Last season was an emotional roller coaster ride for the New York Giants and their fans. Coming into the season the biggest question was who could possibly replace Tiki Barber, who accumulated 33% of the Giants total offense in 2006. They handled it by using four different Running Backs, but Jacobs ran for 1,009 yards with a 5.0 yards per carry, second in the NFC to Adrien Peterson. Derrick Ward caught 28 balls out of the backfield and averaged 4.8 yards per carry before being lost for the season with a broken leg. Rueben Droughns lead the Giants with six rushing touchdowns. The back who had the biggest impact in the post season though was Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw was in coach Coughlin's dog house until Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills in which he had a break away 88 yard touchdown run to help the Giants clinch a playoff bid. He then led the Giants in the post season rushing yards. Joe Buck described Bradshaw as "In comes Ahmad Bradshaw making a difference like he does every week for the Giants". The Giants last year battled through adversity with every analyst doubting their chances of winning. Only one analyst on the Fox NFL pre-game show picked them to win a game, Terry Bradshaw picked them to win the NFC title game.
Question 1: Which Eli Manning will we see?
Eli Manning was the whipping boy for the brutal New York City media, every single loss was pinned on his inconsistancy. In the post-season though Manning really started to play consistently for the first time in his career. This post season run though was fueled by his week 17 game in which he threw 4 touchdowns even in a loss, this game proved to Eli and his teammates that they could be great, and that Eli could make some plays down the football field. The week before this though Manning played as poorly as I have ever seen a QB play, he looked as though he had never played the position before. This season though, will Manning be able stop throwing interceptions? I have called for Manning to improve on consistency, maybe his post season play can give him the shot of confidence that he doesn't need to live in his brother's shadow. In the five games last season against the Patriots and Cowboys Manning threw 13 Touchdowns and 5 interceptions. This could put Manning at around 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions if this pace was continued for a whole season. It should help Eli Manning that Plaxico Burress will be able to play on 2 good ankles instead of 1. If Manning has the confidence to make the throws Burress could put even better numbers than he did last year, which is saying something considering he had 70 catches, 12 of them for touchdowns. Overall I think we will see a much improved Manning because he has all of the confidence in the world after defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. No one can ever doubt Eli Manning again because when the game is on the line he makes the plays neccessary to win the game.
Question 2 Can The Giants perform in New Jersey?
As crazy as it is for those of you who don't know the team formally known as the New York Football Giants, play in New Jersey. Last season the Giants went 3-5 at Giants Stadium. The Giants though closed out the season winning 11 straight away from New Jersey and they won a game every time they went on the road. It is called home field advantage for a reason, but for the Giants last year they didn't enjoy home cooking or sleeping in their own beds. The Giants though need to take advantage of their out of division home opponents which include: the Panthers, Bengals,Ravens, Seahawks. The only team on that schedule that the Giants should have trouble with is Seattle. Last year the Giants only went 1-2 against their division rivals inside the Meadowlands. It is tough to rely on winning all of your games on the road, so the Giants must win the games that they need to at home.
Question 3: Can Tom Coughlin continue to keep his players motivated?
Adversity, us against the world is what will help motivate the Giants against complacency. Tom Coughlin's major motivation this year was given out on a training camp t-shirt with the quote "Talk is Cheap Never Satified". The Giants shouldn't just be happy to have won the Super Bowl this year, but they should want to become the first team since the 1997-1998 Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl. Tom Coughlin before the Super Bowl said his belief of success is team above self which helped propel them to becoming the most unlikely of champions. Last year Coughlin did something that not many 61 year old coaches would do and that is change his coaching philosophy to become more of a players coach. The players really responded to him even after the teams 0-2 start. The Giants players now have confidence in their coach and communication between players and coaches will no longer be a problem after the leadership council formed prior to last season.
Question 4: How will Justin Tuck and the Defensive Line perform?
Justin Tuck performed at the highest level in Super Bowl XLII recording 2 sacks on Tom Brady. With all due respect to Eli Manning most experts considered Justin Tuck to have been the MVP. The Giants pass rush was the key to Giants winning the Super Bowl. Justin Tuck lined up usually inside at a 3- technique and on the Nose Tackle with Umeyora and Strahan rushing from the outside. Tuck will now have to take on double teams, because he is the elite pass rusher in Spagnuolo’s high pressure system. Justin Tuck has all of the physical skills needed to succeed, but it will be tough for him to generate the pressure necessary to win games unless the whole DL is getting after the QB. The Giants showed in the Super Bowl that an effective pass rush can be able to make the greatest big game QB look frustrated for the first time in his career. Mathias Kiuwankuka will now be shifted back to DE after the loss Umenyiora for the season. He had 4.5 sacks until being lost for the season against the Lions. Kiuwanuka was the 32nd overall pick in the 2006 draft, so that is shown what Ernie Acoursi thought of him. On the interior the Giants return both starters from the 2007 season in Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins. These players showed that they were able to get a constant pressure up the middle as well as being able to take on double teams to free up defenders so that Pierce and his linebacking crew could make the tackles. The Giants DT also brings back Jay Alford who had a sack in the closing seconds against Tom Brady. The Giants DL will still be effective though, Steve Spagnuoulo is a pass rushing guru, therefore they should be able to still apply enough pressure on the QB. The Giants also will still stop the run as they did last year. Coming into the NFC title game last year, Ryan Grant had accumulated 210 yards on the ground the week before, but the Giants held him in check to under 30 yards on the ground. This Giants team should have a chance to be in contention and possibly get back to the Super Bowl by playing the disrespect card, getting after the QB and watching Eli Manning take a jump and become an elite Quarterback.