A Dud in the Mud in Jersey?: Why New York Giants Must Be Confident in 2010 Squad
Next to the New Meadowlands sit the skeletal remains of the former Giants Stadium.
Popular belief states that construction crews with wrecking balls and large machinery caused the large patch of destruction and rubble at the foot of the brand new football palace.
Giants fans, however, know the truth. The stadium was crushed upon impact when the 2009 season, and any hopes of a Giants dynasty, came crashing back to earth last December.
The timing was not ideal for the team’s ownership. Two years ago at this time, the entire Metropolitan area and beyond was abuzz with Giants pride. PSLs would still have stung, but there would be some comfort in the belief that the Giants had suddenly become one of the most powerful teams of the last decade.
Now flash forward to a brand new stadium fit for a champion—a stadium so grand that loyal fans who have paid steep prices for season tickets for over 30 years are forced to discontinue their patronage because of outlandish seat licensing fees.
To add insult to injury, the team those fans are refinancing their homes to see is no longer an NFL powerhouse. The spark and the fire is gone, the flash and the sizzle avoided a la Mara tradition.
But it’s not over.
The old stadium bore your team’s name and cemented its spot as the primary New York franchise. Your new home is a 50-50 split between yourselves and a Jets team that is quickly rising up the NFL rankings. Many of their fans were spared the absurd licensing fees, and they have stockpiled talented players as if they were nuclear warheads in an arms race.
Common logic suggests that this year, of all years, could not be a rebuilding campaign. If you own a piece of the Giants, you cannot recede into the Jersey swamps and hope to resurge again in half a decade. The Giants couldn’t meekly stumble through this season with eyes on 2011 or later while the Jets opened up the New Meadowlands with another deep postseason run.
The Giants, however, have not made much noise...or more importantly, the noise many analysts felt needed to be made this offseason.
Was the team wrong to not bring in a veteran linebacker? Was it the right move to not draft another offensive weapon?
In order to understand the organization’s 2010 offseason, you have to examine the buildup that led to this “hot seat” year.
At the tail end of a tumultuous 2007 season, the kind of year Giants fans had come to expect, New York suddenly began to fire on all cylinders. A perfect balance of youth and experience, talent and depth crystallized and catapulted Big Blue into a true title fight with one of the strongest dynasties the league had ever seen.
The stage had been perfectly set. New York, playing the role of the rising, scrapping underdog, upset not only the AFC Champions but the true reigning supreme power in the NFL.
The roster would remain mostly intact, and nearly a year and an 11-1 record later, Big Blue was in fact the new team to beat in the NFL.
The perfect balance crumbled with Plaxico Burress’ firearm accident. The perfect chemistry now lacked a deep threat receiver, and the Giants lost the mojo needed to earn a second consecutive visit to the Super Bowl.
The team that had simply trampled over opponents with ease throughout the first three quarters of the season was reduced to a weak organization cowering on the ropes in a pathetic, Divisional weekend loss to the Eagles.
The 2009 collapse made certain that the next Giants team to win a championship would far from resemble the ‘07 roster. Despite a laundry list of critical injuries throughout the entire ‘09 campaign, many felt that external help was needed.
The defense proved to be the biggest disappointment of the campaign. In August it appeared that New York could very well possess the top defense in the league. All three starting-caliber defensive ends were healthy once again. Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard bolstered an interior D-line that was already formidable. The depth up front was unmatched on paper.
The linebacking corps was still anchored by a capable defensive captain in Antonio Pierce, and the secondary looked promising with a breakout year seemingly on tap for Kenny Phillips.
It would now seem that injuries rather than lack of talent have been diagnosed as the cause of last year’s disappointing finish, despite a public, verbal flogging of the roster by co-owner John Mara.
This is likely why the Giants surprised (and in some cases frustrated) fans and analysts alike this offseason. While the Jets stockpiled their arsenal of weapons by adding a unit of big name additions previously accomplished only in Madden Franchise mode, the Giants brought in only one marquee addition in Antrel Rolle. As an insurance policy for the still injured Phillips, Deon Grant was also signed.
But what of the middle linebacking spot? The Giants have had the privilege of playing with a reliable “quarterback of the defense” since 2005. It was assumed by all that a big name would be signed, traded for, or drafted.
It is now apparent that the Giants plan to promote from within. Jonathan Goff has received most of the first team reps thus far, but this early in the offseason it is still anyone’s race. Phillip Dillard out of Nebraska may have been a late round draft pick, but Antonio Pierce was never even drafted.
The Giants expect Michael Boley to play at a much higher level this season now that his legal issues and nagging injury problems seem to be behind him. The organization is also high on Clint Sintim, who will likely lock down the other outside spot.
The position that had perhaps caused the most concern last summer was wide receiver. The '09 Giants stubbornly broadcasted their content with a group of undersized, unproven receivers.
The gamble paid off as Steve Smith morphed from prototype slot receiver to a reliable primary target despite his small stature. Hakeem Nicks also made an immediate impact, while contributions from Domenik Hixon and even Derek Hagan helped New York’s offense.
Perhaps the cornerstone to the success of the receiving corps was the quantum leap Mario Manningham took in '09, vaulting from a four-catch rookie to a major threat. Manningham racked up 57 catches for 822 yards and five touchdowns.
Like ‘09, the Giants will be relying on a similar leap in 2010. If 6'6" Ramses Barden can mirror Manningham’s transformation from non-contributing rookie to major receiving threat (and the organization seems to truly believe that he can), than the team may be wielding a younger, stronger Plaxico Burress this fall.
While the receiving corps did surprise last season, their production, along with the rest of the offense’s production, experienced a sharp drop-off after beating the Raiders. The blame for the midseason skid that ultimately grounded Big Blue lay primarily in two areas that had once been the strongest. Injuries severely weakened the offensive line and rushing attack.
Fan favorite Rich Seubert, whose starting left guard spot will be in jeopardy this August, and right tackle Kareem McKenzie began to show their ages as nagging injuries severely hampered their level of play. Both veterans, especially Seubert, are in danger of losing their starting (and possibly roster spots) this August. It is almost a certainty that Will Beatty will be one of the starting five linemen on opening day.
Knee problems grounded Brandon Jacobs, who stumbled to a mere 835 yards in 2009—an over 200-yard drop-off from ‘08. While he claims to be back to full health, his word must be taken with a grain of salt. Even if he truly is completely healed, he will likely endure several bumps and scrapes as the season progresses due to his punishing, physical running style.
The true spark of the rushing attack will have to come from Ahmad Bradshaw, who has had both ankles mended this spring. Bradshaw, who had a huge 2007 when finally given an opportunity, was expected to have a breakout ‘09 after riding the bench most of '08 while Derrick Ward finished his New York career.
Injuries limited Bradshaw though. His effectiveness faded as his ankles and feet deteriorated, and after a couple big plays, he finished the season with only 778 yards rushing. On a promising note, he managed to notch seven touchdowns despite his bad wheels.
Lastly, Eli Manning’s play must improve. Statistically, Eli’s 2009 season was one of his finest. Statistics are meaningless without wins though. Manning’s struggles this year can likely be blamed on a weaker rush attack and an ailing offensive line. Should the offensive line regain an elite status (which will likely mean a partial personnel change), Manning may be able to have his best season thus far.
The fact remains, however, that no receiver has firmly established himself as a big deep threat. The field is not as stretched as it was when Burress wore blue. If the receiving corps as a whole can continue to improve, this too will help aid Manning, even if he has less time in the pocket than he had in years past.
Were the Giants right to have a low-key offseason? Can a “splash-less” draft and a relatively quiet free agency give New York the tools it needs to stay in stride with the cross-the-hall rivals in green? Training camp will shed much needed light on this situation.
Given the stakes of this season over all other seasons, it is likely that the Giants truly believe they will surprise people come September.
They’ve been wrong before.
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