If you take quick a look at the New York Giants, there was not a whole lot of difference between the 2011 club that won Super Bowl XLVI and the 2012 version. A 9-7 record, an inconsistent defense and an offensive that struggled to put up points in some games was the recurring theme over the past two years. But when you look beneath the surface, there was a lot more wrong with the 2012 version of the Giants than the one we all witnessed in 2011; in some ways, the Giants were lucky to win 9 games last year. Here is a look at the 5 biggest concerns that the Giants are facing going into the 2013 campaign.
Concern #5: Running Back
After releasing Ahmad Bradshaw (which, it pains me to say, was the right move), the Giants will be relying on two running backs, neither of which has put in an entire season worth of carries in the NFL. Although there is a lack of experience amongst the two, I do believe that David Wilson and Andre Brown will get the job done. David Wilson certainly showed his explosiveness during his rookie year and given head coach Tom Coughlin’s track record of helping ball handlers cut down on turnovers (see Tiki Barber), I am not overly concerned about Wilson’s past issues with fumbling (he did after all only fumble once last year and that was in the first game against Dallas). Also, before suffering a season-ending leg injury last season, Andre Brown showed some toughness running between the tackles. Wearing my rose-colored glasses, I believe that this unit has the ability to become an above average 1-2 punch.
Concern #4: Tight End
Next to middle linebacker, tight end seems to be the position with the biggest revolving door for the Giants. Martellus Bennett showed some flashes last year with 55 receptions for 626 yards and 5 touchdowns, but was not brought back after his one season with Big Blue. Instead, the Giants signed Brandon Myers who played for the Oakland Raiders last season and accumulated 79 receptions for 806 yards and 4 touchdowns. Looking at the numbers, it looks like the Giants made a good move here, but will they get the same production out of Myers that the Raiders were able to get? That remains to be seen, but with Eli Manning throwing passes his way and the Giants having a better overall offense than the Raiders, there is definitely potential here.
Concern #3: Middle Linebacker
I must admit, the inability for the Giants to find a good middle linebacker drives me completely crazy. Ever since Antonio Pierce retired, Big Blue cannot seem to find a long-term answer and it really showed last year when the defense just could not seem to stop the run. So, who is going to be our starter this year? It appears to be either ex-Cowboy Dan Connor or third year pro Mark Herzlich, unless former 1st round pick Aaron Curry can reach the potential that made him the fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft. I think the best chance that the Giants have of finding someone adequate at this position is to hope that a player will get cut from another team during training camp and that the Giants will somehow pick him up.
Many of my fellow Giants fans thought I was nuts, but I was a big proponent of signing London Fletcher last year. He had remained on the free agent market well into the off season and was there for the taking. Yes he is getting older, but the guy simply does not seem to age. I digress but I honestly do not know what to say here except to hope for the best which is usually not a recipe for success.
Concern #2: Hakeem Nicks’ Health
When compiling this list, I wrestled with making this #1 so this could almost be #1A. There is really no easier way to say this: when Hakeem Nicks is healthy, the Giants have one of the best offenses in the league and when he is not healthy, they struggle. Nicks missed four games in 2012 and could have missed more as he hobbled through much of the season. In addition to the four games he missed, he only had 1 reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 9 and had a goose egg against the Baltimore Ravens in week 16. Like a domino effect, it also hurts the running game. The rushing numbers are inflated a bit because he missed games against the Panthers and Browns, but in week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants as a team had 19 rushes for 57 yards and only scored 17 points. In week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Nicks had only 1 reception, the team had 22 rushes for 68 yards and only scored 13 points (they had a defensive touchdown as they scored 20 that game). I could go on and on, but I don’t think I am breaking any news here. If Hakeem Nicks cannot stay healthy, the offense will struggle, especially against the better teams.
Concern #1: The Defensive Ends
As I mentioned in Concern #2, I was conflicted over what to list as the Giants’ #1 concern for 2013. It is a team game after all and just like it is a fact that the offense will have issues without a healthy Hakeem Nicks, the defense will struggle again if Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck don’t get to the quarterback. The reason that I decided to make this #1 though is because overall, the offense was better than the defense last year.
Last season Pierre-Paul had 6.5 sacks and Tuck had 4.0. If that happens again, you can forget making the playoffs let alone getting back to the Super Bowl. The lifeblood of the Giants’ defense is rushing the quarterback. In their last two Super Bowl years of 2007 and 2011, the Giants had average secondary play, but they had Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Yumenyiora and others consistently getting sacks and pressures which masked the mediocrity of the back end of the defense. Last year, the pass rush was virtually non-existent and the problem was magnified because the defense could not stop the run and the secondary gave up too many big plays.
In my opinion, the defense in general will be the determining factor for the Giants’ success in 2013. In 2011, the defense ranked 27th in the league and last year they ranked 31st. As Justin Tuck recently said: “We have to think like we’re going to carry the team and that might be something we’ve lacked, because our offense is so good, thinking we can kind of give up this and that.” In order for the defense to get out of the bottom third of the league this coming season, Pierre-Paul and Tuck will need to step it up, otherwise, it will be another long offseason.