We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
NEW YORK GIANTS
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2007 record: 10-6 (373-351)
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 8.6-7.4
All-time franchise record: 606-506-33 (.544)
Playoff record: 20-23 (.465)
Last five seasons: 39-41 (.488)
Best game of 2007:
16-3 home win over Philadelphia (Week 4).
Well, it goes without saying the Super Bowl was New York's top game of 2007. But we've been looking at the regular season here in this space, and there were slim pickins to choose from in the Giants' completely underwhelming regular season. Perhaps the greatest portent of things to come was witnessed in Week 4, when the Giants and their No. 1-ranked Defensive Hogs
tied an NFL record with 12 sacks, while limiting the Eagles to just 190 yards of total offense. Osi Umenyioria registered a franchise-record six sacks all by his lonesome.
The 13-point victory was the third biggest blowout by the Giants all year, following an 18-point win over the sad-sack 49ers and a 17-point win over the struggling Bills. It might have been a bigger victory, but the Giants could barely move the ball themselves, with just 212 yards of total offense, including a mere 129 through the air. The victory gave the Giants a 2-2 mark after losing to NFC powers Dallas and Green Bay out of the gate.
: The Giants have been busier on the talk-show circuit than in the free-agent market. They re-signed DE Justin Tuck back during the playoff run, and recently re-upped RB Derrick Ward, who did the bulk of the team's work through September and October, and again in a December victory over the Bears. But he missed most of the season, including playoffs, with injuries. New York also extended the contract of starting guard Rich Seubert, while adding back-up QB David Carr. The Giants lost free safety Gibril Wilson to the Raiders, but replaced him with itinerant veteran Sammy Knight. Numerous reports say that the Saints are diligently attempting to work out a trade for Giants TE Jeremy Shockey, but as of yet no deal has been made.
Defensive line. Statistically speaking, the Giants were no better than mediocre in virtually every single meaningful category last year, save one: the Defensive Hogs
. The Giants not only boasted the No. 1 Defensive Hogs in football last year, it was these Defensive Hogs who physically manhandled the best offense in NFL history in Super Bowl XLII. Sure, Eli Manning led the Drive of All Drives
to secure the winning points and Super Bowl MVP honors. But without a command performance from the defensive line, the offense's 17 points would have earned the Giants nothing more than a double-digit Super Bowl loss. And don't forget: next year, the Giants will welcome back former No. 1 pick Mathias Kiwanuka, who was injured in 2007 and may play both linebacker and defensive end in 2008.
Passing offense. The most remarkable aspect of New York's playoff run, and Eli Manning's personal resurrection in the playoffs, was that the passing attack inspired nothing but yawns or fits of rage among Giants fans all season. The Giants produced a mere 5.51 YPA
(23rd) every time they stepped back to pass in 2007, a figure which sandwiched the passing offense between the Bears and Falcons, two teams best known for their annual inability to piece together a decent passing attack. To put those 5.51 Passing Yards Per Attempt
into perspective, consider that Minnesota rookie phenom Adrian Peterson averaged 5.63 yards per rush
attempt last year. The playoff run was either a miracle-fluke or a sign of a new era for the Giants passing game. We'll learn the answer during the 2008 season.
Most underrated player: DE Justin Tuck. He picked up a lot of name recognition in Super Bowl XLII, with five tackles, a pair of sacks, one forced fumble and numerous hurries on Tom Brady. But until then he was something of the poor sister on the Giants defensive line, at least in terms of reputation, playing back-up to bigger named players in Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. But Tuck led all Giants defensive linemen in tackles (65) and solo tackles (48) last year. He was also second in sacks (10), behind only Umenyiora (13). And don't forget, Umenyiora netted six of his sacks in that one game against Philly. There's a reason the Giants wrapped up Tuck so early and, after his command Super Bowl performance and with Strahan's career heading up the 18th fairway, the fourth-year defensive lineman should merit all kinds of Pro Bowl attention in 2008 and beyond.
Unit on the rise:
Quarterback. Isn't this one kind of obvious? Looking back in recent franchise history, it becomes clear: the Giants were a talented team in many areas held back by the performance of the most important player on the field. Once Eli Manning learned to play smart, efficient football in the playoffs, a team that had boasted a single Quality Win
all year suddenly reeled off consecutive victories against arguably the three best teams in football to win the Super Bowl. The addition of David Carr provides some added security with a seasoned pro in a reserve roll, but this position is on the rise only because Manning proved he can display extreme poise under extreme pressure
2007 Draft grade: A. If the Giants hit a home run with first-round pick Aaron Ross, they would have had a perfect A++ draft class. Ross contributed most of the season at CB and nabbed two picks, but was not an impact player. Second-rounder Steve Smith made only token appearances at WR in the regular season, but was at his best in the playoffs, with 14 catches for 152 yards, including five for 50 – both personal highs – in the Super Bowl. Defensive tackle Jay Alford saw limited playing time, though, like everyone else on the Giants it seems, had his best day in the Super Bowl, with two tackles, after recording just one during his entire bench-bound regular season.
Fourth-rounder Zak DeOssie contributed on special teams all year, while fifth-round TE Kevin Boss filled in notably for the injured Jeremy Shockey and was also at his best in the playoffs, with a season-high 45-yard reception in the Super Bowl. The sixth-round selection, tackle Adam Koets, made the roster as a back-up. Seventh-round pick Michael Johnson got a surprising five starts at safety.
And the greatest pick of all, at least in terms of value, may have been New York's last, seventh rounder Ahmad Bradshaw, a running back out of Marshall. He did little all season until it counted most. He ripped off 151 yards in a pivotal Week 16 win over Buffalo – the only game of the regular-season in which he saw significant action. And then he became New York's leading postseason runner, with 208 yards on 48 carries (4.3 YPA), including a game-high 45 in Super Bowl XLII.
2008 Draft power: 1st (31), 2nd (63), 3rd (95), 4th (127), 5th (159), 6th (187), 6th (191)
General Draft strategy: Unlike some teams, the Giants have not married themselves to a single position. Their main needs this year are shoring up the offensive line and defensive backfield.
Over the last five years, they've taken just one offensive lineman in the first three rounds, Chris Snee in the second of 2004. And then he went off and married and impregnated the coach's daughter. Fortunately, Coughlin's other daughter is already married, so he can pick another much-needed OL with little concern for the potential repercussions.
The Giants have shown a penchant for picking DBs high in the draft, but with limited success over the past decade. As noted above, last year's No. 1 pick, Aaron Ross, a cornerback out of Texas, had a nice season but hardly proved an impact player. Of course, he still has time to prove himself a legitimate top corner. Cornerback Corey Webster, a second rounder and New York's first pick in the 2005 draft, has underachieved, starting just 15 games with two picks in three NFL seasons. You can even count CB Will Allen, New York's No. 1 in 2000, and S Shaun Williams, the No. 1 in 1998, on the list of top picks over the past decade that the Giants probably wish they had back.
The Giants boast one of the more solid mixes of youth and experience in the NFL. For example, while Strahan is so old by NFL standards that Boy Scouts help him cross the street, the rest of the top-ranked Defensive Hogs
remain in the primes of their careers.
Coaching: Remember when the Grinch gazed upon all the Who's in Whoville Christmas morning, and his heart grew three sizes that day? That's what happened to Tom Coughlin's reputation when the world gazed upon David Tyree's miracle catch on Super Bowl Sunday. Giants fans were literally ready to run him out of town in December. He was the toast of the town in February.
Of course, the true hero of the Giants coaching staff – and the guy whose reputation was magnified instantly by the Super Bowl victory – was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The increased visibility was instantly deposited in his bank account. Spagnuolo was considered for the Redskins head coaching job before turning it down and inking a three-year, $6 million deal to stay with the Giants as DC. No doubt other head coaching opportunities will follow in the wake of one of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history.
Overview: The Giants will be the most interesting team to follow in 2008. After all, everybody wants to know which was the real Giants: the mediocre team of the regular-season who frustrated fans with its inconsistent play, or the big-play-making giant killers of the postseason who captured lightning in a bottle. We have an inkling how it will all turn out. Of course, we had an inkling the Giants would lose to the Buccaneers in the wildcard round, so we're forced to sit in the corner of the pigskin schoolroom wearing a dunce cap and are barred from making predictions about the G-Men for one full season.