The New York Giants are proof that every NFL team must make changes on an annual basis. The defending champions currently stand at 8-5 and control their own destiny to win the NFC East for a second consecutive season. If they secure the division title, or get into the postseason as a wild card, they will earn the precious right to defend their title. Despite this success, there are still things they must change in 2013 on both sides of the ball.
A lot can happen over the next three weeks and in the playoffs, if the Giants get into the second season. With that said, as it stands today, here are three changes Big Blue must make heading into 2013.
He gave us glimpses through the first 12 games, but David Wilson finally showed everyone how explosive he can be last Sunday against the Saints. He possesses the type of game-breaking speed at running back that the Giants haven't had since Dave Meggett. The difference is that Wilson actually has the body type to be an every-down back, unlike Meggett who was too small to take the pounding.
The Giants rookie sensation simply needs to get the ball more often on offense in his sophomore campaign. He only has 43 offensive touches this season. His touches also need to be more consistent. He's had nine games this year where he has received three or less touches on offense, including three games where he never got the ball at all.
Ahmad Bradshaw is still a good NFL running back. He has 869 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 12 games this season with a stellar 4.4 yards per carry. He is also under contract with New York for two more years.
He should enter 2013 as the starting running back, but Wilson needs to get 10-12 touches per game as the primary backup, along with retaining his duties as kickoff returner. He also must get more involved in the passing game, where he only has two catches this season.
As the season progresses, assuming he performs well, Wilson should continue to eat into Bradshaw's workload and overtake him by the end of the year. It is the best thing for the Giants offense and will provide them with the big-play potential in the running game that they sorely need.
For diehard Giants fans, Corey Webster has been a popular target for criticism all season. He has surrendered six touchdowns in the secondary along with numerous other big plays. He does have 45 tackles, nine pass defenses and four INTs in 13 games, but this is mainly because he gets picked on by opposing offenses so much.
The eight-year veteran needs to replaced by rookie Jayron Hosley in the starting lineup for next season. Despite being his first NFL campaign, Hosley is better than Webster in pass coverage right now, though to be fair, both are pretty terrible. According to Pro Football Focus, Webster is 108th out of 110 cornerbacks graded in pass coverage with a minus-8.6 rating. Hosley is slightly better at 104th with a minus-7.6 rating. Overall, Webster rates slightly better as a cornerback when you factor in stopping the run, rushing the passer and penalties.
The Giants need better coverage in their secondary since they are one of the worst teams in the league against the pass. With the experience of his rookie season and a second training camp under his belt, Hosley should be a significantly better coverage corner than Webster in 2013. This is especially true since Webster will likely see his skills continue to regress, as he turns 31 in March.
Keeping Webster for 2013 is a wise move for New York, as I explained back in November, but he should be used in nickel coverage with Hosley and Prince Amukamara as the starters.
Simply put, Big Blue has a bad run defense. They are 22nd in the NFL with 122.3 rushing yards allowed per game and 29th with 4.7 yards surrendered per carry. The only thing they do well against the run is defend their goal line. They have only allowed seven touchdowns on the ground, tied for sixth best in the league with Philadelphia and Seattle.
The Giants should do four things to improve their run defense in 2013. First, they must void Osi Umenyiora's contract and let him walk in free agency. Umenyiora is still a force as a pass rusher with six sacks this season, but he is dreadful against the run. According to PFF, he has a minus-4.5 rating defending the run, which ranks 53rd out of the 62 defensive ends graded who play in a 4-3 defense.
The eye test backs up this rating.
Osi does a terrible job setting the edge and often overcommits in an attempt to rush the passer, which in turn allows big rushing plays to the outside. This is one of the key reasons why a team like the Redskins has torched the Giants on the ground in two games this season.
To fill Umenyiora's spot, the Giants could move Mathias Kiwanuka back to the defensive line or draft a defensive end who is strong against the run in the middle rounds to backup Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
Secondly, they should let Rocky Bernard leave in free agency as well. He has been subpar against the run in 2012 with a minus-1.9 rating, and his age (34 at the start of next season) suggests that he is only going to get worse.
The third thing is not something Big Blue needs to do but instead hope for, which is for young defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin to show improvement. For Joseph, who is only 24, he needs to go from being a solid contributor to a borderline Pro Bowl performer. His four sacks and 2.0 PFF rating against the run suggests that this is possible.
Austin, on the other hand, needs to prove he is not a bust and become what Joseph is now. The 23-year-old former second-round pick missed all of his 2011 rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle and has not made any impact in the limited playing time he has received in six games this season.
Finally, in the linebacking corps, Chase Blackburn should be sent packing, as he is an unrestricted free agent. Sure, Blackburn has made some big plays this season as the team's starting middle linebacker. Unfortunately, this is all he contributes, as he is terrible in pass coverage with minus-6.7 rating and even worse against the run with a rating of minus-8.7. The latter is better than only six other inside linebackers in the NFL who have taken at least 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps.
To replace Blackburn, the Giants can look to sign either Green Bay's Brad Jones or Baltimore's Dannell Ellerbe. Both are unrestricted free agents after this season. Both are only 27 years old and under the radar enough that they won't command a huge contract. Most importantly, they are each strong against the run with Jones compiling a 5.8 PFF mark in this category, while Ellerbe is not far behind at 5.3.
If the Giants perform all of these changes next season, they should be able to go from the bottom-third in the NFL in rush defense to the top-third in the only one year.