Three Early Surprises In Young 2009 Giant Season

Sean CouchContributor IOctober 2, 2009

CHICAGO - AUGUST 22: Mario Manningham #82 of the New York Giants runs with the ball as Alex Brown #96 of the Chicago Bears pursues during a pre-season game on August 22, 2009 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Giants 17-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Watching the 2009 Giants reminds me of a basketball team on a fast break and then turning around on defense and instituting a smothering press defense to disrupt any continuity their opponent might seek to find.

In their first three games, components of this philosophy have been visible. Against Washington, their defense pressed, limiting Washington to 51 yards on 20 carries after one long 34-yard Clinton Portis run.

At Dallas, they fastbreaked, scoring 33 points with their two starting receivers catching 20 balls for 284 yards. They put it all together in week three, shutting out Tampa Bay while going over 200 yards on ground.

Presently the Giants are seventh in scoring offense and fourth in scoring defense. Three players who have benefited from the uptempo style are DB Bruce Johnson, WR Mario Manningham, and QB Eli Manning.

All three are players who do their best work in rhythm and on the fly, improvising, creating on the run. Credit Tom Coughlin for recognizing their strengths and putting each of them in a position to dominate.

Bruce Johnson, the undrafted corner from Miami, has garnered the trust of Coach Coughlin immediately as a rookie, earning time as a nickle back starter. His skill level was immediately recognized in camp, with coaches whispering that he had super-solid man-to-man skills.

He played solidly against the Redskins, ran back an interception back against the Cowboys, and displayed stellar positioning against the Tampa Bucs, batting down two third-down balls thrown his way.

Although he's played only three games, the non-drafted free agent evokes images of former Pro-Bowl cornerback Mark Haynes, who was known for his strong man-to-man coverage skills.

If Johnson continues on this track, the Giant backfield coaches might consider converting Aaron Ross to a safety position to keep the best athletes on the field at all times.

I'm not trying to put Bruce in Canton, but his body language and play making ability makes him a player who should remain on the field even when CBs Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery return this week.

The second surprise has been the game breaking play of Mario Manningham. Manninghan has demonstrated something that I haven't seen from a Giant receiver in several years—the ability to make one-on-one moves after the catch in space with repeated success.

On four occasions this year, Manning has stepped back and thrown it straight down the line of scrimmage to the second-year pro and watched him go "Chris Paul" on his opponent.

The scary thing about this whole receiver equation is that Steve Smith is having a Pro Bowl-level year so far, and I know you might think I'm crazy, but the recovering Hakeem Nicks might end up a better player than both of them. You heard it here first.

Finally, Eli Manning is looking like "Mr. Unphaseable." The Giants are remaining in the shot gun and forcing teams to run with them, seeing if they can deal with the battering of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw as their shifty, deceptively fast receivers make plays.

Manning is comfortable in the gun and at ease throwing when the defense sells out on the blitz. And so far, he has eliminated the infamous ducks he used to throw in the second and third quarters.

Eli looks hawk-eye focused, and if the running game remains solid, the Giants, who are known for their defense, can become a team on an offensive fastbreak all season.

Look for the Giants to set a record this year, scoring points early and often as the defense seeks to regain the blitzing and sacking form they are known for.