Giant New York Dilemmas: Why The G-Men Are Playoff Pretenders

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Giant New York Dilemmas: Why The G-Men Are Playoff Pretenders
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
As a bruising back, Brandon Jacobs is more effective when he gets less carries since it allows him to stay fresh.

Since the Giants won Super Bowl XLII, they have failed to make the Playoffs in two of the past three seasons. They made the Playoffs the season after winning Super Bowl XLII as the No.1 seed in the NFC. However they were one-and-done courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, their division rival.

Not to take away from the Giants' success, but even in their Super Bowl year, Eli did not have a stellar season. He threw 23 TD, 20 INT and had a 73.9 passer rating. However, to his credit, Eli put the mediocre regular season behind him and went on to having a superhuman playoff run that got the Giants to the big game.

As expected against an undefeated Patriots team, Eli did not perform as well against their solid defense as he did against Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay (in that order). But he did make THE throw to David Tyree and the game winning TD pass to Plaxico Burress.

The 2007 Playoffs defined Eli's career, and since then he has played better during the regular season than he did in seasons prior to winning the Super Bowl. Part of that is due to gaining experience, and maybe he also got a monkey off his back and finally silenced many of his harsh critics.

But now that Eli has stepped up his game, how come the Giants come up short each year?

2008

The Giants went on to have a 12-4 record. Earth, Wind and Fire was unstoppable and gave the Giants the best rushing attack in the NFL.

In 2008, Eli posted a career best completion percentage (60.3) and passer rating (86.4). The biggest sign of improvement was Eli's career low in INT (10). The Giants looked good in all their games except the Monday Night game against the Browns and a two game losing streak against the Cowboys and Eagles, both division rivals.

However, they are both good teams so the Giants should not find any shame in splitting the season series with either team. Their final regular season game against the Vikings was meaningless, yet they only lost by a point. Although the Panthers beat the Saints in the finale to also reach a 12-4 record, the Giants had the tie-breaker because they beat Carolina the week before.


The Giants looked as good as they've ever looked over a long period of time. They looked like the best team in the NFL all season long, but it all broke down against the Eagles in the Playoffs.

Eli did not have a good game. The Giants made mistakes at the worst possible moments and put the defense in unfavorable situations against McNabb and the Eagles. It seemed as if the Giants were saving all the mistakes they did not have in the regular season for that playoff game.

The G-Men still had a chance to salvage the game late in the fourth quarter, but Steve Smith's unforced fumble sealed the deal for the Eagles. What made it worse was the Giants already had the first down before the fumble.

How will the Giants do against good teams in 2011?

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In 2008 the Giants blew a good chance to reach the Super Bowl for a second year in a row.

2009

This season the Giants started out 5-0. People were already claiming the Giants were one of the elite teams in the NFL and legitimate contenders in the NFC. Bill Sheridan looked good running the defense. The Giants defense looked like it has not missed a beat despite Steve Spagnuolo leaving for the Rams' head coaching job.

While the Giants did possess the talent and the depth to live up to all the hype, take a look at the teams they beat in those five games and each of their records for the 2009 season. Teams that finished with a winning record are in bold.

Week 1: Washington Redskins (4-12), Win 23-17

Week 2: Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Win 33-31

Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13), Win 24-0

Week 4: Kansas City Chiefs (4-12), Win 27-16

Week 5: Oakland Raiders (5-11), Win 44-7

The only winning team there is obviously Dallas, and that game was awfully close. Credit the Giants for pulling out the close win, but they were obviously feasting off the league's worst teams to inflate their record and stats, thus making themselves look better than they really were.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Tom Coughlin knows his team has what it takes. He just hopes they can put everything together and be consistent in 2011.

While the Giants were simply doing their job and beating the bad teams, most of the sports media world was too quick to put the Giants on a pedestal. So anybody that believes everything the media tells them thought the Giants were for real. Closer examination of their opponents reveals the Giants were still an untested team at this point of the season.

It is OK to give the Giants credit for a good start, but analysts need to hold their breath before giving teams too much love too soon. Good teams should win at least half of their games against teams with a winning record. It shows they can rumble with the best of the best.

So far the Giants are 1-0 against teams with a winning record. Let's see how they fared for the rest of the season.

Note: Week 10 was their bye week.


Week 6: New Orleans Saints (13-3), Loss 48-27

Week 7: Arizona Cardinals (10-6), Loss 24-17

Week 8: Philadelphia Eagles (11-5), Loss 40-17

Week 9: San Diego Chargers (13-3), Loss 21-20

Week 11: Atlanta Falcons (9-7), Win 34-31

Week 12: Denver Broncos (8-8), Loss 26-6***

Week 13: Dallas Cowboys (11-5), Win 31-24

Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles (11-5), Loss 45-38

Week 15: Washington Redskins (4-12), Win 45-12

Week 16: Carolina Panthers (8-8), Loss 41-9

Week 17: Minnesota Vikings (12-4), Loss 44-7


***: Even though the Broncos finished with an 8-8 record, they were 6-4 entering Week 12.


The Giants finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
They went 5-2 against teams without a winning record.
They went 3-6 against teams with winning records.

Against division opponents, the Giants were 4-2, sweeping the Cowboys and Redskins but getting swept by the Eagles.

Giants Defensive Problems

There are other factors that contributed to this 3-8 collapse after a 5-0 start besides facing tougher opponents.

The Giants defense was not able to hold up against anybody, as the scores indicated. The defense showed a glimpse of those issues in their Week 2 win against the Cowboys, as it was a high scoring game, but since they went back to being dominant against bad teams it seemed the problems were solved. However, most if not all these bad teams had below average offenses that made the Giants defense look good.

Even in two of their last three victories, the Giants had to outscore their opponents to win because their defense was not going to get the job done. And when they lost, the G-Men often lost badly.

The closest game, against San Diego, was lost because Philip Rivers drove the Chargers offense down the field for a last minute TD. Not good indicators for a team hoping to reach the Playoffs.

Things like this are why they ended up missing the Playoffs.

The Giants defense relies on their front four to pressure the quarterback and make plays. When the Giants successfully do that, they are a Top 10 defense and among the NFL's best in sacks. In 2009, the Giants were tied for 18th in sacks, another indication that their defense slipped that year.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
We know Jason Pierre-Paul can pass rush. If he can prove good against the run, he may start with Justin Tuck sooner than you think.

The Giants did lose their defensive leader in tackling machine Antonio Pierce for seven games, but Pierce is not a pass rushing linebacker, so it does not explain the lower number of sacks.

The Giants also had a glaring hole at safety after losing Kenny Phillips to injury. Every Giants fan remembers how horrible of a fill in C.C. Brown was. But the Giants' issues on defense went beyond injuries. That is why Bill Sheridan was fired at the end of the 2009 season.


Eli's Improvement

Despite the defensive struggles, Eli continued to improve in 2009, putting up career bests in completions (317), passing yards (4,021), TD passes (27), completion percentage (62.3) and passer rating (93.1).

He loved throwing the ball to Steve Smith, who earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, second year player Mario Manningham and rookie Hakeem Nicks. With Derrick Ward gone, the Giants running game went from dominant to average at best.

2010
 

The Giants came into 2010 addressing one of their weak spots, safety. The additions of Pro Bowler Antrel Rolle and veteran Deon Grant added depth in the secondary and provided the G-Men with insurance in case Kenny Phillips gets injured.

Luckily, Phillips started all 16 games in 2010. The safety trio was key to improving the Giants defense. The Giants also drafted another pass rusher in Jason Pierre-Paul, adding depth to their stout defensive line. Jonathan Goff also had a decent first year as a starter after replacing Antonio Pierce, who retired. The defense seems to love Perry Fewell, too.

Eli's performance in 2010 took somewhat of a stutter-step. Even though he had new career bests in completions (339), completion percentage (62.9) and TD passes (31) and a second consecutive season with 4,000 passing yards, Eli also led the NFL in INTs (25).

Some of those interceptions cost the G-Men some games and ultimately a playoff berth. Despite injuries along a durable but aging offensive line, Eli was only sacked 16 times, the fewest in Eli's six full seasons as a starter.

The rushing attack also bounced back after a mediocre 2009 season. The Giants ranked sixth in 2010.

With Perry Fewell as the new defensive coordinator, the Giants' defense also bounced back after a bad 2009 campaign. They were 17th in scoring defense (better than 30th in 2009), ranked fifth in sacks and seventh in total yards allowed.

The Giants' 2010 schedule will be broken down in similar fashion to assess how they fared against teams with a winning record.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Jonathan Goff is set to have a breakout season in 2011.

As stated earlier, playoff teams must win at least half their games against good teams. Of course, this goes coupled with winning the games a team is expected to win. Once in a while, a team will lose a game they are expected to win. For example, the second game against the then-struggling Cowboys (their first with Jason Garrett as head coach). Hey, it happens.

Note: Teams that finished the 2010 season with a winning record are in bold. Week 8 is the bye.

 

Week 1: Carolina Panthers (2-14), Win 31-18

Week 2: Indianapolis Colts (10-6), Loss 38-14

Week 3: Tennessee Titans (6-10), Loss 29-10

Week 4: Chicago Bears (11-5), Win 17-3

Week 5: Houston Texans (6-10), Win 34-10

Week 6: Detroit Lions (6-10), Win 28-20

Week 7: Dallas Cowboys (6-10), Win 41-35

Week 9: Seattle Seahawks (7-9), Win 41-7

Week 10: Dallas Cowboys (6-10), Loss 38-20

Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Loss 27-17

Week 12: Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8), Win 24-20

Week 13: Washington Redskins (6-10), Win 31-7

Week 14: Minnesota Vikings (6-10), Win 21-3

Week 15: Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Loss 38-31

Week 16: Green Bay Packers (10-6), Loss 45-17

Week 17: Washington Redskins (6-10), Win 17-14

 

The Giants ended the 2010 season 10-6.
They were 9-2 against teams 8-8 or worse.
They were 1-4 against winning teams.

 

Giants: Over or Under 9 Wins?

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Consider the fact that before the season started, four Giants opponents (Texans, Redskins, Cowboys and Vikings) expected to challenge the playoff picture, but ended up a disappointment at 6-10. The Giants could have possibly lost another one or two games if these teams (especially the Vikings and Cowboys) would have played how most people expected them to before the season started.

Also consider that when they defeated the Bears in Week 4, Chicago could not keep Jay Cutler upright with all the offensive line problems they had. Also, the team did not start playing well until the second half of the season, when the offense finally found its rhythm.

Once again, the Giants did their job against teams without a winning record. However, they still struggle against teams with winning records. Whether it is an off-day for the defense or the offense committing turnovers, the Giants need to stop it and finally bring their A-game against the best teams in the NFL.

If they had gone 2-3 or 3-2 against winning teams, they would have been in the playoffs. Teams cannot expect to get into the playoffs without splitting games (at the very least) against winning teams, unless they are in the NFC West.

What's in Store for 2011

If the Giants can put the pieces together, they have an excellent coaching staff, an above-average quarterback with lots more potential in Eli, a Top five rushing attack and a Top 10 overall defense. They need to limit the turnovers in critical situations and bring their A-game against good teams.

The Giants have mastered beating bad teams. What they need to do is split the games (at least) against winning teams and they should be in the playoffs. They have to stop relying on soft schedules to sneak into the playoffs.

From a personnel standpoint, they should re-sign Deon Grant. Their three-safety sets on defense are a luxury, they are versatile and they help confuse opposing offenses. It also adds depth in case somebody gets injured.

It would also be nice if the Giants drafted an offensive lineman. The Giants offensive line is decent, but if last season was any indication, this group will not stick together much longer due to injuries. Also, age is starting to become a factor.

The Giants should use the draft to bolster their linebacking core (Keith Bulluck isn't the same player) and possibly draft one of the talented corners available that can play nickel right away and as insurance for an oft-injured Aaron Ross.

Good luck to the G-Men in 2011.

If the Giants would have made the playoffs in 2010, guess who would have stayed home?

Yeah, you guessed it, the Super Bowl Champion Packers.

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