If And Only If: New York Giants' Postseason Hopes Hinge on Five Things
If somebody had told you three months ago that, 12 weeks into the season, the New York Giants would be 6-5 and one false move away from missing the postseason, you would have called them crazy.
Sure, there was no telling how the young receiving corps would hold up over a full season. And sure, you could have made a similar case about Ahmad Bradshaw, who was slated to shoulder a much heavier workload than in seasons past.
But c'mon! This is the Giants we're talking about here! The team with the deepest defensive line in football! The team with the reloaded linebacking corps and the young, sharp secondary! How could they be 6-5 with just five games left in the season?
It turns out that most of the depth Jerry Reese acquired was shallower than expected.
In reserve roles, both Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard have barely been competent.
In pass protection, C.C. Brown has been an unmitigated disaster.
The Giants' best off-season acquisition, linebacker Michael Boley, has spent more time on the trainer's table than on the field, and there are reports that he injured his back this week during practice.
So with their much-ballyhooed depth exposed, several key starters lost for the season, and their unfavorable record, the Giants need some luck to make the post-season. Specifically, they need the following five things to work out:
Jonathan Goff's Start at Middle Linebacker
The Giants have all but announced that second year player Jonathan Goff will start at middle linebacker this Sunday.
With Antonio Pierce out for the season and Chase Blackburn looking like the career special teams ace he will always be, it's not like the team had a lot of options. But Goff must prove that he is capable of starting for the rest of the year.
Goff is significantly faster than Pierce and stronger than Blackburn, two assets that will come in handy against the dangerous offenses New York faces in the coming weeks. But he is also extremely raw, and it's uncertain whether he'll be able to match wits with opposing quarterbacks.
The Pass Rush Needs To Pick It Up
Every football fan goes into a season worried about a handful of things. For Giants fans, the pass rush didn't make anybody's list.
The front four is the core of this team's defense, and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan's schemes are founded on its ability to be disruptive throughout the game.
At this point, they just look overrated.
Bill Sheridan is toying with the idea of benching both Fred Robbins and Osi Umenyiora. Rocky Bernard is barely involved at all. Justin Tuck has been hobbling around since Flozell Adams tripped him in Week two.
But if they can get back to wreaking havoc, a lot will fall back into place for this team.
The Offensive Line Must Play Younger
In a game like football, a player can cross the line from experienced to old in a heartbeat, and this year, the Giants' offensive line looks like it's crossed over.
Last year, the Giants were among the league leaders in time of possession. They ate up the clock with long, sustained drives that tired out opposing defenses and made opposing offenses one-dimensional.
This year, they are seventh, a number that's been artificially inflated by dominating performances against Tampa Bay and Oakland.
This year, they seem less athletic in their pulling and trapping, and the running game, once the best in the league, is averaging 30 fewer yards per game on just two fewer attempts. They are tied for 19th in rushing touchdowns.
With the winds beginning to swirl in East Rutherford, it is imperative that Diehl, McKenzie, Seubert, Snee, and O'Hara turn back the clock.
Someone Else Needs to Slip Up Down the Stretch
Like the Eagles last year, sometimes you need a little help from your friends to make the playoffs.
In the Giants' case, having Green Bay, Atlanta, or Philadelphia falter in these final five weeks would make their playoff push a lot easier.
As of right now, the Packers and the Eagles hold the two NFC Wild Card spots, and with the Giants slated to face all three divisional opponents, plus Carolina and Minnesota in their final five games, their prospects for running that table are slim at best.
So if, say, the Packers could throw the Giants a bone by losing their remaining road games (and, given that those are against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Arizona, there would be no shame in that), that'd be greatly appreciated.
Bill Sheridan Needs To Get Comfortable Upstairs
Despite the hunky-dory remarks he made this week at a Q&A session with reporters, it seems pretty clear that first-time coordinator Bill Sheridan is out of his depth.
Irrespective of whether or not the Giants make a late push, there will be many fans calling for his job when the season ends.
So with the season hanging in the balance, Sheridan should make himself as comfortable as possible by moving up into the coaches box like he'd originally planned to.
It's a little unclear why Sheridan caved in to his players' off-season demands that he be on the sideline during games, but at this point it's also clear that it was a bad move.
Players like Danny Clark and Tuck are on record saying they respect Sheridan's analytical and tactical skills. Hopefully, a move up to the box will free those skills up in time for one last run by the Giants.