5 New York Giants Who Need to Have a Big Second Half of the Season
Given the way the first half of the season has gone for teams in the NFC East, it seems like it's been more of a race to see who finishes the year with the highest draft pick than it does for the division crown.
By default, however, someone has to win the division, and the New York Giants, who prior to Week 9’s games are just two games behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, still think they have a shot of climbing up the standings ladder despite a 2-6 record at the halfway mark.
“We still have a chance. I believe in our coaches, I believe in our players, and I expect us to continue to battle and get back in this race,” said Giants general manager Jerry Reese during his annual bye week press conference.
“You can’t count anybody out in our division right now halfway through the season," he added. "I think everybody is still in the race and we’re happy to be in it and fortunate to be in it and we’ll definitely continue to work hard and battle through this thing and make the best of it.”
There’s not much room for error, though, as of their last seven opponents—the Giants play the Washington Redskins twice—the Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions all have winning records.
It promises to be a wild second half for the NFC East, and if the Giants are to accomplish their goal of getting back into the thick of things, they’ll need a solid effort from top to bottom, especially from the following players/units.
Quarterback Eli Manning
It’s been a bumpy first half of the season for two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, whose 15 interceptions leads the NFL and whose 55.6 percent pass completion rate, per Team Rankings, puts the Giants 30th in the league at the halfway point.
While Manning is always the first to admit that he can do better with his decisions and throws, his lack of success hasn't been completely his fault.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning’s receivers have 20 drops through eight games, an average of 2.5 drops per game. He's also been sacked 19 times behind an offensive line that has fielded five different starting lineups in the first half of the season.
“We’re looking at what’s causing this problem and how we can fix it and I think to pinpoint it in one thing is a mistake,” said Giants quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan when asked if there was a common denominator in Manning’s struggles this season.
“Each play, and everybody’s talking about the turnovers and the interceptions, it kind of is a play in itself. Was it created by pressure and his reaction to it? Some, yes. Created by a bad decision by him with the ball trying to do more than he should have with the play? Yes. A miscommunication or misunderstanding between two guys, did that happen? Yeah.”
With so many issues being at the root of Manning’s struggles, then, how do the coaches and Manning approach correcting all of the issues?
One thing that Ryan pointed to was that Manning has eased up on trying to force plays that just aren't there.
“I think that there were plays where he was trying to make plays, certainly at times under duress, and when you can’t set your feet or you don’t set your feet, it can lead to inaccurate or throws with not as much on them as you want,” he said.
Ryan also conceded that the constant turnover in personnel, not just along the offensive line but also at running back, has been a factor in the passing game’s sluggish start.
“I think any time that you have a lot of different moving parts in an offense it’s going to affect the flow of the offense,” he said.
“I can tell you as a professional and as a competitor that I don’t think Eli spends a lot of time thinking, ‘Hey, I’m worried about this new guy.’ He doesn't think about that, but I think, in general, every offense in America, at every level, if you’re changing players, there is going to be a growth period. “
As Manning gets ready to lead the Giants offense in the final eight games of the 2013 regular season, Ryan emphasized that it's important for the 10-year veteran quarterback to avoid becoming too conservative.
“I think it’s very critical that he continues to take his shots when they’re smart and when they won’t get us into trouble,” Ryan said.
“Behind the scenes the one thing that has stayed consistent…is that this guy comes to work every day, his preparation doesn't change, he believes in his preparation and we believe in it. I think that will be the key and has been the key to turning the thing around.”
Defensive Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck
If at the start of the 2013 season, someone was to have predicted that the Giants pass-rushing defensive end tandem of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, two players who, for the sake of this particular slide, I'm counting as one unit since both are key to a sagging pass rushing unit, would combine for 2.5 sacks, chances are the statement would have been met with disbelief.
That’s exactly where this one-time dynamic duo currently stands at the halfway mark, as the Giants' pass rush and its 10.0 sacks thus far thus season have them tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 30th in the NFL.
What's been the problem?
Let's start with Pierre-Paul, who waited to have offseason back surgery in June. That decision ended up costing him most of training camp and has become one that he regretted waiting so long to make.
“The day we didn't make it to the playoffs, the next day I could have gone in and had back surgery,” Pierre-Paul told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger. “I would have been ready for (this) season, you know what I’m saying?”
Instead, he decided to wait, and because of the timing, Pierre-Paul recently admitted that he probably won’t be 100 percent healthy until next season.
Thus, the 2013 version of Pierre-Paul is lacking that quick burst he had in 2011 when he recorded a career-high 16.5 sacks.
“He's an inexperienced player—he has not played a lot of football and missing training camp and missing the offseason, it did set him back,” noted Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn.
“He's struggled a little bit, but he’s still playing solid against the run and we just have to keep showing up every day and going to work and that’s what he’s been doing. Keep building on the positives and I still think it can happen for him this year.”
On the other side of the defensive line is Tuck, who started out the season looking worn out despite supposedly being healthy.
In the last two games, Tuck seems to have turned the corner, even if his sack totals don't reflect it.
"He has played much better, comparing him to last year," Nunn said. "He’s played healthier—I said that in the preseason. I really thought he could maintain, staying healthy that he would really show up and he really has.
"He’s played really well and in the last two weeks I think he has nine hits on the quarterback in two weeks, so Justin’s off to a really good season."
Receiver Hakeem Nicks
Now that the rumors regarding his departure via trade have ceased—not that there was ever substance to those rumors—receiver Hakeem Nicks can hopefully put behind him what the data at Pro Football Reference indicates is the worst start to his professional career and focus on getting back to being the player he has historically been.
In retrospect, Nicks missing the entire spring program after an injury-filled 2012 campaign might not have been the wisest decision, especially since he also missed some time in the preseason.
As a result, Nicks has looked to be a step or two too late on pass attempts that he used to make without a problem. In addition, there was some speculation as to whether the dislocated finger Nicks suffered in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos was an issue.
Whatever the case might be, Nicks has not looked anything like the receiver who posted career-highs in receptions (79) and touchdowns (11) in 2010 and receiving yards (1192) in 2011.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Nicks has dropped six passes through eight games and has been the intended target on three of Eli Manning’s 15 interceptions in the first half.
Even more alarming, though, is that Nicks has only caught 53.1 percent of the passes thrown his way (34 out of 64), a success rate that is worse than the 55.2 percent he posted last season when he tried to work through knee and foot issues.
Whatever the reasons for Nicks’ sluggish start, Giants receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride believes that Nick is not far away from becoming the receiver he was prior to injury-filled 2012 season.
"When you come off of an injury like that and you can’t play full-speed for almost a year, when you get your body physically healed, which it is now, it still takes you a while to get your body back into those positions that you’re used to getting yourself into," Gilbride said.
"That’s what he’s improving on. He’s continuing to get his body into those positions that he used to whether it’s on an in cut, being able to dig and lean and rip out of it to create the separation, come back and stick his foot in the ground to come out of the break," Gilbride added.
"I think he’s getting himself back to where he needs to be but the opportunities have been there to make the plays and I think moving forward he’s going to make them."
Linebacker Jon Beason
The talent that Jon Beason, acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers a month ago, has brought to the Giants linebacker unit has been like the desert getting some much-needed rain.
In Beason, the Giants not only have a linebacker that can actually move sideline to sideline with the best of the running backs in the league, they also finally have a leader in that unit.
After less than a month of being with the team, the SportsXchange via Lindy's Sports reported that Beason was given the radio helmet, a rare but well-earned accomplishment based on his play.
Since joining the Giants on Oct. 4, Beason, who has become an every-down linebacker, has twice led the team in tackles.
This was especially true on a run defense that held LeSean McCoy, who entered that game as the NFL’s leading rusher, to just 48 yards on 15 carries.
While Beason's arrival hasn't been the only factor in the Giants' defensive unit not allowing any points in 10 of their last 12 quarters, certainly he’s helped to bring a sense of stability to a unit that, at one point, seemed unable to stop opponents that routinely took advantage of the lack of defensive speed in the second level.
Running Back Andre Brown
The Giants' 69.9 rushing yards per game ranks 29th in the NFL, the current per-game rushing total a significant drop-off from the 116.4 per game average (per Team Rankings) they had in the 2012 season.
Granted injuries to the unit have been a factor, such as the neck injury that could continue to keep starter David Wilson out indefinitely and the broken leg suffered by Andre Brown in the preseason finale that cost him the first half of the season.
Brown, who has spent the first half of the season on the temporary injured reserve list, is eligible to return to the playing field next week.
What will be interesting to see once Brown returns is if his plan to wear a protective shin guard, per Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, on his twice-broken left leg affects his running ability.
There are two things that Brown can bring to the running game. The first is a solid pass-blocking ability. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown allowed just one sack and one hurry in eight games played last season out of 42 pass blocking snaps.
The second and most obvious is the ability to move the chains. Again, in eight games played last season (that also due to a broken leg), Brown recorded eight rushing touchdowns, and he is especially reliable down by the goal line.
He also caught 12 out of 14 passes for 86 yards (76 after the catch) as a backfield outlet for the Giants in 2012.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.