As we continue our weeklong segment of analyzing each of the remaining contenders, this New York Giants team might have limped into the playoffs, but no one is taking them lightly after they dethroned the reigning Champions. During the regular season, there was a mix of very good and very bad play. While they've performed extremely well so far in the postseason and have shown true grit, they still have lingering deficiencies. Let's take a look at both and the keys for the Giants for the remainder of the playoffs:
- Eli Manning - I wrote about it earlier this season (link). Let's put the argument to bed. Eli needs to be considered an elite quarterback. The way he's played throughout this season and postseason warrants inclusion with the current group. This season, that list is short. Brady, Brees, Rodgers, and Eli. If Big Ben wasn't injured, sure. Don't talk to me about Rivers, Vick, Stafford, or Romo until they win a game that actually matters.
Eli threw 16 4th quarter touchdowns this year, won more than a handful of games when the Giants were trailing in the 4th quarter, and is clearly playing the best football of his career. Nothing seems to phase this guy. Everyone likes to judge him by his poor body expression after bad plays or his dopey kid face, but make no mistake, if the Giants are only down one score and they get the ball back, you better watch out. The team, organization, and fan base believes in him and knows that with him at the helm, the Giants are never out of a close game. Also, it doesn't matter who he has to throw to. His receivers for the 2007 season: Plaxico, Toomer, Smith, Kevin Boss, and of course, David Tyree. His receivers for the 2011 season: Nicks, Manningham, Victor Cruz, Jake Ballard, and Travis Beckum. While many Giant fans were nervous after losing Smith and Boss to free agency this offseason, Eli quietly took a group of nobodies in Cruz, Ballard, and Beckum and made them into a very deep receiving corp. Eli is the 2nd best quarterback remaining in the postseason and his experience and demeanor will be crucial down the stretch.
- Coaching - Blast Coughlin, Gilbride, and Fewell as much as you want for some poor regular season coaching, but their game plan, play calling, and personnel choices have been solid this postseason. They will take what they learned from their regular season loss to the Niners and will have the team well prepared for this week's tilt. I have faith that the Giants coaches will not let this team experience an emotion letdown after Sunday's victory. The Giants have been playing playoff football since Christmas and are not ready to go home just yet.
- Pass Rush - The Giants front four were a bit quiet against the Packers, but they disrupted Rodgers when it mattered. With JPP, Tuck, Osi, Canty, Tollefson, Joseph, and Bernard, the Giants have a deep rotation of strong rushers. If they can get to the quarterback early, it can definitely screw up his timing the rest of the game.
- Wide Receivers - The wideouts have been nothing short of amazing so far. It's hard to play double coverage on any of the three wideouts since they can all make plays and run after the catch. The tight ends are a bit banged up, but with Cruz playing an excellent slot and Manningham back healthy, their usage isn't vital as it was earlier in the season. Nicks is a big game receiver and needs to be respected. Manningham looks as healthy as last season and with the emergence of Cruz, no longer just a preseason superstar, Eli now has three targets he can trust.
- Secondary - While they have been okay so far in the postseason shutting down the Falcons and well, sort of stopping the Packers (they played decent coverage, but a lot of dropped balls and poorly thrown passes), they are still the biggest concern for the Giants. I do not trust Ross as an every down corner and Prince still needs work after his preseason injury. Rolle and Grant, while decent so far, are prone to mistakes and bad tackling.
- Run Game - Our running game has been terrible all season, and while they put up numbers against Atlanta, Bradshaw and Jacobs were not able to consistently move the ball against a pretty bad Packers defense (to be fair, I do not think their run defense is as bad as their team defense ranking suggests). A good run helps to control the clock and preserve leads. The Giants will face a very tough Niners defense and will need to have a balanced offense to keep them honest.
- Kicking - More like, Lawrence Tynes. He is simply too inconsistent. He didn't kick well against the Packers and can miss chipshot field goals. One can hope that this Giants-Niners playoff game doesn't come down to a last minute field goal again! On the bright side, Steve Weatherford has quietly had an excellent season and I do not miss Matt Dodge, one of the worst draft picks during the Reese regime.
Keys to Success:
- Balanced Offense - If the Giants can establish a run game and set up play action for Eli, they will be in very good shape. Bradshaw and Jacobs playing well and averaging 4-5 yards per carry will go a long way in setting the Giants up for victory.
- Linebacker play - I cannot stress how vital it was for the Giants to get Boley back and healthy. Boley has been playing his best football at a Giant at the time we need him the most, including two discount double checks on Rodgers on Sunday. We'll need strong linebacker play to contain Gore and Davis and if go further, against either the Pats and even the Ravens (Won't discount how good Dickson has been for them so far). Rookie Jacquian WIlliams has been a great stopgap this year and has played well so far.
- Keep the game close - Giants can ill afford to let their opponent rush out to a big lead. For this Giants team to succeed, they will need to keep it close, trade punch for punch, and put the ball in Manning's hands with the game on the line. If they can do that, they will have an opportunity to beat any of the remaining teams.
Why they will win it all:
You can poke holes in how the Giants played in the regular season, they lost some bad games to the Seahawks, Eagles, and Redskins and got destroyed by some very good teams. You can say that the Falcons were an easy opponent or that the Packers beat themselves, but at the end of the day, the Giants are in the NFC Championship game and one win away from going to Indy. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have been in this situation before and the Giants are 4-0 in NFC Championship games as a franchise. Do I think they will be worried come Sunday? Not really. When you beat the #1 seed in an away game (much like the 07 team beating the Cowgirls in Dallas), there's nothing left to be scared of. This team has the fortitude and passion that is very difficult to recreate. On top of that, this is a team that is playing with extreme confidence and trust in each other. If they keep that emotion and confidence up, they can beat any team remaining.
As a Giants fan, honestly, I didn't believe in the 2007 team. I didn't think we would win in Dallas, thought Favre was going to tear us apart in Lambeau, and the Patriots were going to embarrass us in the Superbowl with their vaulted offense. That team proved me wrong and I won't let that happen again.