Call Them Big (Black and) Blue
The New York Football Giants may be 4-0, but ask any one of their fans: they're nervous.
Injuries have significantly sliced into this team's depth and are in danger of keeping them from making a serious Super Bowl run.
That being said, the team has not missed a beat, winning the first four games by basically going about their business, but losing key personnel at an alarming rate in the process.
In a nutshell...
The Giants are 4-0, defeating the Redskins, Cowboys, Bucs and Chiefs. So what, you say? We say the same thing, but remember, they didn't make the schedule and they also didn't lose to any of these teams. Keep in mind, they won three of these games on the road and are now 19-3 in their last 22 games away from Giants Stadium.
The Giants' lead the NFL in total defense, allowing only 232 YPG. Considering the competition, that's no big deal...... but when you consider they are operating under a new DC (Bill Sheridan) and have been without the services of Jay Alford, Aaron Ross and Clint Sintim thus far and Kenny Phillips, Kevin Dockery, Chris Canty and Michael Boley have either been placed on IR or missed significant time - that's saying something.
Last year, the Giants' historic rushing trio of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw averaged 5.0 yards per carry, creating confusion for defenses with their distinct contrasts in style.
This year, Jacobs and Bradshaw are off to good starts (Jacobs is 3rd in the NFC in rushing yards, Bradshaw is 6th), but the average is down to 4.2 YPC.
What's missing is the Ward contribution. The Giants promoted Danny Ware to that position, but he dislocated his elbow on the opening kickoff vs Washington. Rookie Andre Brown tore his Achilles in training camp and waiver pick-up Gartrell Johnson is still getting his feet wet in the offense.
Replacing WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer was perhaps the biggest concern coming into this season, but the combination of young receivers are quickly erasing those doubts.
Steve Smith the former USC offensive MVP, leads the NFL in receptions (34), receiving yards (411), receiving TDs (4) and first downs (22). His counterpart, Mario Manningham, has 306 receiving yards and is tied for the league lead in 20+ yard receptions with seven.
The wideouts. Manningham and Smith, of course, but don't forget this year's first round pick Hakeem Nicks. He's got big league moves.
The secondary. Phillips is gone for the year and Ross has not made much progress on his hamstring. In their absence, C.C. Brown, Terrell Thomas and free-agent rookie Bruce Johnson have stepped up and filled the bill.
The pass rush. You figure with Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants would be tearing QBs limb from limb. Instead it's been feast or famine. They have been getting tons of pressure, but only have 8 sacks over four games and five of those came last week vs the statuesque Matt Cassel.
The kicking game. K Lawrence Tynes is perhaps the most unpredictable player in the league. You never know what he'll do. This year he's missed three FGs inside 40 yards and his kickoffs are right out of a high school game in the mud. This week, the Giants began taking a look at some other kickers, perhaps a ploy to re-focus Tynes.
Believe it or not Tynes leads all NFL kickers in scoring with 41 points.
The red zone offense. The Giants have carried this frustrating trend over from last season. Thus far, they are 4-for-16 in the red zone, which is unacceptable considering the personnel they have. Is it the play calling? Yes. Is it execution? Yes.
Injuries...yes, this has become a REAL issue. Giant fans are very nervous right now. Injuries killed the Mets this year and the Giants' situation has an eerie and familiar taste to it.
Here's the score card through Week Four—on defense, DT Jay Alford and S Kenny Phillips are gone for the season to knee injuries. CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) and LB Clint Sintim (groin) have yet to play. CB Kevin Dockery (hamstring) missed two games. DT Chris Canty (calf) is still out. Bryan Kehl (finger)may miss this week and LB Michael Boley (knee) will miss the next four.
On offense, Manning has a sore right foot and it may impair his ability to throw the football. RB Andre Brown is on IR and Hakeem Nicks missed two games with a knee injury. Danny Ware (elbow) is still out. WR Domenik Hixon (knee) is working his way back. TE Kevin Boss is limping around on a sprained ankle.
Going forward...the Raiders come to town this week, and the Giants should be able to improve to 5-0, but after that, they may be in trouble unless they can get some of these bodies back on the field and producing.
The rest of the schedule is not easy, but nothing is ever easy for the Giants. They go to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Denver, Washington and Minnesota. They host Arizona, San Diego, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Carolina.
Prediction: after going 5-0, the Giants will go 7-4 in the final 11 games, that is, providing they solve some of those glaring issues.