Super Bowl or bust.
This is not coming from some reporter or an avid fan. This comes from the team's general manager. When asked to deliver his opinion on this upcoming season, Jerry Reese responded, "We have enough to win, win big and win it all."
The New York Giants have a consensus top five team with one of the deepest rosters in the league. This team is not without questions. How the Giants respond will determine if they return to the Super Bowl.
Antonio Pierce, more than any returning player, has the most to prove in 2009. From all reports, he is a prideful man who is desperate to remove the memory of the last five games of the season. Pierce is looking for an extension to the six-year contract that he signed in 2005, so a career season at age 31 is possible.
He stands to benefit the most from the improvements on the defensive line and the modifications to the defensive playbook, particularly with Michael Boley or Bryan Kiehl covering running backs.
Kevin Gilbride is the coach on the hot seat. The Giants were a high-scoring team in 2008, but few remember because over the last five games, the offense imploded. The Giants did not produce a 200-yard passing game over that period and if not for a heroic performance by Ward against the Panthers, the Giants would have not secured home field advantage.
The offensive game plan must improve in several areas. Foremost is the Giants' play calling in the Red Zone. The team was middle of the pack in Red Zone Efficiency and far too often the opposing team knew what was coming.
Starting week one against the Redskins, the team must learn to execute when the running game is not working on all cylinders. Albert Haynesworth and company will make it difficult for the offensive line to reach the second level.
A smart passing game centered around quick slants, screens, and safe passes out of the backfield will allow the skill position players to make plays. This will improve a second metric Yards After Catch that will go a long way to keeping defenses honest.
Eli Manning has to step up as well. While Gilbride bore a lot of the blame for the Giants' loss to the Eagles, Eli had perhaps his worst game as a professional. The Eagles were so in sync with his cadence that they were in the backfield as the ball was snapped.
Eli needs to improve two areas of his game, and they are both technical in nature. Eli must improve throwing into the wind by throwing tighter spirals. Eli must also improve his accuracy. There are far too many high and wide throws that lead to missed opportunities.
If the Giants are one of the top teams in the league, it is necessary to have a decisive home field advantage. Throwing an accurate, tight spiral into or with the wind is a key to building that advantage.
Lastly, Manning has made incremental improvements each year, but has yet to have a defining season. It is time for a complete season that will put him into the conversation of the best quarterbacks in the league, not just the best-paid. Thirty touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 3,800+ yards, and a completion percentage around 63 percent should do it.
You Will Know My Name
Ramses Barden has been the story of training camp so far. This small school product is changing daily the expectations for the Giants. He is catching everything thrown his way, using his size advantage for superior positioning.
Barden has shown elusiveness at the line, allowing him to break free for plays down the sideline or via the slant. He will clearly be in the Red Zone packages with the potential for so much more. A 10-touchdown season is definitely a possibility.
Terrell Thomas has come on strong in his second season, showing a nose for the ball and excellent hands. In today's NFL, having three solid cornerbacks is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. At the end of 2009, Thomas should lead the team in interceptions. He will provide a strong push for both starters, particularly Aaron Ross who struggled in 2008.
Under the Radar
Chris Canty has been overshadowed by the return of Osi Umenyora and star Justin Tuck. Make no mistake, the Giants paid Canty a lot of money to be a difference maker as both an end and tackle.
The ability to pressure the quarterback up the middle was the reason that the Giants were able to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Canty will be needed to not only rush the passer, but to use his wingspan to disrupt the passing game with deflections.
The first challenge for Canty is against his former club in week two. Romo (and McNabb) is the type of elusive quarterback that has given the Giants fits in the past. If he is unable to break containment, his effectiveness goes down. Romo's favorite target is TE Witten. Canty needs to make his presence known early and often by deflecting balls in his direction and collapsing the pocket up the middle.
The right outside linebacker position will be something that will be under constant scrutiny in 2009. Bryan Kiehl will start the season will likely continue to hold it until Michael Boley is better able to pick up the defensive scheme/get healthy.
Both players have the speed to cover running backs and tight ends. Kiehl will be tested early against the Redskins who will throw to Cooley, Portis, or Betts out of the backfield.
Sinorice Moss, the former second round pick, has failed to live up to expectations. He has already been passed by rookies Ramses Barden and it looks like Hakeem Nicks is nearly there as well.
Moss should be featured in the team's opening games against the Redskins and Cowboys. He must produce immediately or he will find himself buried on the depth chart and finish his Giants career as a bust.
Lawrence Tynes is in the middle of a contract and is the lone kicker in camp. Why is he on his last chance? At some point this season, the Giants will need to win a game with a last second field goal. Tynes effectively sat out the year last season and there is concern by many a Giant fan that he is up to the job. If he struggles early, there will be calls for a change.
The backups on the offensive line are also on their last legs. Other than William Beatty, there are no guarantees for spots on this roster. The Giants have been fortunate that the starters have played about 95 percent of the snaps for the last two years.
It is highly doubtful that the Giants can go through another complete season without an injury to the offensive line.