New York Giants: 9 Reasons the Giants Will Make the NFL Playoffs
It has been three years since head coach Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants football team made it to the postseason.
Two years ago they started 5-0 but finished with an 8-8 record.
Last season they raced off to a 6-2 start but finished the season splitting their final 8 games, barely missing the playoffs at 10-6.
The Giants team of two years ago that started at 5-0 lost faith in then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and stopped playing for him towards the end of the season.
Despite the 6-2 start, last year's team had 22 turnovers through those first eight games. That's an alarming 2.75 turnovers a game, something that we all knew would catch up to the team at some point.
This year's team is off to a solid 4-2 start, but with a pretty tough second half schedule coming up after the bye week.
Many Giants fans may be anticipating another late-season collapse, but here are nine reasons to believe the opposite will happen. This team is built to get better as the season goes.
1. Eli Manning Is an Elite Quarterback
Most people, including myself, didn't believe that to be true. Boy, have we been wrong so far.
Through six weeks of this season, only three quarterbacks have passer ratings over 100, and only three average at least nine yards per attempt. Those three quarterbacks are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Eli thus far is comparing favorably with the other top quarterbacks in the league.
Since Week 2 of the season, Eli actually has better numbers than Tom Brady. Through the last five games, Manning has completed 64.8 percent of his passes, averaged 302 passing yards per game and 9.15 yards per attempt, and has 11 touchdowns with four picks.
During that same time, Brady has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 329 yards per game and 8.7 yards per attempt, and has 12 touchdowns with seven picks.
Eli is doing this with the league's 26th-ranked rushing offense, while Brady has the league's 8th-best rushing attack.
When factoring in how Eli is still building chemistry with his receiving corps following the departures of tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith, Eli is doing a tremendous job. Since the numbers continue to improve as the familiarity increases, one has to wonder how much better Eli's numbers would be if the Giants would have kept Smith and Boss.
Brady and Rodgers have been fortunate to have played with some of their favorite weapons for awhile, while Manning is still building that trust with all of his.
2. Young Targets Will Continue to Improve
A big part of the success of the Giants' passing offense has been the rapid development of some of the young players, who have been forced to step into roles they didn't expect to be in.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz has had some big games thus far this season and is currently second on the team with 21 catches for 398 yards. The season-ending knee injury to Domenik Hixon in Week 2 opened up the opportunity for Cruz, and he has seized it. Cruz was an undrafted rookie last year, so he is still developing and should continue to grow.
An even bigger surprise than Cruz has been the emergence of tight end Jake Ballard. Ballard was a member of the practice squad last year and was expected to remain there this season. The sudden defection of Kevin Boss to the Oakland Raiders left an open spot at the position. Ballard was the best option because of his excellent blocking ability in the running game. What has surprised everyone, including the Giants coaching staff, is how effective Ballard has become as a downfield threat. Ballard has racked up 15 catches for 273 yards, with 11 of those receptions in the last three games. Ballard is second on the team averaging 18.2 yards per catch.
Another young target who has been a disappointment thus far as a Giant is wideout Ramses Barden. Barden was a third-round pick in the 2009 draft, and he and Hakeem Nicks were supposed to develop into a deadly 1-2 punch. Injuries and a lack of production have kept Barden off the field, but he should be healthy and ready to go soon after the bye week. While you shouldn't expect the Giants to start going to four wide-receiver sets once he's healthy, Barden brings a dimension that no other receiver on the team can bring. Barden is 6'6", and height like that can be very useful in the red zone, where the windows to throw the ball are much smaller. Together, Barden and 6'6" Ballard are huge targets for Eli to throw the ball to in the red zone.
The Giants already average 25.7 points a game and have scored at least 25 in each of the last five games, but you still get the feeling they are leaving points out there. As these three young players get better and more confident, coupled in with the duo of Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, this offense will be one of the best by season's end.
3. The Running Game Can't Get Any Worse
This Giants team is winning, but not exactly the way they'd like. They are a top-10 team in passing offense, but one of the worst teams in the league in running the football. That's just not the kind of football Giants fans are used to seeing.
The Giants average 3.3 yards per carry. Only the Tennessee Titans have a lower yards-per-rushing-attempt average than the Giants. With a team that prides itself on running the football, expect that number to improve.
When criticizing the Giants' running game, many people forget that 60 percent of this offensive line is new to the team or the position that they play. Left tackle Will Beatty is in his first year as a starter, left guard David Diehl was the left tackle last year and David Baas was signed this offseason to play center. Since an offensive line is a group that works together to create running lanes, this group will only get better as they play more together.
The Giants actually had their best game on the ground last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. With Kevin Boothe filling in admirably for right guard Chris Snee, who should be back after the break, they gained 122 yards on the ground. Expect more yardage totals like that as the season goes and this group plays more together.
A sound running game will help make converting third downs easier and make the passing game even more dangerous. When you're near the bottom of league in rushing, you can't help but get better.
4. Healthier Defense
During the last couple of years, this Giants defense wore down as the season progressed. Injuries in the past to important players like Antonio Pierce, Kenny Phillips, Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora hurt this team's depth and performance.
This year, things appeared headed that way, with season-ending injuries to middle linebacker Jonathan Goff and cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Bruce Johnson, as well as first-round pick Prince Amukamara's broken foot and Osi Umenyiora's knee surgery.
Fortunately, the easier part of their schedule came in the beginning of the season, so the Giants had a chance to weather the storm and get some guys healthy in time for the stretch run.
Osi came back in Week 4 against Arizona and has been superb. He has five sacks in three games thus far, but the same game he made his debut was the first of three straight games that Justin Tuck sat. The duo has yet to take a snap together this season, but the pass rush hasn't missed a beat. The Giants lead the league with 21 sacks, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is second in the league with 7.5 sacks. Imagine the damage this defensive front will inflict on quarterbacks with a Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul rotation. The addition of Tuck will make everyone on the line better, and a better line makes all the pieces behind it better.
Soon after the bye, the Giants should have cornerback Prince Amukamara on the field. While much shouldn't be expected from Prince right away, his services would probably not be needed immediately, and he can ease his way into game shape.
With teams like Miami, New England, and San Francisco coming up after the bye, the Giants can still use their three-safety nickel package. Prince probably wouldn't be a factor until games against Philly, New Orleans and Green Bay, which come after he should have had time to get up to speed.
The addition of Prince will help the Giants play more man coverage, which they are far better at, and it will keep safety Deon Grant off the field more since he hasn't played well at all. Antrel Rolle can go back to his safety position in the nickel package, where he's excellent in run support.
5. Getting Seasoned
With season-ending injuries to linebackers Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim, opportunities opened up for rookies Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams. Both Jones and Williams are very athletic, but neither was expected to contribute much this year besides on special teams. The loss of Goff was big since he was expected to be a three-down player, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has done a good job utilizing the talents of his rookie linebackers to help compensate.
In the base 4-3 defense, Fewell has used Jones as the middle linebacker. Jones hasn't has that many reps since opponents have played with more three wide-receiver sets, but he's played pretty well in his new role. He is pretty good in run defense and made some plays in his first game as a starter.
In the nickel situations, Williams gets the call because of his excellent speed at the linebacker position. He had his breakout game against Philadelphia, totaling 10 tackles and helping keep LeSean McCoy in check in the passing game.
While there will be ups and downs with this young group (Williams was hesitant in getting to his gap on the Fred Jackson touchdown against Buffalo), they have a ton of talent and will get better as the season goes forward.
As it is with young players, including Pierre-Paul last year, the more playing time they receive the better they will perform. The growth of these linebackers will help improve the defense in the second half of the season.
6. Corey Webster's Play
In a league that has become more pass oriented, having a cornerback who can line up against the opposition's best wide receiver and not let him dominate has become necessary for success. It allows the defense to focus more attention to limiting other options , since option No. 1 is already accounted for by that shutdown corner.
After six seasons in the NFL, Corey Webster looks to have evolved into that player.
With the injury to Terrell Thomas in the preseason, it became vital to the team that Webster step up. He has answered the call this season and is a big reason why the team is 4-2. Game after game, he's kept the No. 1 option on the other team from beating the Giants.
In Week 3 he held DeSean Jackson to two catches for 30 yards. The following game he didn't shadow Larry Fitzgerald exclusively, but he broke up a pass intended for Larry on the key fourth-down play that sealed the Cardinals' fate. After that he held the Seattle Seahawks Sidney Rice to 38 yards receiving on four catches, and last Sunday he held Stevie Johnson to 39 yards on five catches, including two interceptions.
With upcoming games against the Packers, Saints, Eagles and Cowboys, Webster's improved play has become a big luxury. Defense is a lot easier to play when one guy can limit the best weapon on the other side. It gives the defense the numbers advantage in slowing down everyone else. The defense can only grow from here as the team's confidence in Webster continues to grow. More blitzes and man-to-man coverages can be called, knowing that Webster is capable of keeping his guy out of the game.
7. Takeaway Kings
Last year, the Giants led the entire league in takeaways on defense, with 39. Their problem was that they also led the league in giveaways, with 42.
This year the Giants are sixth in the NFL with 13 takeaways through six games, a pace that would have them finish with 34 or 35 by season's end.
While this team continues to force a bunch of turnovers under Coach Fewell, they are doing a much better job of not giving the ball back to the other team. They have just nine turnovers in six games, which would leave them with 24 for the season at this pace.
This offense, especially Eli Manning, has done a great job limiting the mistakes, and that will be vital as the season goes. As we can see, this defense is excellent as forcing turnovers, having three more than anyone else in the division. As the defense continues to get healthier and the offense continues to gel, expect the takeaways to go up while the giveaways continue to be minimized.
In a league with so many good offenses and quarterbacks, turnovers are what define a team more than points scored and yardage totals.
8. Second-Half Schedule Not as Terrible as It Looks
When looking at the Giants' schedule, everyone jumps to the difficult second half with games against San Francisco, Green Bay, New Orleans, Dallas and New England.
Don't get me wrong, the Giants do have a tough stretch ahead of them, but with the exception of Green Bay and New England at home, these other teams on the schedule all have their issues and aren't necessarily better than the Giants.
While San Francisco has been a big surprise this season starting at 5-1, they aren't without their issues. Yes, Alex Smith is playing well and managing games well, but remember just a week ago we were all saying the same things about Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman. Then Rex Grossman became Rex Grossman again. Just keep in mind, this is still Alex Smith we are talking about. He's already been sacked 16 times in 174 drop backs. San Francisco is also having problems keeping receivers healthy, which should make them easier to defend. They are a good team this year, but this is a league that changes from week to week.
New England barely beat Dallas at home in yet another game Dallas should have won. The Patriots have given up a ton of yards on defense, and Tom Brady has been looking far more human this season, with eight picks through six games.
New Orleans hasn't looked dominant since their Super Bowl run, and Drew Brees continues to be a turnover machine. He threw 22 picks last year and has eight in his last four games. The Saints have 11 giveaways so far this season, with only four takeaways. That's not the makeup of a good football team.
The Giants also play the Jets on Christmas Eve, and the Jets are a team who hasn't looked good all season long. Their defense can't stop the run, and their offense continues to struggle to get first downs. This is not the same Jets team of the past couple of years, and they look mediocre at best.
9. Divsion Is Not as Strong as Anticipated
Perhaps the most important reason why the Giants will make the playoffs is because of the other teams in their division.
This division so far hasn't looked good at all, and it looks like 9 or 10 wins might be enough to win it. Everyone's preseason pick to win the division was the Eagles, and they have looked horrible. They lead the league in turnovers with 17, and Michael Vick has already been knocked out of two games. They did get a win this past Sunday, but they needed four Rex Grossman picks to do it, and still won by just a 7 points. This team just isn't that good.
The new pick to win the division up until Sunday was the Washington Redskins. The have a very good defense, a good running game and the easiest schedule of the teams. The hype went away when the aforementioned Grossman went back to doing what he does best; completing passes to the other team. Grossman was benched in favor of John Beck, and now the team who was looked at as the division champs are in the midst of a quarterback controversy.
After the Redskins collapse and the Cowboys hanging tough with the Patriots in New England, the new pick this week has been Dallas because of their defense. Yes, their defense is good, with 10 takeaways in five games, and they have the best run defense in the league. This Dallas team would have the best record in the division if there was no such thing as the quarterback position. Quarterback Tony Romo has made countless terrible decisions that have cost this team wins. This Cowboys team continues to find ways to beat themselves, ranking second in the NFL with 12 turnovers, despite already having their bye week. That puts them on pace to finish with around 38 turnovers, which would almost certainly keep them out of the playoffs.
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