By Michael Jacobson
Cold, Hard Football Facts Giants beat man (and we do mean "beat" this week)
Heading into the 2011 season, the perennial self-proclaimed off-season champion Redskins were supremely confident. In fact, quarterback Rex Grossman openly declared that the oft-ignored Redskins would win the NFC East, a feat his team hasn't accomplished since 1999, with nary a smirk on his face.
Everyone laughed at Rex for that prediction, your humble Giants beat writer included. But now that Week 1 is in the books, the Giants and Redskins doubters alike have to do some serious soul searching after Washington pummeled New York, 28-14 in D.C.
Here are five things we learned
about the Giants from their Week 1 debacle:
1. Injuries are a cancer. Admittedly, the defense that took the field for the 2011 Giants this week is remarkably different than the unit which ranked No. 3 in the Defensive Hog Index last season.
The Giants had already lost their top cornerback and leading tackler, Terrell Thomas and their starting middle linebacker, Jonathan Goff, to ACL injuries during the pre-season. To make matters worse, team leader and dominant pass-rusher Justin Tuck didn't suit up for the opener, having suffered a neck injury during the pre-season contest against the Jets.
And of course, resident cry baby Osi Umenyiora is nursing a knee injury and won't be back for a few more weeks.
With the walking wounded out of the picture, the Giants were forced to start journeyman Dave Tollefson at defensive end and green-as-grass rookie Greg Jones at middle linebacker, the latter of whom hardly played in the second half as the Giants had switched to a predominantly nickle package with back-up safety Deon Grant in the middle.
The patchwork defense was unable to get consistent pressure on Rex Grossman or hang with an extremely weak receiving corps of Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong and tight end Fred Davis. The Giants better hope they get Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora back soon, otherwise Tom Coughlin's mantra that "injuries are a cancer" will surely be realized this season.
2. The Giants secondary is in big, big trouble without Terrell Thomas. Despite Corey Webster's lucrative contract, Terrell Thomas was truly the Giants' No. 1 cornerback last season, routinely matching up against opposing No. 1 receivers and leading the entire team in tackles.
Losing him for the season is a blow that the Giants defense will suffer over and over again as this season progresses. Week 1 was a sobering demonstration of exactly that. Thomas' 21 passes defensed last season is a tremendous reason why the Giants were able to rank No. 6 in Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt.
Without him on the field, the Giants secondary was abused like Tina Turner. High-priced safety Antrelle Rolle looked lost in zone coverage all day, and the Redskins' receivers beat Corey Webster and Aaron Ross like a drum.
Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell will have to go back to the drawing board if he wants to get production out of this secondary.
3. The Giants offense continues to struggle in short-yardage situations. In 2010, the Giants set the benchmark for offensive inefficiency, racking up 265 more yards of offense than the juggernaut Patriots, but scoring 124 fewer points. That's why they were ranked No. 18 in Scoreability last season.
Part of that inefficiency was the Giants' inability to convert on fourth down (3 conversions of 11 attempts) and third down (ranked No. 20 in the league in third down conversion percentage). Those issues were revisisted against the Redskins on Sunday as the Giants failed to convert a crucial fourth-and-short, which stalled a potential game-tying drive in the second half after a big turnover.
4. The Giants offense will really miss Steve Smith. Don't get us wrong, Steve Smith didn't exactly light up the scoreboard against the Rams on Sunday. In fact, he didn't enter the game until the third quarter and didn't record one catch for the Eagles.
What the Giants will miss, however, is a sure-handed possession receiver to move the chains, a job Smith has had on lock-down like Plax in Rikers since 2007. Look no further than the Giants' disgusting 1 for 10 third down conversion rate against the Redskins on Sunday. Missing Smith was so obvious, in fact, that his absence was realized on the very first drive, as Victor Cruz failed to haul in an easy ball to move the sticks on third down.
5. Jake Ballard is a fine replacement for Kevin Boss, but the Giants still lack an ideal third receiving threat. Kevin Boss was a serviceable tight end for the G-Men, but when lunatic curmudgeon Al Davis gave him a $16 million contract, General Manager Jerry Reese bid Boss adieu.
Of course, many Giants fans were left wondering exactly how the hometown favorites planned to replace Boss' production. After all, Boss hauled in 35 passes for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. Not stellar, but not insignificant, either.
With Travis "Brittle" Beckum also on the shelf, second-year monster Jake Ballard got the starting nod. He proceeded to grab two balls for a combined 59 yards, including a beautiful 41 yard catch that quickly made Giants fans forget about Boss and his penchant for getting knocked out cold. A closer look at the box score and the passing distribution in today's game makes me wonder (and worry) how the Giants will take the pressure off Hakeem Nicks, whose 7 catches was 64% of the total passing offense today. The Giants sorely need someone to step up into that third receiver role.
Look for the passing attack to find somewhat of a better groove next week against the St. Louis Rams.