The New York Giants' offensive success is based on their power rushing game. They will use Brandon Jacobs to set the tone early by grinding out tough yards and finishing off his runs. This style wears down opponents and opens up the passing game. The only problem is, if the passing game is nonexistent, teams can key in on the run.
With the turnover at the wide receiver position, the Giants will look to a new cast of characters to contribute in the passing game and, in turn, free up the run.
Plaxico Burress Released; In-House Options
Any discussion about changes to the Giants offense starts with replacing Plaxico Burress, and to a lesser extent, Amani Toomer.
At this point, the Giants are looking at a handful of receivers with the hopes that they can each contribute in their own way. It is foolish to believe that any single player on the roster can replace Plaxico Burress, in terms of productivity and in terms of making the rest of the offense better.
The Giants have a bunch of in-house options that will need to take on increased workloads. Steve Smith, as always, will be featured on third downs, as he has an uncanny ability to get open and move the chains. I expect to see a lot of quick passes from Manning to Smith on slants and quick ins. Smith will likely be a starter, but he should see a lot of time in the slot.
Domenik Hixon will get the first shot at a starting role opposite Smith, a position in which he both thrived and failed at last season. Hixon can be a competent No. 2 receiver, but he is no Plaxico Burress.
The difference between Hixon and Burress is vast, as Burress has about three inches on Hixon and even more in wingspan. Although Hixon has better speed, Plaxico was better at creating separation, and was able to command double teams. Hixon has yet to show any reason for defenses to fear him, and he needs to improve his jump ball skills.
The Giants will have to continue to be successful running the ball in order to get their deep shots to Hixon, but he will get his fair share of opportunities to haul in some long passes. Hixon also showed great footwork at times last season, so he can hopefully replace Toomer’s propensity to make great sideline catches on deep out patterns.
Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss and David Tyree are other in-house options to help replace Burress. Manningham could be used as a deep threat, as he showed an uncanny ability to get open down the field while playing at Michigan. He will need to stay healthy in his sophomore season if he wants to make big strides.
Sinorice Moss has great quickness, and can be used on short passes and wide receiver screens. Like Manningham, he too needs to stay healthy, but he might be at the end of his rope.
Tyree is not a great receiver, but he may be one of the few remaining receivers that Manning fully trusts. His veteran leadership should help the younger guys develop, and he has been known to make a big play or two.
Tight End Kevin Boss is now the best big-bodied veteran on the roster. Boss can expect to see passes thrown his way in any situation, especially around the goal line. Boss may be the player Eli leans on the heaviest in Plaxico’s absence, as Eli is used to having a 6’5 security blanket (Boss is 6’6…even better).
Boss should see targets over the middle on slants and may even go deep on some fly patterns. The Giants would be wise to occasionally split him out wide to take advantage of mismatches.
Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden Drafted
Hakeem Nicks has great hands and is a very polished route runner. He can be used in any formation, on any part of the field, can run any pattern and can be used over the middle.
The Giants are hoping he will become their No. 1 split-end, but he will have to progress quickly in order to see time all over the field. His versatility means that they will not have to change the playbook for him.
When Ramses Barden was drafted, fans envisioned him as the big target to replace Plaxico Burress as Eli Manning’s safety blanket. That thought may be a bit pre-mature (or extremely pre-mature). But Barden is athletic for a 6’6 behemoth, and could be used as a valuable end-zone specialist.
In 1-AA Cal Poly, Barden ran fade pattern after fade pattern (and some flag patterns) for touchdowns, all somewhat reminiscent of Plaxico Burress’ Super Bowl winning touchdown catch. If Barden can perfect those two routes in the NFL, the Giants will use him to torture 5’10 corners whenever they reach the green zone.
Derrick Ward Departs
Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs’ primary change of pace back, signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ward was the Giants’ best receiving option out of the backfield, and his production in that regards may not be fully replaced.
Ahmad Bradshaw will be the first to see an increase in carries, and we already know that he has the ability to break off a long run on any play. Bradshaw is extremely shifty and is a tough inside runner; however his hands are still a question mark.
If Bradshaw is able to become an effective receiver and is able to pick up the blitz, the play calling will be similar to when Ward was lined up in the backfield. Ward was excellent on screen passes, and Bradshaw’s elusiveness gives reason to believe that this play will be featured even more, assuming that Bradshaw is able to catch the ball.
Newly drafted Andre Brown out of North Carolina State has been compared by many to Ward due to his tough running style and his ability to catch passes (he was 2nd on his team with 29 receptions in 2008).
Should Bradshaw fail to replicate Ward’s success, Brown would be a logical choice to see an increase in playing time.
If Brown jumps ahead of Bradshaw, he could be used in almost identical fashion to the way Ward was used in the No. 2 role and Bradshaw could fall back into his No. 3 role of last season. I do not expect this to happen, at least not this season.
The wild card in the backfield is Danny Ware. He has the skill set to replace Ward, and he does not lack in confidence. Ware has impressed in the pre-season and has even given himself the nickname of “Water” to fit in with the backfield’s “Earth, Wind, and Fire” moniker.
It may take an injury for Ware to see a lot of touches, although I believe he is ready to be a legitimate NFL backup.
All three backs are capable of replacing Ward’s production as a rusher, so the play calling in terms of running the ball should remain more or less the same. The differences could lie in whether or not they are able to reproduce his success as a pass catcher (Ward had 41 receptions in 2008).
If they can, expect to see a heavy dose of screen passes, dump offs and swing passes, which will help open up the deeper passing game. If they cannot, expect to see the Giants throw more to talented rookie H-back Travis Beckum out of the backfield.
Travis Beckum Drafted
Some Giants fans may have raised an eyebrow when they saw a Tight End taken in the third round.
But Kevin Boss’ playing time is not in jeopardy; Beckum is a receiving-only tight end who will be used as an H-back (a hybrid of a fullback and tight end often used as a receiver out of the backfield; a position created by Joe Gibbs in response to Lawrence Taylor’s dominance. Chris Cooley is a current example).
This new wrinkle will probably be one of the biggest changes to the Giants’ playbook, as the H-back is something that they have not featured in years. Beckum (6'4) is another big target for Eli Manning to throw to; one who can find open spaces over the middle and in the end zone.
Expect to see the Giants create new H-back packages to exploit match-up problems in the defense, lining him up in the backfield, the slot or even split out wide.