After week two in 2007, sports writers were endlessly tossing around the word “fire” wondering if that will be Tom Coughlin’s fate by the end of the month.
After week two in 2008, sports writers are wondering about the same word, only in a different context. Who should be labeled as fire in the newly patented Earth, Wind, and Fire© label the Giants three running backs have received. Brandon Jacobs is Earth, but no one can name Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward. Who deserves to be fire, and who deserves to be wind?
So tell me, which one of those problems would you rather have?
Label them whatever you want, these guys are having a blast with it. These three backs can start for any team, but they are all equally happy watching each other break the will of opposing defenses then the other guy going in for the kill.
The 11 guys on the other side of the ball would disagree with this, but the Giants running game istheir greatest strengthright now. Eli Manning is turning into a fine quarterback, but he thrives on methodical drives witha good balance of running and passing. The aggressiverunning style of all three backs punishes defenses and allows Manning to employ his terrific play-action fake, and be effective on some intermediate, or even downfield passes. It helps the defense too, draining time off the clock and keeping the defense fresh. Antonio Pierce said after the opening game that Brandon Jacobs was their best defender of the week. His monstrous game kept them fresh and able to hold the Redskins to seven points.
It would be remiss to completely ignore this Giants defense though. While only six starters from the Super Bowl started on opening day, the Giants appear to havethose holes filled with more than capable talent. And they still have defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuola. Before the playoff game against Dallas, I believed that if the Giants lost he would be gone. I thought the same thing before Green Bay, and thought it was inevitable he would be gone after being the general in the greatest defensive performance in NFL history.
But it didn’t happen, and now they have the bulk of their defense returning under their second year in the complex scheme. Their tremendous comfort level is noticeable, and the defense has given up 20 points in their first two games. What is so striking about their defense is they seldom miss a tackle, and their speed is incredible. That’s a combination that will have them in the top 5 in most defensive rankings come December.
Their ability to play their best ball in gut check time can't be ignored either. The Giants played nine games that were decided within under ten points. Including the playoffs, the one game they lost was to the Patriots in the last game of the regular season. The defense's ability to step up was incredible, and the offense was always there for key drives when it was needed most. In a league defined by parody, the most important aspect for any team is ability to win close games. If the Giants expand on their 2007 results in gut-check time, they'll be a team no one wants to play in big games.
So I’ve written over fiveparagraphs about the Giants, and I haven’t gone in-depth Eli Manning yet? Wow! My stance on Eli has been pretty firm since 2006, his second full year starting. He’s a good quarterback, who is snake-bitten by the critical mistake. Some of his struggles were attributed to very poor play calling by John Hufnagel; others were injuries to his wide receiver corps the entire 2007 season. Keep in mind, by November Plaxico Burress was on leg and Amani Toomer was in the end of his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in 2006. Steve Smith, the wide out from USC who had a sensational post-season missed that time span too. And of course, he wasn’t as great as he was made out to be. After reading Ernie Accorsi’s book, The GM, I realized it wasn’t impeccable accuracy and a golden arm that had Accorsi enamored; it was his ability to play when it mattered most. From his rookie year on, Giants fans all were in unison that he played best when the pressure was on. That’s why it came as no surprise how tremendous he was in the 4thquarter against New England, even when his offensiveline couldn’t block on that last drive.
Back to 2008. If Manning wasn’t a high-profile player, drafted #1 overall, and part of a legendary hierarchy, he would fly under the radar this year. The Giants are predicated on beating teams with the run but keeping them honest with a decent passing game. With their efficient offense, they keep their defense fresh and they do their part, and the Giants get a win. That’s what they do. Anyone else notice the quarterback doesn’t factor much into that? He’s a good quarterback, who if does his job, will keep his team in ballgames and have the ability to win it in the end.
Looking down the road, it’s premature to say they will go 6-0. The Browns are capable of an explosion any given game, and in their first home Monday night football game in years; don’t think they’ll go down quietly. Remember what the Bills did to the Cowboys? Don’t sleep on the Bengals either; they have the firepower to shock people for a single game.
If there’s one weakness on the Giants, it’s their inability to throw the deep ball with consistency. We found out on Monday night that the two premier teams of the NFC have a big weakness; defending the long pass. The Giants may need that when they have to play those two teams because 11 play 70 yard drives won’t get touchdowns every time. 82-yard bombs will. They may need one or two of those.
The Giants have a cupcake schedule up to late October, but it ends there. They play the likes of Pittsburgh, Dallas (2), Philadelphia (2), Arizona, Washington, Minnesota, and Carolina in the last two months. It will be a wild race to the finish, but I see them finishing with ten or eleven wins and the 5th Wild Card slot.