By Jason Leach
The tone for the Giants 2013 season was set at the beginning of training camp when General Manager Jerry Reese said making the playoffs once in the past four seasons in not acceptable. With the Super Bowl being played in their home stadium in February, the Giants are set to become the first host team to play in the Super Bowl. Here are the five questions for the Giants entering this season.
1. WHO WILL EMERGE FROM THE GIANTS LINE BACKING CORE?
There are many concerns about how the Giants line backing core will fare this year with them having to replace Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley. Blackburn and Boley were the Giants top two linebackers last season and their departure has left a huge void at the position.
The Giants are expecting big things from 3rd year linebacker Jacquian Williams. Injuries last season limited Williams to just 10 games last season, but he has shown flashes that he can be a solid outside linebacker. There will be a battle between Mark Herzlich and Dan Connor on who will be the starting middle linebacker, while Keith Rivers seems more than likely to be the other starting outside linebacker.
It is a necessity that this core step up in order for the Giants to improve on their defense which was ranked 31st last season.
There’s no question that the Giants are a much better team when Hakeem Nicks is healthy. During the Giants Super Bowl run in 2011, Nicks had a remarkable postseason, scoring four touchdowns and three 100 yard receiving games. The problem, Nicks has yet to play an entire 16 game schedule during his four year career.
With Nicks hampered with leg injuries last season, the Giants passing game struggled as Eli Manning threw for almost 1,000 fewer yards than he did a season ago. When Nicks is healthy, he and Victor Cruz are one of the best receiving duos in the NFL.
If Nicks is able to stay healthy the Giants will have one of the highest powered offenses in the league. If he’s not then look for 2nd year wide receiver Ruben Randle to assume Nicks’ role, for this year and for years to come as it will be unlikely that they will resign Nicks if he can’t stay on the field.
3. HOW WILL THE GIANTS PASS RUSH FARE WITH THE LOSS OF OSI UMENYIOR AND JPP’S BACK ISSUES?
Normally coming into a season, the Giants pass rush is the least of their concerns. But this year with Osi Umenyiora signing with the Atlanta Falcons, and Jason Pierre-Paul recovering from back surgery, there are big concerns about the Giants pass rush.
The Giants hope to have Pierre Paul by the season opener against Dallas, but if he’s unable to go, the Giants will rely on veterans and rookies to pick up in his absence. Mathias Kiwanuka has played the better part of the last two seasons at linebacker, but now he’s at his most comfortable position at defensive end. Justin Tuck is eager to show his critics that he still has what it takes to be a dominant defensive lineman and earn a contract extension.
Rookie Damontre Moore and Adrian Tracy will also see significant time at defensive end as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell loves to rotate his lineman. Look for the Giants defensive tackle position to be improved from last season with the addition of free agent Cullen Jenkins.
When the Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw early in the offseason, questions immediately began on how the running back tandem of Wilson and Brown would fare. Last season Brown was having the best season of his career averaging 5.3 yard per carry and scoring 8 touchdowns. But Brown’s season came to an abrupt end when he broke his leg in a 38-10 win over the Packers.
David Wilson’s 2012 got off to a horrendous start as he fumbled on his first carry which put him in Coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. However as the season progressed, Wilson blossomed as a kick returner averaging 26.9 per return. Then once Brown was lost for the season, Wilson saw more time as a running back and flourished averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scoring 4 touchdowns.
The question now for this duo, can they have the same success as their predecessors Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw had in winning two Super Bowls? If they are to do so, Brown will need to prove that he can stay healthy and Wilson must prove that he can improve on his pass blocking.
5. CAN THE GIANTS AVOID ANOTHER 2ND HALF COLLAPSE?
This has plagued the Giants in each of Tom Coughlin’s nine seasons with the team. Each year the Giants have started off fast only to falter in the last part of the season. Last season the Giants lost 2 of their final 3 games and missed the playoffs.
This season on paper the Giants have an easier schedule than they had the past two seasons when they had the league’s toughest schedule. Because of this and a sense of urgency to win another title, the Giants should avoid a second half collapse this season.
SEASON PREDICTION: If the Giants are able to stay healthy and get solid production from the linebackers, I expect them to have an 11-5 record and win the NFC East.