As we enter the last few weeks of the NFL season, fans of contenders find themselves pondering whether or not their team has what it takes to win it all in February. I know this feeling from personal experience, as I watched the New York Giants end up as one of the NFC Wild Card teams heading into last year's playoffs.
You look at the roster or at the headlines coming out of practice everyday and you think of how each story will affect your team's chances in the next round of the playoffs. But what really determines those chances?
Is it how many reps the quarterback is taking each day or what the coach thinks about the other team's defense? No, it is how the team was assembled, and in the case of the New York Giants of a year ago, this assembly was perfect.
Let's start with the coach of the team: Tom Coughlin.
Although fairly successful prior to coming to New York, fans of the Giants wondered if Coughlin was the right man for the job when the G-Men picked him up. Would his disciplinary style work with veterans such as Michael Strahan and Tiki Barber? As we found out in the first few years of the Coughlin era, the czar-like attitude of a coach can backfire when working with players who have some experience under their belt.
But fortunately for the Giants, Coughlin changed his style coming into the 2007 season and lightened up on the discipline. What Coughlin was able to do was find a balance between being an overbearing, overwhelming dictator-like presence and the personable coach who everyone loves.
This balance is what allowed him to implement his ideas and teach the young players, while still respecting the veterans on the team.
The building of the personnel of the team needs to start in the trenches, more specifically the defensive line. A few years ago, fans (including myself) questioned the draft picks of Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.
Because of these picks, however, the Giants were able to bring forth what was possibly the best defensive line in the league, which included sure-fire Hall of Famer Strahan, rising stars Osi Umenyiora, and Tuck, Kiwanuka, Defensive Tackles Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and rookie Jay Alford.
Along with linebackers Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell, the Giants' defense was able to create a pass rush that was unparalleled in the NFL. This pass rush was a major factor in the Super Bowl, as the Giants sacked Tom Brady a total of five times. This defensive front was also the reason that the Patriots could only manage 45 yards rushing throughout the game.
On the other side of the ball is the Offensive Line, which for the New York Giants, started to mesh well right at the end of the season. This cohesiveness allowed the Giants to gain no fewer than 90 yards on the ground in any playoff game, including a 134-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game.
This running game allowed Eli Manning to manage the game from the quarterback's standpoint and set up big plays with the play-action pass.
And that brings us to the quarterback. Eli Manning's roller coaster career was well-documented coming into the second half of the 2007 season, and he was widely known as an inconsistent player who could not handle the pressures of being an NFL quarterback.
These perceptions gradually changed, however, as Giants fans saw a new Eli, an Eli that exemplified leadership and character and was all of a sudden making great decisions with the ball.
Eli realized that he did not have to win the game himself, and that there were 10 other players on the field to help him. This was a stunning sight to Giants fans, who, for three years previous, wondered if taking Eli from the San Diego Chargers was the right decision after all.
Eli proved that it was the right move as he developed into the quarterback that everyone once thought he could be. His maturation was evident in the Super Bowl, as he confirmed his ability to make big plays when he escaped from the grasp of the Patriots defensive line and threw a bullet to David Tyree, which set up the game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
Last, but not least, we have what I like to call the x-factors. These are the players on the outside that can make all the difference in the world. For the Giants, the x-factors were Burress and fellow pass catchers Amani Toomer, Steve Smith, and Kevin Boss.
This foursome routinely came up with huge catches and big gains, as evidenced by Burress' 11 catch, 154 yard performance in the NFC Championship game, and Kevin Boss' 45 yard catch and run that set up a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Without this receiving corps, the Giants would not have been able to attack defenses with a complete arsenal.
So what does this mean for the rest of the league? Patience is a virtue and trusting your front office executives can end up bringing your team to the promised land. Four or five years ago, Giants fans were wondering where the team was going, and if the moves being made would work out for the franchise.
Now those same fans are basking in the glory that comes along with winning the Super Bowl. Of course, this is just one model of a champion, and not every Super Bowl winning team has followed this formula, but it is evident that this blueprint of a team is a recipe for success in the NFL.
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