Forget the Golden Globesit’s postseason awards time for the NFL!
The Pro Football Writers of America have been announcing the results of their postseason honors as chosen by their members all this week.
During Super Bowl week, the Associate Press, Pepsi, FedEx and others will be unveiling their postseason award winners as well.
Since the New York Giants probably won't be getting much love in the voting—there's not much to love about a 7-9 record—I thought it might be worth it to acknowledge those few players who made a forgettable season a little more tolerable to watch.
When a team’s offense finishes 28th in the NFL, there’s not much to get excited about.
Of course, it didn’t help that injuries played such a big factor in contributing to the derailment of the Giants’ season.
Still, there was one player who continuously stepped up, no matter what was going on around him.
I’m talking, of course, about receiver Victor Cruz, who finished his season with 73 receptions for 998 yards and four touchdowns.
Cruz, who often drew blanket coverage thanks to the inability of the other receivers and tight ends to help draw the safety away, scratched and clawed his way to make plays.
He was also one of the few receivers of whom you could say was consistently on the same page as quarterback Eli Manning.
Rewarded with a brand new contract before training camp, Cruz proved his worth by simply doing what got him the big money to begin with.
He cut back on his dropped passes—after two straight seasons with double-digit drops, he was credited with just five drops per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2013.
His big-play receptions (20 or more yards) declined—he had 10 this season, two fewer than he did in 2012—but overall, he still led the Giants receivers in big-play receptions, as he was responsible for 19.6 percent of those big plays.
As tempting as it might have been to give the nod to linebacker Jon Beason for all he brought to the defense, his former University of Miami teammate, safety Antrel Rolle, is probably more deserving of the honor.
After a slow start in which, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he received negative overall grades in three of his first six games, Rolle—who remember, was bothered by an early-year ankle injury that he refused to let keep him out of practice or games—picked up his pace.
Finishing as the Giants team leader with 95 tackles and six interceptions, Rolle was at his best against the run. According to PFF, he missed just three tackles in run defense, tying him for fourth fewest among safeties.
In coverage, Rolle allowed just one touchdown and finished with the most interceptions by a safety with six. He was also two picks shy of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman's league-leading eight interceptions.
Per Over the Cap, Rolle is again due to count for $9.25 million against the cap, same figure as last year.
At 31 years of age, he probably has several more good years left in him, and he would certainly be a welcomed presence in the Giants locker room given his leadership, durability and production.
After trying three times to make the starting middle linebacker job his, Mark Herzlich finally found his calling on special teams, a unit that was crying out for a playmaker.
Herzlich delivered just that. Finishing as the Giants team leader with 12 tackles (nine solo), Herzlich made a bunch of other plays that helped influence coverage in the Giants' favor.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Herzlich finished with a 3.5 overall grade on specials, the highest overall grade on the Giants outside of the two kicking specialists.
It remains to be seen if the Giants will retain the restricted free agent’s services for 2014—logic would dictate they would, though as I previously noted, I don’t think it will be at an original-round tender, which is projected to be upwards of $1.33 million in 2014.
However, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com points out, the Giants might have reservations about keeping a player just for special teams if they don’t trust them to start for an extended period if necessary.
If you thought that offensive lineman Justin Pugh as a reach in the first round last year, you’re probably not alone.
Elevated to the starting lineup after injuries hit the unit hard, Pugh not only justified his draft pedigree, he was also the lone bright spot on a Giants offensive line that, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), was the 29th worst in the NFL.
He started all 16 games at right tackle, becoming the first Giants rookie to start an entire 16-game season since defensive tackle Barry Cofield in 2006, and the first Giants’ first-round draft choice to do so since Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1981.
He started the season shaky—his Week 3 performance against Carolina was his worst—but he never seemed to make the same mistakes twice.
He was so good, in fact, that the coaches rarely gave him any kind of chip blocking help.
Pugh, named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team, was only flagged for three penalties all season long—two of which were illegal formation calls. That’s a testament to his technique and his attention to detail.
“My whole goal was just to contribute and help the team win in any way possible, if it was on special teams or as a starting right tackle,” Pugh told Giants.com senior writer Michael Eisen.
“I wanted to play my part and show these guys that I came here to play and play well.”
He did just that with aplomb.
When defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins was signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants to replace Chris Canty, I lauded the signing as “brilliant” for several reasons, among them, his versatility.
Often times the recipient of double-team blocks, Jenkins’ 31 tackles might seem like a measly contribution to the big picture. However, he was a big (no pun intended) reason others along the defensive line were able to enjoy the successes that they did.
Jenkins finished with eight tackles for a loss, tied for second on the team with defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
Jenkins also had two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, and he posted 5.0 sacks for -24 yards.
He expertly controlled his gaps, rarely letting anything get past him. He also did a good job with controlling the edge when he was moved to defensive end.
Although Jenkins suffered a few bumps and bruises that landed him on the injury report toward the end of the season, he didn’t miss any games.
In his current role, his stats will never be gaudy. However, there's little doubt that his presence had a positive effect on the improved run defense.
With all due respect to cornerback Terrell Thomas, whose return from back-to-back ACL surgeries is nothing short of amazing and certainly worthy of strong consideration for this category, I’m giving the edge to defensive end Justin Tuck.
Tuck, whose career was all but left for dead after he struggled through two seasons with assorted injuries, finally was in a position to where he could start his training on time.
What a difference it made.
The Giants’ second highest graded defender, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), finished as the team leader in sacks (11), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback hits (21).
Tuck, who won his first NFC Defensive Player of the Week award following his four-sack performance in Week 13 against Washington, gave himself the moniker “Mr. Almost” this season because, as he had explained to reporters, there were times during the season when he almost got more sacks.
Besides being able to train and not spend time letting his body heal, Tuck told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger that he didn’t change his approach to games last season.
"I really haven't done anything different than I have all year,” he said. “I feel the same. Just the opportunities are better. Took advantage of the opportunities.”