spanked the 49ers in Week 6. Our passing game has gone down the drain and our defense continues to look soft. We've always compensated for our weaknesses with great quarterback play and a superb pass rush, but neither of those strong points have been coming through lately.
It's no secret that, historically, we start strong and then sputter as the season winds down, often crashing and burning by the end of the regular season. On the two recent occasions in which that didn't happen, we won the Super Bowl. But the odds don't favor that happening in 2012. Our play indicates we might not be so lucky this time around.
What's also concerning is that while the pass rush has lacked punch, our sack percentage is actually down only 0.1 from 7.5 in 2011 to 7.4 this season, according to Pro Football Reference. That indicates we might not be able to rely on the defensive line to save the day this time, And that'll be harder this year anyway, with our secondary surrendering 8.2 yards per pass attempt (up from 7.5 last season).
And then there's Eli Manning. In terms of passer rating, he hasn't struggled this much over a two-week stretch since 2009. His rating has dropped in four consecutive weeks. Oh, and Kevin Kolb and Ryan Fitzpatrick have higher overall ratings than he does.
His numbers haven't reverted completely to where they were in 2010, when he led the league with 25 interceptions, but his productivity has cleared dropped off. Considering that his pass protection's been superb (he's only been sacked eight times) and that the running game is better (yards per carry up from 3.5 to 4.2), that's a concern.
We still have the league's best coach and the veteran experience required to turn things around. And it's gotta be a good sign that we're still winning the majority of our games when we're not at our best.
Hakeem Nicks' injury has been a big factor. But with Nicks getting healthier each week, the passing game should continue to get back on track. With the former first-round pick less than 100 percent and not able to get his timing down with Manning, defenses only had to worry about Victor Cruz. It was a mini domino effect.
And, yes, the defense has struggled, but Corey Webster seems to finally be picking up his play. If Webster's back and Prince Amukamara can keep performing well in Year 2, our secondary will be in great shape in no time, especially as Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle return to health. And that could in turn make things easier on the pass rush, which should be able to put up 2011-type numbers before the season comes to an end.
We've been soft against the run, too, but consider that Chase Blackburn, Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers have all been hurt. With all three expected to return soon, we should be significantly tougher in the front seven.
How many games will the Giants win?
With those factors in mind and history on our side, there's absolutely no reason to panic. Despite their soft schedules, no one in the NFC East looks as though they're in a position to make a run, and we've never needed the top seed in the conference to win the Lombardi Trophy in the past.
Every team experiences at least a mild slump at some point. If we're getting ours out of the way in October/November, then December and January again look promising.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Martellus Bennett
There aren't a lot of skyrocketing stocks on this offense right now, but Bennett continues to contribute consistently as an eerily reliable receiver and a top-of-the-line blocker. He's been integral to this offense's success.
Stock Rising (defense): Corey Webster
He was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league over the first seven games, but Webster's had his two best games of the season the last two weeks. The veteran did a great job against Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Mike Wallace.
Stock Dropping (offense): Eli Manning
He's been extremely inaccurate and wasn't able to play Superman in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh. Pro Football Focus rated him as New York's worst offensive player in that game. And as I mentioned, his passer rating has now dropped four weeks in a row.
Stock Dropping (defense): Michael Boley
The veteran linebacker's been off his game all year, but he was particularly bad against Isaac Redman and the Steelers' running game Sunday. Sure, he didn't have a lot of support in the linebacking corps, but there's still no excuse for how poorly he played the run in that loss.
Thank goodness for the bye, except it's coming a week or two late. There's a very real chance the run-down Giants lose in Cincinnati this week before having some time off. The schedule is indeed extremely tough from there, but they'd need to collapse in quite ridiculous fashion to lose this division now.
And with Tom Coughlin steering the ship, I just don't see that happening. This is a playoff team. Is it a Super Bowl team? Sure doesn't look like it. But that's also what I would have said at this point in 2007 and 2011.
View last week's report here