The New York Giants enter the 2011 season looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
After missing out on the playoffs the past two seasons there is a sense of urgency and it all falls on the shoulders of the guys in the trenches.
Every team in the NFL has the skill players who can put points on the board but it all starts up front with the guys on the line of scrimmage. The Giants were actually ranked as the second-best offensive line unit in all of the NFL last season according to Pro Football Weekly.
But this season the offensive line will be one of transition as injuries decimated the unit last season. A revamped line will be without stalwarts Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and Shaun Andrews.
The right side of the line is intact with Kareem McKenzie at right tackle and three-time Pro Bowl right guard Chris Snee. The Giants signed free-agent center David Baas from San Francisco and will move David Diehl over to the left guard spot paving the way for third-year player Will Beatty to take over the left tackle spot. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty will have his work cut out to ensure the line doesn’t resemble a screen door on a submarine.
How long it will take for the unit to come together will play a big role as to how far the Giants will progress in 2011. The G-Men will be the oldest offensive line in all of football averaging 31 years, 11 months, but take note they do average 6-foot-4, 320 pounds across the line of scrimmage.
The age factor began to come into play during the 2009 season when a promising, 5-0 start ended with a 3-8 finish as the Giants missed out on the playoffs with a pedestrian, 8-8 season.
Last year the breakdown continued with five of the top eight linemen going down with injuries as the Giants went 2-3 in NFC East games in the final nine contests of the season, finishing 10-6 and missing out on the playoffs in a tiebreaker to Philadelphia.
Head coach Tom Coughlin has been through battles before, winning two AFC Central titles in 1998 and 1999 during his eight years at the helm of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since taking over the Giants in 2004, Coughlin has guided Big Blue to NFC East titles in 2005 and 2008, winning the Super Bowl over New England to ruin the Patriots’ perfect season in 2007.
The Giants have all the tools in the shed to make a solid run at the postseason but there are some glaring concerns that need to be addressed. Eli Manning threw for over 4,000 yards last season, the first Giants quarterback in history to achieve the mark twice in his career.
Mannings’s 31 touchdown passes was the Giants’ highest total since Y.A. Tittle (36) in 1963 but it came at a cost of 25 interceptions and seven fumbles. The costly errors could have been in direct correlation with the breakdown on the line of scrimmage with all the injuries.
That makes this year’s cohesiveness on the line all that much more important if the Giants are to once again challenge for a division crown and qualify for the playoffs. The Cowboys and Eagles have gotten much better and the Giants may have stayed status quo.
The tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (1,235 yards, eight TD) and Brandon Jacobs (823 yards, nine TD) may be one of the best in the NFL. How effective they will be behind a revamped line will hold the key to their playoff aspirations.
Another glaring challenge will be in the receiving core that lost wideout Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss to free agency. Hakeem Nicks (79 catches, 1,052 yards, 11 TD) will be the go-to guy along with Mario Manningham (60 catches, 944 yards, nine TD).
Much will be expected out of tight end candidates Bear Pascoe and Travis Beckum. Rookie wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan and seventh-round draft pick Da’Rel Scott out of the backfield have looked promising along with fullback Henry Hynoski.
The Giants have long relied on a stingy defense to get them through the rough spots of a long season and Justin Tuck is the leader of the Big Blue defensive unit. Osi Umenyiora ended his brief holdout after leading the team with 12 sacks and an NFL-best 10 forced fumbles. But arthroscopic surgery on his right knee will put him on the shelf for at least the first few weeks.
Linebackers Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim along with defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips give the G-Men a legitimate unit that may be tested if the offense struggles. But a season-ending injury to Terrell Thomas, who led the team in tackles last year, leaves a big hole in the secondary.
Away games against division foes Washington and Philadelphia in the first six games before the bye week will be as important as the four division games in the final seven weeks of the season if the Giants are to contend for a playoff spot.
My prediction is that Philadelphia and Dallas have improved a little bit more than the Giants and for the third year in a row New York will be a game short of competing in the postseason
Ken Morse is a contributing writer for the Citizen’s News.