Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw each did their part, and both Jacobs and Ward finished with over 1,000 yards rushing.
In terms of the passing game, Eli Manning was as good a field general as there is, as he led Big Blue to a 12-4 record while having his best statistical season as a pro (21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 3,238 yards, and a rating of 86.4).
The passing game was largely predicated on the talents of Plaxico Burress, as he would frequently, if not always, draw double teams.
The manner in which opponents went about defending Plaxico Burress often dictated the Giants approach to the passing game, and New York utilized the sneaky Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, as well as Amani Toomer in order to move the chains.
Due only to his detrimental actions, Plaxico Burress is no longer with the team, nor are Amani Toomer and Derrick Ward.
The absence of these players, particularly Plaxico Burress, begs the question of how New York will move the ball in 2009. In order to move it effectively, there will have to be changes within New York’s playbook.
In the NFL, opposing teams respect balance: the ability to either run or pass effectively at any given time. In order for The 2009 Giants to achieve that balance (a balance which had them ranked as the number one offense in the league for the better part of 2008), they will need to make some key changes to the passing game.
Two among Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Domenik Hixon will be the starting wide-outs. In examining these players, none possess the same skill-set as Plaxico Burress, but together they are all Plaxico was and more.
Plaxico Burress demanded double teams because he was big, fast, had route running savvy, could run after the catch, and could win any jump ball (particularly in the red zone).
Allow me to examine which of the aforementioned skills the current Big Blue receivers possess, and how a new look passing game can best take advantage of them.
Steve Smith—Route Running savvy, fast
The speedy Steve Smith has become Eli Manning’s favorite target over the past two seasons, and in 2008, Smith accounted for 22 first down receptions.
The reason for Manning’s affinity for Smith as a target is simple: he gets to where Eli expects him to be.
Both Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress struggled mightily with the ability to consistently be where Eli expected them to be, leading to a number of interceptions on the part of Manning.
At this point, Smith is nearly a lock to be in the top two on the depth chart, and Manning should be able to take advantage of Smith’s great instincts more consistently in 2009.
Mario Manningham—Fast, Run after the catch
Mario Manningham has the potential to be one of the most dynamic receivers New York has ever had. In college he averaged over 17 yards per reception, and made spectacular play after spectacular play.
Super Mario may just be the deep threat New York has been searching for, and with a strong camp, may be able to win a starting job.
Domenik Hixon—Fast, Run after the catch
In six starts in 2008, Hixon showed both the ability to be a spectacular playmaker, and how little experience he had.
The better performer in camp between he and Manningham should emerge with a starting job.
Hakeem Nicks—Big, Run after the catch, Route running savvy
Hakeem Nicks is a better addition to New York’s lineup than most think. Nicks possesses a presence in the underneath passing game and down the seams, which can be a tremendous asset to Eli Manning in the windy Giants’ Stadium.
Maybe Nicks’ best asset though, is his reliable hands. Eli Manning needs receivers who know where to be and have good hands. Hakeem Nicks fits the bill.
The Wild Cards
Ramses Barden—Big, Can win any jump ball
The monstrous Barden (6’6”) out of Cal-Poly may or may not crack the top four on the depth chart, but he will be an asset in the red zone. Any attempt to defend him in the red zone while he was at Cal-Poly was comical.
Defensive backs are marginally better in The NFL, so if defending Barden goes from comical to pretty difficult, the Giants have an incredible weapon at their disposal.
Travis Beckum—Big, Route running savvy, Run after the catch
The addition of Travis Beckum as an H-back may have been the primary indicator that a change was imminent in terms of the offensive playbook.
Beckum has the ability to play any down, and lineup anywhere. That’s what an H-back does.
The key with Beckum is that he begins the play in the backfield then moves around. This will force the defense to keep an eye on him with a safety, or if they dare, a linebacker.
Beckum is essentially the “eighth man mover”, as he will keep safeties away from the line of scrimmage.
What does it all mean?
In terms of play calling, it would seem as if by adding players who have a presence underneath, down the seams, and down the field, that Big Blue will be adopting a very “West \Coast-like” offense.
The West Coast offense has a slogan: We throw check downs and touchdowns.
The reliability of players like Steve Smith (and possibly Nicks and Beckum) will enable Manning to fire the ball out very quickly (the check downs) , while the speed of Manningham and Hixon will stretch defenses on a consistent basis (the touchdowns).
The skills of the current Giant receivers can be deadly, as they spread defenses out. If rookies such as Beckum, Nicks, and Barden step up, the sheer number of options Eli has at his disposal will generate a balance which teams will respect.
The key to achieving the balance will be utilizing quick passes over the middle as well as long bombs down field at the right moments.
As one can see, Big Blue is more than equipped to absorb the loss of Plaxico Burress, especially if the right changes are made within the playbook.