What Exactly Could Go Wrong for the Giants This Year?
An argument could be presented that the last time this much optimism extended throughout the Giants' fan base, media, and players was in 2003.
This nugget alone should provoke Giants fans to shudder and level their expectations. For those that are blessed enough to be unfamiliar with that season, the Giants finished the season at a miserable 4-12 and made the Ray Handley teams of the past look like the '72 Dolphins.
Will the 2009 squad falter in such a way? Highly doubtful. The only way this team's season will culminate in double-digit losses is if the New York Mets injury bug makes its away across the river and infects the Giants as it has the Mets.
In a period defined by the NFL's mediocrity, the Giants have too much talent, too much depth, and too much continuity to flounder into the depths of hell that the 2003 Giants experienced so suddenly.
With that said, there are circumstances that could deter the Giants from attaining the success many believe they are destined for. Like any other NFL team, there are certain phases of the Giants game that can be exposed and contribute to a disappointing season. Here are some, and not so obvious, potential problems the Giants could face this season.
1. Deja Vu All Over Again?
Osi Umenyiora knew something was up. So did the Giants' team doctors. In the beginning of the 2007 season opener in Texas Stadium, Umenyiora's knee was tweaked awkwardly and forced him to leave the game. He was able to come back the next week against Green Bay, but the injury hampered him throughout the season.
"I had to constantly ice it and take anti-inflammatories just to stay on the field," said Umenyiora. "It was painful then. There were things I couldn't do. I couldn't do lunges, I couldn't do squats, I couldn't jump high, I couldn't do a bunch of things without taking those medications."
After the unforgettable Super Bowl run highlighted by the defensive dominance, in part to Umenyiora's ability to fight through pain and hit opposing quarterbacks, the Week One knee injury appeared to be a distant memory. Except to Umenyiora and the doctors.
The pain remained and damage had been done, yet Umenyiora chose not to address it. As a result, his season was terminated in Week Three of the preseason on a play in which he wasn't touched. It was apparent this injury was inevitable.
Umenyiora's cohort, Justin Tuck, is in the midst of a similar experience. In November, he suffered an injury that provoked bone spurs to hamper him (and his performance) throughout the next three months.
Many thought that Tuck would be most inclined to accept surgery to ensure that his injury would be completely rectified. Not so fast. When asked a day after the season ended in a sobering 23-11 loss to Philadelphia, Tuck said he would decline surgery because he doesn't "like getting cut up."
Considering Umenyiora used similar logic and promptly had his knee collapse on him in the preseason, there is reason to worry the same fate may be in store for Tuck. With one awkward turn of the foot in the hundreds of battles he will have with offensive linemen in practice and in games, the spurs that were treated with mere rest may re-emerge and hamper Tuck in 2009.
The Giants do have incredible depth within their defensive line. However, this was not designed in order to protect against injuries. This unit was bolstered in order to provide the Giants with the luxury of having a seven-man rotation in the league's most physically demanding division.
If the Giants lose Tuck's services due to his stubbornness, it will be a blow to their overall chances.
2. The Replacements
Brandon Jacobs is not only convinced he'll be able to improve off his 1,100 yard, 15-touchdown season, but that he'll be getting more handoffs then the 219 he accumulated in 2009.
Two hundred and nineteen yards doesn't appear to be much, but it's a long shot for Jacobs. The Giants locked him up to a four-year contract extension in the offseason and are apt to keep him fresh for the final years of his deal.
More importantly, they want to keep him fresh for December and January when his punishing style wears down defenses that are already battling fatigue during the latter parts of the season.
Couple that with the inevitable nicks and bruises Jacobs suffers with his in-your-face running style and 220 carries is generally an optimistic expectation for Jacobs.
However, the Giants will predicate their offense off the running game more than ever this season, so there's at least 200 other carries that will be given elsewhere. And not to the guy who ran for 1,000 yards as Jacobs' backup last season.
That guy is Derrick Ward, and he was offered a boatload of cash by the Buccaneers in part from being the beneficiary of Jacobs blasting through the defense for four quarters. He took the money, and left the Giants with three talented, yet inexperienced running backs behind Jacobs.
Ahmad Bradshaw is the lead horse to start the race for the No. 2 slot on the depth chart, but that could change. Danny Ware, originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans in 2007, raised eyebrows in the 2008 preseason.
His most striking feature was that he was an exceptional downhill runner and smoothly kept his feet moving forward, reminiscent of his predecessor, Derrick Ward.
To be fair, Ware's performance was strictly against guys who will be lucky to make it on a UFL roster. Bradshaw has performed well in the brightest of spots against the toughest of defenses. Ware can't lay claim to such a feat, and thus it is Bradshaw's spot to lose.
However, there have been instances that Bradshaw stopped the heart of his fundamental-preaching coach by letting the ball flop around the turf for the defense to snatch.
Officially, these plays were not ruled fumbles but Bradshaw's incessant need to scrap for an extra yard has resulted in the ball squirting out nano seconds after he makes contact with the turf. This year, he may not get so lucky.
If Bradshaw is unable to hold onto the ball and Ware is unable to carry his preseason legend status over to the regular season, then the Giants may have a situation on their hands.
Fourth-round rookie Andre Brown would be next in line but he is unlikely to perform in his first season in blue. If none of these three step up and the onus is placed on Jacobs, this Giants rushing attack could lead to major problems for the rest of the team.
3. Cracks in the unbreakable force?
Remember when Joe Theismann declared the Giants to have the worst offensive line in the NFL? I don't either. And neither do defensive coordinators, who generally are unable to decipher a method that could vanquish the Giants dominating front five.
But in a position that demands maximum strength annually, it is hard for the same group of linemen to maintain success. And thus, father time may finally be ticking on the Giants offensive line.
David Diehl. Rich Seubert. Shaun O'Hara. Chris Snee. Kareem McKenzie. Only two combined Pro Bowl appearances, several 1,000 yard seasons, and a quarterback who has not missed a regular season game since 2005.
Although the line was stellar in 2008, there were red flags raised from different directions. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie's back has been acting up more frequently, which could mark the beginning of the end for him.
Left tackle David Diehl has struggled against dominant speed rushers, and that does not bode well in a division that contains Trent Cole, DeMarcus Ware, and Brian Orakpo if he reaches his potential.
The Giants addressed these potential issues by drafting William Beatty in the second round. However, many feel he is a project that is not ready for immediate success in 2009. This essentially leaves the Giants without a fallback if McKenzie's back continues to flare up and Diehl begins to be exposed on a more regular basis.
From top to bottom it's patently obvious that this Giants team has the ability to send out Giants Stadium with a Lombardi. But these issues serve as a reminder that there will be obstacles that have to be conquered in order for the Giants to attain greatness.
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