After looking like the best team in the entire league at the end of Week 5, the New York Giants have come down to earth...and then some.
New York is heading into Week 9 as losers of three straight, with far from a gimme game against the 4-3 San Diego Chargers at the Meadowlands Sunday.
The offense and defense have been equally out of sync the past three weeks and fans are searching for answers before officially pressing the panic button.
After stepping back and looking at the big picture of the Giants season, there are two huge reasons for fans to be optimistic as the Giants head into their bye after this week's contest.
1. The Return of Injured Defensive Stars
The loss of Micheal Boley in the Giants' Week 4 contest at Kansas City has proved to be extremely costly.
Boley was brought in by GM Jerry Reese to add speed to a pressure-oriented defense. With Boley's speed, the safeties were able to play conservative in pass coverage, knowing he would have the range to cover the flats.
With Boley out, teams are taking full advantage, passing underneath on the Giants, then waiting for the safeties to help underneath. When the strong safety bites, (usually C.C. Brown) teams have gone up top and burnt the Giants through the air. Just ask Marques Colston and DeSean Jackson.
With Boley returning as early as this week and no later than Week 11 after the Giants' bye, significant pressure will be taken off C.C Brown and the secondary.
Besides Boley, the Giants have been without free-agent acquisition Chris Canty and arguably their best cornerback, Aaron Ross, all year.
While Ross' hamstring injury remains a mystery, it is suspected that the injured Canty (calf) has the same return timetable as Boley.
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound defensive tackle can not only knock down a ton of passes at the line of scrimmage, but also will provide rest to positional colleagues Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield, who have been ineffective by their standards all year.
The return of Canty will also allow defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan to get back to rotating players in on the defensive line. Remember when the Giants' defense was at its peak in Super Bowl XLII? It was because of constant pressure and fresh legs on the defensive line.
2. The Maturation of the Hakeem Nicks
It was an issue coming into the season; who would step up as the Giants' No. 1 receiver?
While Steve Smith seemed to definitively answer this question after the first five weeks, with yards and reception numbers at the top of the league, the question is being brought up again. This time, there may be a new answer.
Rookie Hakeem Nicks has been the only bright spot in the Giants three-game skid, averaging over 82 yards a game with two touchdowns in that span.
Eli Manning has shown increased trust in Nicks and his emergence as a big-play receiver opens up so much for the rest of the offense.
Smith can now get back to playing in the slot, where he has been the most comfortable his entire career, especially on third downs. Nicks may also open space up for a running game that, whether Giants fans want to admit it or not, has not been the same since losing big-play threat Plaxico Burress.
If the run can get back on track, it takes a ton of pressure off the struggling and possibly injured Eli Manning.
Manning has had a drastically better passer rating throwing on play action. If Nicks can take defenders away from the line and open up the run game, he may be the direct beneficiary when Eli Manning goes up top off of play fakes.
We have seen in the past that when right, the Giants will go as far as Eli Manning takes them. As fans saw in the 2007 playoff run, when he has the right weapons and gets defensive help, positive results usually follow.
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