When the story of the 2009 NY Giants is in the books, and that will be very soon, what will be the back story? Since the beginning of training camp, actually since mini-camp, the story of this team has been injuries. However, once the season commenced, it seemed the adjustments that are also required during an NFL season were not made.
Injuries are a part of every team's season. That is the main reason why teams draft and acquire players for depth. Let's look at the Giant defense and the impact injuries played on the various personnel packages.
Chris Canty —Canty was expected to be an impact player, particularly against the run. He was injured coming into camp, which was finally diagnosed as a hamstring tear and really was never the same. His first appearance was not until week nine against the Chargers, and has had a limited impact.
Rocky Bernard —Another free agent signing added to shore up the interior and provide insurance that both Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield may not return to full strength. The injury occurred during OTA's and caused him to miss almost all of training camp. Bernard is on pace to finish with his lowest tackle totals since 2003, his second year in the league.
Jay Alford —As camp was wrapping up, Alford tore his MCL and ACL. Alford was looking great in camp and was expected to make an impact as an interior lineman against both the run and pass. Jay also was the long snapper on special teams. His absence was missed, particularly with the injuries to Canty and Bernard.
Michael Boley —Another of the offseason free agent signings by Jerry Reese, who was expected to be the player he was for Atlanta two years ago. Boley missed a significant amount of training camp with a hip injury. In June, Boley was diagnosed with a Torn Labrum, similar to A-Rod's injury. This forced him to miss almost 10 weeks of training camp.
Boley was an impact player in the first game against Dallas but soon after went down with a torn meniscus. This caused him to miss another four weeks during the season. In all, Boley has played in 10 games and has 76 tackles, 1.0 sack and 7 passes defensed. Never has he played less than 16 games coming into this season. Even with the injuries Boley has been one of the most effective players on the defensive side of the ball.
Kenny Phillips —This may have been the most debilitating of all the injuries the Giants defense suffered in 2009. Phillips was having a break out season at the safety position. He was playing hard nosed, and very instinctive. He was on pace for a possible pro-bowl with 13 tackles and 2 interceptions after two games.
Taking Kenny out of the lineup for the season put a huge hole in the defensive backfield, a hole that was never replaced. There is a question whether Phillips will return to that level of effectiveness, due to the nature of the injury.
Aaron Ross —Ross has had hamstring injuries all year long, going back to training camp as well. Ross missed the first nine games and upon his return was forced to play both Safety and Corner, his natural position. Due to the porous Giants defense, Ross was asked to learn a new position mid-season.
In all, prior to being placed on IR this past week, Ross appeared in five games. Another player who was expected to make a huge contribution, missed most of the season and training camp due to injuries.
Corey Webster —Webster is currently out with a knee injury and has played in 13 games this year, with 51 tackles and 12 passes defensed. Last year, he had a career high of 24 passes defensed. Webster, more than anyone, was impacted by the loss of Phillips. As the Giants best and most experienced corner, he did not have Kenny Phillips behind him, which took away Webster's aggressiveness.
Webster looked consistently lost out there, and the most glaring game was against the Chargers when he gave up the winning touchdown to Vincent Jackson. He also has been beaten most of the year, which looking back may have been the point where the season was lost.
Antonio Pierce —Pierce has missed the last seven games with a bulging disk in his neck. More than anything it is his leadership that is sorely missed. Pierce is clearly the Quarterback of the defense, and has the ability to read offenses and change the defensive call at the line. This was no more evident than the first Dallas game, where his audible, resulted in the Tony Romo interception which gave the Giants an early lead.
Pierce has come under fire for his diminished skills, but he is still the smartest player on the field.
Justin Tuck —Tuck has been playing all season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which caused him to miss the second half of the first Dallas game. With Tuck out in the second half of that game, the Dallas rushing attack piled up the yards against the Giants. The defensive woes of this team were first seen in the Dallas game and were further highlighted against the Saints.
Tuck's numbers are definitely down, though he is the closest thing they have to an on field leader. Tuck will have his lowest sack total since taking over as a regular in 2007. The defensive line rotation plan was probably going to have the greatest impact on Tuck, since he would be able to use his speed to get to the QB.
Osi Umenyiora —Osi was returning from a season ending knee injury during the 2008 training camp. As most people know, it takes a year for a player to return from a serious knee injury. Osi has been the centerpiece of many of the problems because of his lack of sack production, as well as his communication issues with Coach Sheridan. This may have resulted in his demotion to be only on the field on passing downs.
The list of injuries is eye-popping. All of these players that have been lost, except for Rocky Bernard, are all pro-bowl caliber players. Add to that the returns of Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins from offseason surgery, and a new defensive coordinator in Bill Sheridan. If you look at the big picture, it is no surprise that the Giants are out of the playoffs, despite the play of Eli Manning.
Many have pointed to Bill Sheridan as the reason for the demise of the Giants defense. I have been one who believed that Sheridan does not have the same communication skills that Spags had with his players. This began in training camp, when Sheridan planned on sitting in the press box to call the game, but Coughlin demanded he remain on the field.
This may have severely hampered Sheridan's style. Also, the number of practices and games missed by injured players starting in training camp cannot be discounted. A successful defensive scheme relies on reps and communication among the players, beginning in training camp. I am not saying Sheridan should return, but perhaps the injuries cannot be discounted.
The positive side is that many young players have been forced to step up and be productive, something that will help them going into next season. Unfortunately, the in season and in game adjustments required when players are injured were not made. All teams deal with injuries, but the volume on the Giants defense has been huge. The lack of adjustments however does point to the coaching staff.
I believe that Sheridan may not be the scape goat. In fact, Justin Tuck believes that Sheridan should return and has said so publicly. That is something that cannot be ignored by his teammates, coaches and management.
This story will unfold next week. I am expecting the Giants to be beaten by the Vikings, a nearly desperate team trying to regain its swagger. The Giants defense will be the unwitting foil to regaining that swagger.
Let's hope that the Giants can right the ship and return to its NFC East leadership position in 2010.