One begins to learn the basic philosophies of football in their formative years. They may or may not play a little Pop Warner, may or may not play high school ball, but for those who truly love to learn the game, they pick up a lot simply by watching their hometown team.
For this writer, that meant a full serving of Bill Parcells’ New York Giants every single weekend of the fall. It was throwback football, even for the 1980s: heavy ground attack, stifling defense, limiting turnovers and controlling the clock.
That was how it was done, that’s how teams won championships (or at least challenged the 49ers for them). To this day, I still view those characteristics as essential to winning teams and interestingly enough, we are seeing the Giants throw it back again under Parcells' disciple Tom Coughlin.
It’s old school football for the new school G-Men.
Taking into account the offseason moves this far, here’s what to expect from the guys wearing the headsets in 2009:
In 2008, the Giants became the first team with two running backs (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward) to rush for over 1,000 yards in the same season since the 1985 Cleveland Browns (Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack).
The Giants’ 2,518 total rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry average, and 13 turnovers were ranked No. 1 in the NFL- a clear emphasis on controlling the ball as well as the clock. The bottom line is this; the G-Men pound the ball down opponents’ throats—it’s what they do.
The 2008 formula led to 12 wins and a playoff appearance so I would expect more of the same in 2009, as they are stout up front with Pro Bowl offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee opening holes.
While RB Derrick Ward is a significant loss in free agency, the combination of Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware, and potentially rookie Andre Brown will be excellent compliments to bruising starter Brandon Jacobs.
The sky officially fell when WR Plaxico Burress was lost for the season and the Giants faded down the stretch but that trash has officially been taken out this offseason. Burress is gone forever as is long-time Giant Amani Toomer leaving holes where QB Eli Manning should be completing passes.
Third-year Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride recently stated in an interview that every position at wideout is up for grabs which will create a competitive atmosphere this July, August, and beyond.
Steve Smith is the only WR assured touches when he lines up in the slot but the rest of the cast including Domenik Hixon, David Tyree, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham and talented rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden will all be battling for throws courtesy of Eli.
Another nugget from Gilbride was that the draft addition of TE Travis Beckum was done in hopes of creating mismatches on the opposing defenses. He feels that Beckum can be a dynamic component opposite fellow TE Kevin Boss because his size/speed combination will give linebackers fits in coverage.
Gilbride also stressed the ability to specifically create personnel changes on the other side of the field and exploit them by changing play calls when the match-ups are to the Giants’ advantage.
This is obviously what coaches do each game but Gilbride put an emphasis on having those versatile players in the lineup and Beckum appears to be one of them with his ability to play TE or H-Back.
Last season, the Giants stayed true to the philosophy that won them Super Bowl XLII—pressure the quarterback. Easier said than done with DE Michael Strahan retiring and his counterpart Osi Umenyiora suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
The rest of the cast filled in well, with Justin Tuck having a breakout season by contributing with 13 of the team’s 43 sacks placing them sixth in the league in that category.
They were not as opportunistic as they would have liked forcing 22 turnovers (20th in the league) and only one in the last month of the regular season, a sign of the late season swoon suffered by the entire team.
This season brings with it a change at the top as former LB coach Bill Sheridan takes over the defensive coordinator reins from the departed Steve Spagnuolo.
In a recent interview, Sheridan mentioned that he would be calling the plays from the coaches’ box as opposed to the sidelines like his predecessor. He mentions his business-like, organized approach as being the catalysts for this preference of game locale but we can expect schemes and philosophy to remain very much the same
As I have written before, a team can never have enough defensive linemen. The Giants’ additions of free agents Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and more importantly the return of Umenyiora from injury will provide more depth at that position than any team in the NFL.
The mad dash to the opposing quarterback will continue as Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Fred Robbins round out the most talented defensive line in the NFL.
Free agent addition linebacker Michael Boley provides the Giants with a pass-coverage option better than anyone on last year’s roster and his athleticism should increase the number of plays being made by the Giants’ weakest unit.
Sheridan also spoke about rookie Clint Sintim’s size and ability to rush the passer on third downs being an asset to the team right from the start of his career.
In the defensive backfield, uber-talented Kenny Phillips steps in for free-agent loss James Butler that should be considered an upgrade despite the relative lack of experience. Michael Johnson, Aaron Ross, and Corey Webster all fill the same roles in what is shaping up to be a potentially special unit.
The Giants will not be rocking the boat this season as the tweaks and additions that were made this offseason will be enough to get them back to the playoffs. The defense improves markedly with the return of Osi but the defining, potential title-winning change with this team will be how the wide receiver and tight end roles play out.
Regardless of who steps up into the top role, Eli will need to find a favorite target that can become a legitimate threat particularly deep in opponents’ territory in what Giants' coaches like to call the ‘Green Zone’.