Why the New York Giants Could Finally Go Belly-Up in 2013
I am here to tell you that the New York Giants are not a particularly good football team.
That doesn't mean that they can't win another Super Bowl, because they didn't look particularly good heading into their two recent championship seasons. I would never rule the Giants out, but I do believe things are going to get worse before they get better for Tom Coughlin's team.
That they won two Super Bowls in a five-year span is an undeniable fact. Giants fans have that as ammunition for any debate, but it is also important to note that the Giants have missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and have only won playoff games in those two isolated Super Bowl seasons.
Outside of those incredible runs, they have been slightly better than average. And the trajectory at this very moment is pointed downward.
The Giants have won just two division titles since 2006, but they are in contention every year. That's what happens when you have an above-average quarterback, a superb head coach and mediocre divisional opponents.
Eli Manning remains under center and Coughlin is still running things. That's good, but will it be enough with the roster continuing to take hits and the rest of the NFC East continuing to get better?
If this is the year that division finally begins to become uncluttered, the Giants could find themselves in the basement for the first time since 2003. Just because Coughlin has never finished last with this team doesn't mean it'll never happen.
If it's going to happen, it's going to happen in a year like this.
The Giants' top defensive player, Jason Pierre-Paul, is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason back surgery. His status for the Sept. 8 opener against the Dallas Cowboys is a mystery to all, but you'd have to think there's a good chance JPP won't be 100 percent early in the season, if he's on the field at all.
Remember, this defense already lost four veteran starters in the offseason. Even if you consider Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Kenny Phillips replaceable, it will be extremely hard for a team that makes its money rushing the passer to get past the loss of Osi Umenyiora—especially if Pierre-Paul isn't healthy.
The Giants have only been at their best in recent years when the pass rush has been firing on all cylinders. The rush wasn't able to compensate for deficiencies elsewhere in 2012, and that was with a healthy Pierre-Paul and a present Umenyiora.
This is a defense that ranked 31st in the league last year, and it would have been a hell of a lot worse had they been without Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, Boley and Canty in the front seven and Phillips for a limited time in the secondary.
This year, they are relying on spare parts like Cullen Jenkins (cast aside by the Philadelphia Eagles), Dan Connor (cast aside by the Cowboys) and Keith Rivers (cast aside a year ago by the Cincinnati Bengals). They also have tired veterans like Justin Tuck (six or fewer sacks in three of the last four years) and unproven, lowly-touted newbies like Mark Herzlich to plug holes.
That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. They could surprise, but there is a much better chance this defense finishes as one of the worst in football in 2013.
Sure, they still have Manning and his stud receiving duo of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks on offense. But is that enough? Especially if Nicks can't stay healthy? He's missed games in each of his four seasons, had his 2012 campaign derailed by foot and knee problems and is out again now with a groin injury.
Manning himself is coming off a mediocre season by his standards. His completion percentage dropped below 60 for the first time in six years, his passer rating sunk nearly six points from 2011 and he wasn't making those typically awesome Eli throws—especially in crunch time.
What reason do we have to believe that will change as he approaches his 33rd birthday this season? Top pick Justin Pugh might help the line, but is that enough to save this team?
I do not care how electric 2012 top pick David Wilson is or how sticky new tight end Brandon Myers' hands are. Both of those attempted replacements struggled with their blocking in 2012, with Wilson standing out particularly for his inability to pick up the blitz.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the best blocking halfback in the NFL, while Bennett was deemed to be the third-best pass-blocking tight end in football. Fullback Henry Hynoski was rated by PFF as the fifth-best blocker at his position last year, but he too is out with an injury and his status for Week 1 is up in the air.
If you attempt to claim that this team is somehow better than, or even as good as, they were in 2012, you're wearing the rose-colored glasses they hand out at each training camp site in late-July.
And don't use 2012 injuries as a reason why this team will bounce back in 2013. If anything, the injury factor is also out of their favor. The Giants lost fewer starter games to injury than anyone else in the NFC East last year, according to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.
Football Outsiders also concluded that the Cowboys and Washington Redskins were hit harder than the Giants were by injuries last year, but they did find that the Eagles had an easier ride than the G-Men in that area.
If anything, the odds favor the Giants having worse luck in the 2013 season, injury-wise, at least relative to their division rivals.
And those rivals continue to build.
The Redskins won the division last year without top defender Brian Orakpo. He's back, and Robert Griffin III's knee is becoming less of a factor each day. That roster barely changed in the offseason, but they added three draft picks to the secondary. There's little reason to believe they won't win 10-plus games again this year, and they should be considered the division favorite.
If you believe the Giants will be better in 2013, why?
The Cowboys are younger and more talented. Dez Bryant was one of the three most productive receivers in the league during the second half of the 2012 campaign. Dallas managed to win five games out of six down the November/December stretch, earning a do-or-die Week 17 matchup with Washington despite an overwhelming amount of injuries on defense. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are back, as is Anthony Spencer. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr should only get better, and Monte Kiffin has reinvigorated the D as whole.
The Eagles might be the only team the Giants have maintained an advantage over. But anything can happen with new head coach Chip Kelly. Plus, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jason Peters are back, while Lane Johnson, Connor Barwin and an entire new secondary have arrived. This team still has plenty of talent, so don't be surprised if they do more damage than expected in Kelly's inaugural campaign.
That could leave Big Blue in a lot of trouble.
Now, you are certainly going to tell me that the Giants love when the media does this. They love being the underdogs. They want to prove us wrong, make us look silly. And if that's the case, great. Good for them. I have no horse in this race. I am just relaying what I see when I look at this roster right now—and it does not inspire confidence.
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