By Ed Valentine, Big Blue View
Amidst a flurry of historically bad defense, injuries and unchracteristic turnovers the New York Giants missed the playoffs in 2009 -- the first time that had happened in five seasons.
It began as a season of great optimism for the Giants, who seemed poised to make a run at a second championship in three seasons when they started 5-0. Things disintegrated, however, and the Giants looked disinterested in their final two games, losing both in embarrassing fashion and finishing 8-8.
Co-owner John Mara was embarrassed, and let everyone know it. The Giants have made a great many changes, especially on defense, to try and prevent another meltdown.
Bill Sheridan (defensive coordinator), Mike Waufle (defensive line coach), Antonio Pierce (MLB), Danny Clark (OLB), C.,C. Brown (S), Aaron Rouse (S), Kevin Dockery (CB). Fred Robbins (DT), Chris Palmer (quarterback coach), David Carr (QB), Jeff Feagles (P).
Offense was not the real problem for New York in 2009. They finished eighth in the league in yards per game and total points. It was really the type of offense. Eli Manning had his first 4,000-yard passing season as the Giants vaunted running game faltered and the team had to rely more on its passing game.
The Giants will look for a bounce back year from Brandon Jacobs and better health for running back Ahmad Bradshaw and fullback Madison Hedgecock. They will also hope their aging offensive line can hold together for one more season, provided second-year left tackle Will Beatty is not yet ready for prime time.
The Giants love the balanced offensive attack. In years past the question has always been can they make enough plays in the passing game to keep teams from crowding the line of scrimmage. That question is now reversed. What the Giants need to do is make enough headway running the football to keep opposing defenses from simply pinning their ears back and going after Manning.
Perry Fewell's job is to change that, and early indications from Giants Training Camp would lead you to think he is on his way to doing so. The Giants seem to be buying what Fewell is selling, which appears to be a variety of defensive looks utilizing more zone than the Giants have in the past. They are also healthier than they were a year ago.
Phillips is back, though in a limited way. Osi Umenyiora looka 100 percent again, as does Tuck. Free-agent acquisitions Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant, as well as the health of Phillips and Ross, make the secondary strong again. The veteran Bulluck should replace Pierce, on the field and in the huddle. First- and second-round picks Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph look like they should make contributions.
No reason to believe this unit won't be much improved over 2009.
Lots of questions here. Return man and coverage specialist Domenik Hixon has been lost to a season-ending knee injury, and the question of who will do the returning has yet to be determined. Ross will get first crack at punt returns, and a revolving door of candidates will be looked at for kickoff returns.
Veteran punter Jeff Feagles retired, leaving the job to seventh-round draft pick Matt Dodge. Early returns on him are mixed -- he has a strong, but inconsistent leg. He will sometimes kick the Giants out of trouble, and at other times kick them into it. Dodge will also take over holding responsibilities from Feagles, an adjustment for placekicker Lawrence Tynes.
Right now there is every reason to think 2010 will be better than 2009 was for the Giants. Manning is in his prime. The Giants have a deep stable of wide receivers. Jacobs, Bradshaw and Andre Brown should be able to handle the running duties. The key offensive question will be the line play.
Defensively, the Giants look much improved. They are healthy, they seem to be on the same page and they are determined to show that they are better than the way they played last season.
Are they a championship contender? Who knows. Are they better than 2009? Without question. Is this a playoff team? If it stays healthy enough it should be.