Here we are my friends, another NFL regular season has come and gone in a flash. Some may forget that not to long ago we were in the middle of a lockout with the looming possibility of going into the fall season with no football at all (I learned how to rhyme from Fred Durst). Thankfully that was not the case and instead we got to see exciting free agency signings, ugly holdouts, unprecedented quarterback performances, domination by rookie players, disappointing underachievers, and loud mouth coaches. Needless to say, all the expectations of an exciting season have certainly come to fruition and then some. Moving on…
As a Giants fan, I find myself looking toward the playoffs for the first time since 2008 without a bitter taste in my mouth. The GMEN somehow climbed out of an enormous hole that was dug way before Eli Manning was able to slip his hand between David Bass’ cheeks . With the departure of several key players and no acceptable replacements in sight, compounded by starters practically running to the injured reserve list, dissatisfied veteran players, and divisional opponents bolstering the talent on their teams, the chances of having a successful run seamed bleak; but all hope was not lost! With a strong foundation in place by an oldschool head coach, an elite quarterback, hungry young players (sorry Raheem), and a little bit of luck (I wonder if that’s copy written?) they were not only able to make the playoffs, but do it in deciding fashion with a win over Dallas to claim the NFC East crown. That’s right, THE NFC EAST CROWN. Did I expect it? No. Did anyone expect it? Probably not but it happened, and boy oh boy does it feel good.
First things first, I’ve been holding this in and need to get it out of my system… CRUUUUUUUUUUZ!!! New Jersey’s own, where did this guy come from!? Actually he came from Paterson. It’s always nice to have a home grown player on the team. Who knew that his dominant performance against the Jets in a preseason game in 2010 was what the future held? Obviously Jerry Reese otherwise he wouldn’t have made the team especially after a season ending injury not long thereafter. Anyway, it was a great decision. Stepping in after the departure of the lesser Steve Smith (formerly known as just Steve Smith) and the injury to Dominik Hixon, Victor Cruz has exploded onto the NFL scene becoming one of this year’s premier receivers with 1,536 receiving yards (3rd among NFL receivers) and 9 plays of 40 yards or more (including a 99 yard touchdown against the Jets) is 2nd only to Calvin Johnson. Granted, Eli Manning is having the best season of his career but with Cruz’ 6th ranked yards after the catch mark in the league he’s helped pad Eli’s stats just a little. He has such a sixth sense for movement after making the catch that his ability to make people miss just got more ridiculous as the season progressed. Other than a bobbled giveaway interception to Brandon Browner in the Seattle game, Cruz has caught passes all over the field just like Eli’s bib catches the littlest dribble of saliva off his lip at the dinner table. Basically this guy has made scouts all over the country look like morons for not putting him on their draft boards, and now 31 teams will pay for that mistake. If they make it deep into the playoffs I’m sure Cruz will be a huge part of it.
After finishing the first half of the season at 6-2, the transgressions of the offseason were washed away… until they lost 5 straight games. Through that stretch, the reason the Giants even contended can be explained in 3 words: JASON PIERRE-PAUL (okay, 1 word and 1 hyphenated word. happy?). Jason Pierre-Paul seemed to be the only player on the defensive side of the ball to never stop from hike to whistle. Finishing the season capped with his first probowl appearence JPP had 86 tackles (65 solo), 16.5 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 blocked kicked, this guy has a nonstop motor, seriously, he hustles on every down. He single-handedly won the 1st matchup with Dallas, keeping our playoff hopes alive for at least 1 more week… Which than turned into every following week because the guy never stops! If it wasn’t for JPP, Perry Fewell and the rest of the defense would be under serious fire for miserable play and lack of aggression. Jason Pierre-Paul makes everyone around him look better than they really are (I bet Tim Tebow is in a corner somwhere right now crying because he though he was the only one, sorry Tim). Like Cruz, if the Giants make noise in the playoffs you can be sure to attach most of it to JPP. Labeled as a project player a little over a year ago, he has blown past any expectation and become one of the most dominant pass rushers and overall talents in the game.
As it turns out, you really can’t spell Elite without Eli. Justin made a great statement with that, besides the fact that his understanding of spelling is superb. Eli Manning has proven this year that he is and will continue to be an ELITE quarterback in this league. His 15 touchdowns in the 4th quarter this year are the most by any NFL quarterback in the history of the game. So we’ve now established that he can lead his offense down the field in a tight situation and put his team in the best position to win all on his shoulders (or Cruz’ spin moves). He’s made all the throws ending the season with a career high 92.9 passer rating, and had significantly less interceptions (16) than last year (25) even while many of them can still be attributed to his receivers. He also finished the regular season only 77 yards short of 5000, not many quarterbacks outside of this season have even come close, not to mention all these achievements even with the NFL’s 32nd ranked rushing attack and tied in 1st with the most dropped passes. There aren’t many bad things I can say about the guy, other than him looking ridiculous on that Citizen-Echo billboard near Metlife Stadium on route 3. Sorry Eli, you aren’t GQ like Mark “Chihuahua” Sanchez. Regardless, going into the playoffs right now there is no one I trust more or would rather have under center than Eli Manning, he’s going to get the job done, I feel it.
Who’s left? Maybe a couple honorable mentions:
With Kevin Boss leaving for Oakland, Jake Ballard (who?) has filled in admirably in his absence. Despite missing several games due to injury he still managed to eclipse Kevin Boss in receptions (38) and receiving yardage (604) from the previous season, not to mention 4 touchdowns. He isn’t the fastest or most athletic guy on the field but he definitely gets the job done.
On to Hakeem Nicks, I really don’t know what to say. I think he has top 5 talent but has to do something about his recent case of gator hands (where’s Fred Biletnikoff when you need him? stickem anybody?). He shows great ability as a receiver, posting 1192 receiving yards on 76 catches with 9 touchdowns (he also fought injuries all season). He also shows a natural ability to run with the ball when he actually catches it and also, like Victor Cruz, makes circus catches at times. I consider him to be the most dangerous weapon on the field, but he’ll have to prove that this weekend against Atlanta for others to see what I see. I’ll also mention Mario Manningham here. He hasn’t exactly had the best of seasons considering he hasn’t played much due to the emergence of Victor Cruz and his nagging injuries but I think as a 3rd option that 523 yards on 39 catches and 4 touchdowns is respectable.
What do you do to remedy the secondary when you lose a guy like Terrel Thomas to injury before the season begins? Easy… have one of the most underrated corners in football also on the team, and that happens to be Corey Webster. He had a relatively quiet season, but that isn’t because of his lack of talent, it’s because of his ability to shut down opposing receivers. No, he isn’t Darelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha (in man coverage) but he’s done a great job this season with 51 tackles (43 solo), 16 passes defended, and a career high 6 interceptions. Again, not the most flashy of players, but sound in technique and has a great eye for the ball.
Staying with defense here I’ll mention a couple guys… Osi Umenyiora, he definitely had an up and down season. Early on threatening to get surgery because he wanted a new contract. I say, PAY THE MAN. He hasn’t been on the field much this season but in 9 games in limited action he had 9 sacks, he is a serious weapon when healthy and one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the game. I hope Jerry decides to bring him back, salary cap willing. Justin Tuck also had an up and down year. He also battled the injury bug like most Giants players this season, but over the last few games he’s done a nice job getting to the quarterback. Overall the D-Line has done a good job with 11 sacks in the last 2 games. Chris Canty and Linval Joseph have also done a descent job in recent weeks, also in limited work Dave Tollefson… but there is always room for improvement.
The rest of the defense not counting rookies: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Deon Grant, Michael Boley, and Mathias Kiwinuka have all showed flashes during the season. Kiwi has shown as a pass rusher that he still has what it takes to get to the quarterback. Rolle is sometimes all over the field. Yes, he tends to talk a lot, but surprisingly backs it up with his play. Boley also has taken a broken linebackers group and been a wonderful bright spot on it. Chase Blackburn can get a round of applause from me too, you can’t argue that Chase shows a lot of heart.
Talking about rookies: Jaquian Williams and Greg Jones have also showed they can be productive players, when they aren’t blowing zone coverage and getting dumb penalties. Mark Herzlich has tremendous heart but god damn is he horrible in coverage, hopefully he can improve as he gets healthier. I had high hopes for Prince Amukamara but after that ankle injury that kept him out most of the year I dont think he’s played up to expectations at all, maybe an offseason of getting healthy will do him justice and he can come back and justify him being taken in the 1st round.
The offensive line has been a big disappointment all season in the run game, thankfully they’ve managed to somehow keep Eli protected for the most part allowing only 28 sacks on the year. I’m not sold on David Baas, I’d still rather have Shawn O’Hara in there, but times change. I’d like to see him healthy in a couple games first before I make a mental decision about him, he spent more time on the sideline than he did on the field. David Diehl needs to get his act together, Kevin Boothe has done some nice things, on the other hand he also has shown why he is mostly considered a backup. Chris Snee, well… He’s Chris Snee, always does a decent job but with holes in other places one guy can’t block everyone (if only all the opposing defensive lineman were Tom Coughlin’s daughter, than he’d definitely get to work). Kareem McKenzie is getting up there in age, but I guess he hasn’t done a bad job. Tom and Jerry you guys better have a more effective plan for our O-line in the future.
Posting 659 yards on 171 touches and 9 touchdowns, with a poor 3.9 yards per carry mark Ahmad Bradshaw has struggled all season. Those stats don’t reflect the tough runner he is though. Despite poor blocking and cracked ankles he still makes something out of nothing on most plays. He had better keep “running angry” because a few of the guys up front block like they’re playing defense for the opponent. Brandon Jacobs had a lot to say this year, and surprisingly so with only 571 yards on 152 touches and almost a career low with 3.8 yards per carry. He bashed the fans and at times the organization but since they’ve been winning his play has improved , and in limited work and horrible play calling he actually managed to have a couple descent games. Bradshaw and Jacobs both run better when they’re both in the game. I’ve grown to like Henry Hynoski, I think he has a bright future ahead in New York, he’s very Jim Finn-esque (which means he’s a beast, or at least a future beast). Who can forget Bear Pascoe… all he does is hurdle Terrence Newman, I guess I can’t complain.
Looking ahead just a little bit to the Atlanta Falcons: They have a great team, very sound in their execution. They have weapons all over the field, Roddy White is still a big play threat and one of the best receivers in the game. Along with 1st round rookie receiver Julio Jones, and 3rd option Harry Douglas they can definitely spread the ball around. Tony Gonzalez may be in his 15th NFL season, but his age has in no way slowed him down. He has 875 yards on 80 catches, and added 7 touchdowns on the year proving that he is still a major target and huge threat on field for Matt Ryan. Speaking of Matt Ryan, has show he can be a great quarterback passing for 4177 yards with 29 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Michael Turner can also be that gamebreaking running back. He’s ran for 1340 yards this season notching 11 scores on the ground, and can also be a threat in the pass game. Bottling him up will truly be the key to this game, and considering how poor the Giants run defense has been overall on the year, it will without a doubt be their toughest challenge to date. Even Atlanta’s offensive line has done a great job on the season ranking 6th in sacks allowed, many teams have called them dirty players but all those big bodies and aggressive attitudes will be a formidable challenge for the Giants 3rd ranked sack kings. Atlanta’s defense has a few play makers, John Abraham (9.5 sacks), Curtis Lofton (147 tackles), Sean Weatherspoon (115 tackles & 4 sacks), Thomas DeCoud (86 tackles & 4 into’s), but they can be beaten through the air ranking 20th against the pass. The tougher task will be establishing a run considering they rank 6th against it. Thankfully this game will be played in New York, the Falcons record under Matt Ryan is significantly better at home than on the road so thats another plus. Anyway we will have to wait until Sunday at 1:00 pm, my birthday as a matter of fact. A win against Atlanta would be one hell of a present. I have faith, I trust my team, and I trust the coaches… LETS BRING ANOTHER LOMBARDI TROPHY TO NEW YORK!!!
I know there are a few guys I left out, but damn I feel like I’ve been typing for days. There will be more to write and more to come after this upcoming game against the Falcons. All in all there were very low lows and very high highs, especially silencing the Ryans (for now) in big wins over the Cowboys and Jets (hopefully Matt Ryan will be another Ryan that can’t beat the Giants). At least I don’t have to hear Dallas fans talk trash for the next 8 months, and the Jets, pending a Superbowl victory, for the next 4 years. Thanks guys, if it wasn’t for yall the GMEN wouldn’t have broken their 2 year playoff drought, and been in line for a shot at the Superbowl.
Not bad for my first blog post ever eh? Thanks for reading whoever you may be, I really appreciate it.
LETS GET THOSE “ALL-IN TOWELS” SPINNING AND SHOW HOW MUCH THIS TEAM MEANS TO ITS FANS!
Vincent C. Presepe 1/6/2012