Many have suggested reasons behind the New York Giants’ poor performance towards the end of last season, from Plaxico Burress’ injury and suspension to the defensive line’s lack of sacks. However, the answers are much more complex.
There were many factors that deserve a closer look and show how this affected the very foundation the team stood on.
One issue that the Giants had last season was offensive injuries. Kareem McKenzie has been dealing with what seems to be chronic back problems for the last couple of seasons, an injury the media mostly neglects.
This season, the effects of the injury continued, making it difficult for McKenzie to consistently perform down the stretch, in addition to restricting his pass blocking ability. This forced him to come out of games for rest.
Dominick Hixon was dealing with an injury in his ankle, keeping him out of a number of practices toward the end of last season. Brandon Jacobs, who is always the target of knee shots, missed a few games, lowering the effectiveness of Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The two running backs are good on their own, but Brandon Jacobs’ power allows him to wear down the defense, enabling the pair to use their agility and vision to take advantage of the opposition’s fatigue.
Injuries were not just an issue with the offense, but also with the defense. Justin Tuck by the end of his first season as a starter was dealing with a knee problem that hampered his ability on the field.
This was the same for Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins who both sustained similar knee injuries.
Finally, Mathias Kiwanuka stopped recording tackles and/or sacks in games, a consequence, I believe, from the wear and tear of his first full season as a starter. All these events weakened the line to the point where the linebackers were more exposed to the 300 pound linemen on the opposite side of the field.
The Giants’ strong-men were not healthy enough to consistently hold their blocks, allowing the backers behind them to move around freely and make plays. This especially affected the play of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.
As we saw with other players in his position, Ray Lewis (who lost Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa) or Brian Urlacher (who lost Ted Washington and Keith Taylor), they were more exposed to their opponent’s offensive lines, which prevented them from performing at their best.
This also affects the safeties, because they have to be more wary of the run, leaving them out of position on certain pass plays.
Amani Toomer, as I alluded to in my Steve Smith article, presented another problem.
He continued to regress toward the end of the season, and should have been replaced with Smith sooner. Toomer has regressed with age, losing lateral speed, acceleration, and agility.
It doesn’t help that he’s led the team in dropped passes for the last couple of seasons. This, of course, is an issue of faulty coaching.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride did not adjust his plan for the offense quickly enough once Plaxico Burress was out of the lineup. Also, the playbook the Giants had before Burress’ departure had been designed around his talents and ability to attract double teams, and sometimes, triple teams.
This would open things up for the other receivers, especially loosening traffic over the middle where Steve Smith operated from the slot.
However, with Plaxico gone, defenses (especially on third downs) began to cover the middle and put more of an emphasis on Steve Smith, who, in my opinion, was and is the Giants’ best overall receiver.
Hixon, who is three inches smaller than Burress—but who can run better routes—did not have a playbook that catered to his skill set. The offense finally made the adjustments needed to suit the skill set of the current group of wide receivers in the playoff game against the Eagles, but the change came too late.
The Giants’ receivers (Smith and Hixon) were getting behind the defensive backs all day, but just like Donovan McNabb had a hard time getting the ball to his receivers, so did Eli, due to inclement weather.
Scheduling was another obstacle the Giants faced. The team’s bye week was in week four. With their bye week having occurred so early, the only options the players had for rest wouldn’t happen until the end of the season, be it with a first or second seed bye or a Super Bowl bye.
In addition, particularly after week seven, starting with the Steelers and onward, the team faced fierce competition, requiring them to bring their best every single week.
Every issue I’ve mentioned above is paramount to the Giants’ slip down the stretch, and are, in my opinion, necessary to understand, so that the team’s recent draft picks are understood.
The Giants do not need to trade away the house for a tall veteran receiver, or younger players, and observing what the Giants did this past off season has led me to believe that they recognize this as well.
By drafting William Beatty in the second round, they are giving McKenzie and his chronic back injury, a break.
With their new offensive strategy in place, the team didn’t need to re-sign Toomer, deciding to move on with the new generation of receivers that they have now.
In addition, they’ve acquired two receivers via draft to bring in more talent, and create fiercer competition.
Whoever gets the first team, second team, and third team receiving slots will obtain those roles by earning it through competition and not hand-outs.
They addressed the defensive line issues by signing free agents, allowing the players to rotate, keeping them fresh. But more importantly, they are more likely to be healthy and ready for a post-season push.
This should also help keep bodies off the linebackers, which will allow them to move around and make plays. Based on these changes, I predict the Giants have the ability to make it back to the Superbowl this coming season.