Giants' 2010 midseason report card
With Big Blue 6-2 at the halfway point, we hand out our grades to Eli Manning & Co.
The New York Giants enter the second half of their season soaring. They are riding a five-game winning streak and are looking very much like the best team in the NFC. Perry Fewell's defense is ranked first in the NFL and Kevin Gilbride's offense is second.
The Giants still have some flaws that could haunt them as turnovers and special teams have been thorns in Tom Coughlin's side. But the Giants look more like a team that can play even better. Still, can the Giants keep this up when the level of competition increases? So far, the Giants have beaten the likes of Carolina, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Dallas and Seattle. Those teams have a combined 17-31 record.
Health is always a concern for a team ravaged by injuries last season. The Giants already lost Mathias Kiwanuka for the year with a herniated disk in his neck and injuries are taking their toll on the offensive line with Shaun O'Hara and David Diehl nursing injuries and backup Adam Koets out for the year.
The Giants also are no strangers to starting fast and struggling at the finish. But the Giants' chemistry has been excellent, the offense has looked unstoppable and the defense has been suffocating at times. They have more veteran experience and depth and should be a top-three NFC team with the way the rest of the NFC powers have struggled at times this season.
Giants' position-by-position report card
Eli Manning would have a higher grade if it weren't for the 11 interceptions. While seven of the picks went off the hands of his receivers, Manning still has to make sure he's on the same page as his wideouts. He deserves credit for helping Hakeem Nicks break out into a top-10 receiver. And when there were questions about leadership after a 1-2 start, Manning helped smooth things out. In fact, his laid back demeanor, which has so often been criticized in the past, has helped the offense become unflappable even when it turns the ball over multiple times in a game.
There were plenty of question marks entering the season about this unit. How would Ahmad Bradshaw handle being the top back? Can he stay healthy carrying the load? Could the fiery Brandon Jacobs handle a secondary role? Could the two come back healthy after offseason surgeries and spark a running game that did very little last season? So far, so good. Bradshaw has not only stayed healthy but the relentless back is third in the league in rushing with 765 yards. Jacobs gets better each week and appears to be thriving in his new role. The one major negative is the five fumbles lost by the backs.
Once considered a weakness, the Giants' receiving corps is one of the best in the league. Nicks has emerged into a star and still has room to get better considering all the balls he has had go off his hands for interceptions. Targeted 84 times, Nicks has been unstoppable at times against single coverage. The second-year receiver has four 100-yard games and is tied with Antonio Gates for a league-high nine receiving touchdowns. Steve Smith is steady, reliable and the perfect complement to Nicks. Mario Manningham doesn't get as many chances but makes the most of them. Ramses Barden likely will have to wait another year before making any kind of impact.
The Giants had a shortage in training camp when almost all of their tight ends were injured. But the Giants learned how to utilize an extra offensive lineman as a tight end for blocking and that has become a part of the offense. Kevin Boss hasn't been the receiving threat he is capable of being with the Giants asking him to block more. TE Bear Pascoe has developed as one of the season's best surprises. Filling in for injured FB Madison Hedgecock, Pascoe might remain there with the way the Giants are playing. Travis Beckum catches a pass or two per game.
Considering they've only played four games with the entire starting five intact, the Giants' o-line has exceeded expectations. The glue of the offensive line, O'Hara, has missed four games with foot injuries and yet the Giants' front five has surrendered just 12 sacks while helping Bradshaw become a top-three rusher. The Seattle win showed just how versatile the line is with LG Rich Seubert moving to center, LT Diehl moving to guard and Shawn Andrews starting his first game ever at LT. But injuries are taking a toll. Versatile backup Koets suffered a season-ending ACL injury Sunday. OL Kevin Boothe is back off the PUP list and T William Beatty is nearing a return from foot surgery.
The Giants' d-line has had just one poor game and that was the Indianapolis fiasco. In their six victories, the Giants' front four have helped hold opponents to an average of 54.3 yards rushing. Osi Umenyiora is playing at a Pro Bowl level again with eight sacks and seven forced fumbles. Justin Tuck is always solid and defensive tackles Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Rocky Bernard have been terrific in stopping the run, keeping second-round pick Linval Joseph from seeing playing time. At times, the Giants also use an extra defensive end like rookie Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson at DT. This unit lost Kiwanuka and continues to excel.
This was supposed to be the team's biggest concern but middle linebacker Jonathan Goff has exceeded everybody's expectations and been solid in his huddle control. The Giants lost Keith Bulluck for three games but Fewell has utilized a lot of 4-2-5 alignments and at times has lined up a safety, defensive end and corner at linebacker. Fewell also lost a critical piece when Kiwanuka was lost for the season but he continues to use Michael Boley and Bulluck as needed. Bottom line, the linebackers have not been the team's weakness as some thought they would be.
The Giants' corners have been solid. Corey Webster has two interceptions and Terrell Thomas has had three picks. Aaron Ross has remained healthy as the third corner but the strength of the secondary has been the safeties. The Giants may have the best trio in the league. Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant have provided leadership, playmaking and stability. Kenny Phillips continues to get better each week after his knee surgery and the three safeties have become a staple in Fewell's defense. The Giants' coverage has helped the defense collect 24 sacks. One negative is the secondary is not very deep, meaning health could be a factor in the second half.
This has been the team's Achilles' heel. Rookie punter Matt Dodge looked completely overwhelmed early on but he has gotten better with each game and has a powerful leg. The kickoff and punt coverage has been awful at times but has been better in recent games. The return game has been abysmal but it appears Will Blackmon will replace Darius Reynaud. Kicker Lawrence Tynes has been the bright spot on special teams. He did miss three field goals but that was when Dodge was his holder. He has made six straight with Sage Rosenfels holding for him. Pierre-Paul has become a force on special teams as well.
Coming into the season, there was plenty of talk of Coughlin being on the hot seat. That seat got warmer after a 1-2 start. Rolle questioned the "controlled" atmosphere and leadership and the Giants gave away a game to Tennessee with 11 penalties. But Coughlin has a knack for getting his team to rally and few can keep a team as steady in the midst of controversy. Fewell has been as good as advertised and has gotten the most out of a talented defense. Gilbride has his unit looking unstoppable at times and it has yet to play a complete game. Special teams is still a concern but has shown signs of improvement.
Jerry Reese has made mostly right moves so far. He signed Rolle to a $37 million deal. He added Grant, too, and both have been huge additions with their veteran leadership and experience. He signed Bulluck and Andrews with minimal risk and both veterans could pay huge dividends in the second half. He had faith that Goff would pan out and his choice of JPP in the first round has paid off with Kiwanuka out for the year. And his big signings last year -- Canty and Bernard -- are contributing this year. Special teams still is a work in progress and depth at running back and cornerback could be tested with injuries. His depth at offensive line is being challenged right now, though.
Giants' midseason awards
Offensive MVP: Nicks. Wait until he starts breaking off those 50-yard touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Umenyiora. Once threatened retirement, now has helped Giants retire five quarterbacks and counting in games this season.
Special teams MVP: Tynes. Most consistent performer thus far.
Most improved: Canty and Bernard. Healthy again, the two defensive tackles have combined with Cofield to become a run-stopping force.
Least improved: Clint Sintim. The linebacker who was taken in the second round in 2009 had a chance to start this season and wasn't able to take advantage.
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Biggest surprise: Goff. Nobody asks what the Giants are going to do without Antonio Pierce anymore.
Biggest disappointment: Bulluck. The veteran linebacker was eased into camp after knee surgery last year and then he was slowed by a painful toe injury that cost him three games. His impact will come in the second half of the season.
Best rookie: Pierre-Paul. With more snaps in the second half on defense, the rookie will get better.
Best offseason acquisition: Rolle. More than his play on the field, the outspoken safety has provided leadership and swagger.
Worst offseason acquisition: Reynaud. Was supposed to help ease the loss of Domenik Hixon.
Best-kept secret: Joseph. The second-round pick may not play much this season unless injuries open up a spot but Coughlin wishes a numbers game wouldn't keep him from playing DT more.
Biggest concern: Special teams. It is improving, at least.
Key to the second half: Staying healthy and cutting down on turnovers. The offensive line is already banged up.
On the hot seat: Special teams coach Tom Quinn. Quinn's unit has shown improvement but it can't cost the Giants any games.
Best coaching move: Hiring Fewell as defensive coordinator. Coughlin found the perfect man to replace Bill Sheridan and Fewell has galvanized the defense.
Worst coaching move: The Giants starting and staying too long with one true linebacker and six defensive backs to combat Peyton Manning, who shredded them with the run and then the pass in a 38-14 rout.
Game to watch: The Giants' two remaining games against the Eagles will likely decide the NFC East.
Giants will win the division if: The Giants must stay healthy, reduce turnovers, improve on special teams and find a way to stop Michael Vick.
Only way they miss the playoffs is: If injuries, special teams and complacency derail the season. The schedule gets tougher so we will find out if the Giants are for real.
Player ready to emerge: Andrews. With Diehl hurting and possibly out for a few weeks, Andrews' opportunity is now.
Player least likely to return in 2011: Reynaud. Already could be losing his job to Blackmon.
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