Following a disappointing 2012 season in which the Giants finished 9-7 after botching a terrific opportunity to make another run at the Lombardi trophy, big blue returns to action on Sunday night to face off against the rival Cowboys at At&T Stadium in Dallas.
For Giants fans, there is much reason for optimism. For as much as the 2012 season failed to live up to expectations, there were plenty of individual accomplishments to point to which suggest our fate may be pointing upwards. The highly touted rookie running back, David Wilson, burst onto the scene with electric kick returns and a dynamic running style this team has not seen in some time and rookie wide receiver Rueben Randle showed that he has the talent to be a number 1 receiver in the not to distant future; young veterans Will Beatty, Prince Amukamara, and Linval Joseph established themselves as stalwarts who should be productive members of our roster for years to come; and our special teams were amongst the best in the NFL.
Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that our defense was not nearly as bad as advertised. If you take our median average yards allowed per game, a better indicator of defensive effectiveness as it removes outliers, we would allow 372.5 ypg, in the same range as Atlanta, Indianapolis, New England, and Washingotn, each of which made the playoffs. Further our defense played some of the premiere offenses in the league including New Orlean (#2), Washington twice (#5), Dallas twice (#6), Atlanta (#8), Tampba Bay (#9), San Francisco (#11), Carolina (#12), Green Bay (#13), Philadelphia twice (#15), Baltimore (#16). The only offenses we faced in the bottom half of the league were Pittsbugh (#21) and Cincinnatti (#22). This year, we will not be forced to face the same level of offensive competition with games scheduled against San Diego (#31), Chicago (#28), Kansas City (#24), Minnesota (#20), Oakland (#18), Seattle (#17) all in the bottom half of the league offensively last year.
The personnel should also lead to better results as well. Our defensive line, which only collected 28.5 compared to 45.0 the year before should be substantially better. Justin Tuck appears rejuvenated, Linval Joseph is playing for a new contract, Mathias Kiwanuka is back at his natural position, and newcomers Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, and Shaun Rogers will bring an inside presence this team has not seen since Fred Robbins was donning Giant blue. Further, rookie DaMontre Moore has shown tremendous explosion off the snap, which should help alleviate the loss of Osi Umenyiora and his patented speed rush from the right side of the defense. While many point to the linebackers as our weak link in recent years, compared to the group we trotted out there last year, this group should provide a significant improvement if they remain healthy. Last year’s starters, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn and Mathias Kiwanuka were amongst the slowest and least athletic linebacker corps in the league. This year’s group which includes Keith Rivers (4.5 speed), Dan Connor (4.6 speed) and Jacquian Williams (4.5 speed) should provide significant improvements in athleticism and will likely help tremendously in coverage. In the secondary however, the loss of Stevie Brown is pretty big as he was one of our productive playmakers last season and was quickly emerging as a potential pro bowler, however the emergence of prince amukamara as a force on the outside should allow for greater help for Corey Webster, who seems to have lost a step or two in the last year, and the cornerback position has significant depth with the return of Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas.
On offense, its easy to forget that we ranked 14th in total offense last year, our lowest finish since 2007. However, early in the season, our offense was flying, averaging 412 yards per game, which would have been good for 2nd in the league. Unfortunately, due injuries to Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and poor play along the offensive line the Giants plummeted in offensive productivity, managing a paltry 311.2 points per game, largely caused by 3 clunkers against Pittsburgh (182 total yards), Atlanta (256 total yards) and Baltimore (186 total yards). This year, the offense welcomes a few youngsters to its stable of regulars, including emerging 2nd year players David Wilson and Rueben Randle, tight end Brandon Myers, and Rookie Right Tackle Justin Pugh. While Eli has carried our offense on his back for the past few years, our running game has a chance to take off this year behind the explosive legs of David Wilson and an improved offensive line. If we remain healthy, with the return of Hakeem Nicks, this year’s offense can be among the best in the league.
Of course, all this optimism can be drowned in a sea of injuries if we aren’t lucky. The depth on this year’s team is dangerously thin, especially at Running Back, Linebacker, Safety, and along the Offensive Line. If we lose any of our major players (Manning, Wilson, JPP, Rolle) this season could turn ugly quick.
Anyway, tune in Sunday folks and enjoy the show.