After beginning the 2009 season with a promising 5-0 start, the New York Giants finished with a dismal 3-8 record and perfectly executed a Mets-like collapse, the likes of which many Giants fans were not used to witnessing. The most pressing question facing the Giants entering the 2009 was whether the young receivers would rise to the occasion and fill the Giant void left by the actions of New York State Inmate Number 17. With the help of Eli Manning, the Giants receivers put the NFL on notice and proved that they are one of the best groups in the game today. Steve Smith rewrote the Giants record-book and will most likely don an NFC Pro Bowl Jersey down in Miami in 2 weeks. Mario Manningham validated the Giant's faith in him when they gambled a third-round draft pick on him in 2008. Hakeem Nicks proved that he is one of the most talented receivers to come out of the draft in years and gave Giants fans, like myself, hope that he will be a superstar for years to come. Manning to Nicks has a nice ring to it, and other NFC East teams and their fans better get used to hearing it often for the foreseeable future.
At the beginning of the season no one could have ever imagined that the group that would be the main culprit in the Giants historic collapse would be their most talented group; the defensive line. Many people trying to put their finger on what exactly happened this year are quick to blame the secondary, and the injuries that plagued the team. While the secondary was horrible and deserves no reprieve for what happened, they were not a talented group to begin with. The Giants defense lives and dies with their front four. In today's pass-friendly NFL, the only way to slow down the pass is to put the opposing quarterback on his back each time he drops back to pass. This not only bails out the secondary, but it puts fear in the mind of the opposing QB. Knowing this, Jerry Reese went out and spent a king's ransom on Chris Canty. Many people, myself included, wondered why he did this, but now we all know the answer. The Giants' failure to bring pressure on the QB this season was the main reason why they lost the way they did, evident by their multiple (5) 40-point defensive disasters, the most since they gave up 5 in 1966, and their 28th ranked points defense.
Now that the season is over, what can the Giants do to change this for 2010? For starters, they needed to fire Bill Sheridan and they did so without any hesitation. One major problem everyone overlooked going into this season was how the Giants would respond to the loss of Steve Spagnuolo. At the beginning of Spagnuolo's tenure as Giants DC, the team struggled to learn his system; evident by the horrible performances put up at the beginning of the remarkable 2007 season, especially the opening game against the Cowboys. Eventually things turned around, and the defense led the Giants to their first Super Bowl appearance in 7 years and their first Championship in 17 years. Many of us hoped this would be the case with Sheridan's tenure. Instead, the defense only got worse each week. Sheridan's gameplan never disguished the blitz and he rarely rushed the entire front four as one cohesive unit. One specific instance that comes to mind is the heart-wrenching loss at home against the San Diego Chargers. The Giants had San Diego in third and long and backed into a corner. Instead of trying to force a quick throw with a well-crafted blitz, the Giants gave Phillip Rivers all day and he eventually found Antonio Gates for a 25-yard gain and a first down. It wasn't Antonio Pierce, Michael Boley, or even Michael Johnson covering Gates. No, it was Justin Tuck trying to chase him down 20 yards down the field. This type of scheme was commonplace in Sheridan's system. Far too often the Giants dropped some of the most feared pass rushers back into coverage on downs that they should have been unleashed on the opposing quarterback. Spagnuolo was successful by crafting difficult to block stunt and blitz packages to force second and third and long. When in those situations, Spagnuolo let loose his pass rushers, forcing quick throws and oftentimes sacking the quarterback. Comming into this season, Sheridan said that he was going to only "tweak" Spagnuolo's system; instead he butchered it, making the once feared Giants defense one of the biggest jokes in the NFL.
Now that the Sheridan experiment is over, the Giants have to find a suitable replacement to bring the Giants Defense back to prominence. Where should they go? Early candidates that emmerged were Perry Fewell from the Bills, Romeo Crennel, and Jim Haslett. Crennel followed fellow Belichick graduate Charlie Wies to New England West (A.K.A. Kansas City). Jim Haslett joined his good buddy Mike Shannahan in Washington. One candidate that was never mentioned in the search was Greg Williams. Williams has been a successful defensive coordinator in the NFL for many years now. He was widely considered the heir-apparent to the Redskins Head Coaching job after Joe Gibbs left, but he was turned down in favor of the offensive-minded Jim Zorn (we all know how well that worked out). Right now, Williams is holding the same position with the New Orleans Saints. Until they got decimated with injuries this year, the Saints defense was one of the best in the league. So why didn't the Giants give him an interview? Why didn't they at least ask the Saints for permission to talk to him? I don't know, and I don't think we will ever find out. Most coordinator contracts do not allow a team to talk to them for the same position; instead it must be for a promotion only. If the Giants would have attached the "Assistant Head Coach" title to his Defensive Coordinator title, there is your promotion. Additionally, I think Williams would have jumped at the opportunity because anyone with that wealth of coaching talent would love to coach a defense with all of the Giants talent; it would be a good audition for a head coaching gig. Instead, it has just been reported by John Fennelly of Giantsfootballblog.com that the only candidate to interview for the job, Perry Fewell, has accepted the Giants offer and is now their new defensive coordinator. I don't know much about Fewell to make give a thumbs up to the signing. I do know, however, that he is young, 47, and he doesn't have much coaching experience. Furthermore, the Bill's defense wasn't exactly a juggernaut last season. I would have thought that the Giants would have looked to sign a more established and experienced coach, but I guess they are willing to give a newcomer another shot. We'll see how this signing works out.
Along with the coaching changes, the Giants have some tough personnel decisions to make. For those of you who do not know, the 2010 season will be an uncapped season. This means that teams across the NFL can release players with large contracts without taking a cap hit. The first tough decision the Giants need to make is whether they feel that Brandon Jacobs is the type of running back they need going forward. Was the 2009 season just a fluke, or will he return to the 2007-08 punishing back? One thing is for certain, he has yet to complete a full season without being injured. He is a huge financial burden on the team, and if he is on the decline, then he is making too much money for his dismal production. With regards to Jacobs, the Giants must decide where they are going with their offense from this point on. Eli Manning is comming into his prime, and it might be time that the Giants gave him the keys to the Ferrari and let him loose. That would entail changing the offensive gameplan from a run-first attack to a pass-first attack. If that is where the Giants decide to go, Jacobs does not fit into their plans. His hands are like stones and he is making too much money to be a back up. Bradshaw fits the mold of a back that would be perfect for a pass-first offense, but I am not sure that he can take the beating of a 30-touches per game for 16 weeks. Due to the uncapped 2010 season, there may be an abundance of talented runningbacks on the market from LT to Fred Jackson. I am a huge fan of the old school, smash mouth football approach. However, the league has changed. The teams with an excellent arial attack are the ones who make it far. It just might be time for a change.
Alongside the Jacobs question, the Giants have some serious decisions to make on the defensive side of the ball. First, Antonio Pierce has played his last game as a New York Giant. He has been a great leader and the captain of the defense throughout his tenure with Big Blue, but he has clearly lost a step and some explosiveness. Additionally, the Giants should cut their ties with Michael Boley. He is not a player I would want on my team. He may have been the best defender for the Giants this year, but that is not saying much. The disrespectful comments he made in response to HALL OF FAMER Harry Carson's criticism of the team after the embarrassing Carolina game, coupled with his off-field legal issues that resulted in him being suspended this year, have made him too much of a liability and cancer to warrant a spot with this proud franchise. Regardless of whether one or both of these moves happen, the Giants need to address their lack of production and depth at linebacker. Clint Sintim will be good, but he needs time; Chase Blackburn and Brian Kehl are second-stringers at best; and the Jonathan Goff experiment failed miserably. To fill this void, the Giants should look to both the free agent market and the draft. Probably the best available player this offseason will be the Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He is a leader and a force on any defense. He is the type of player that offenses must design their gameplan around. He can step in and immediately make the Giants defense feared. In addition to Ryans, the Giants should do everything in their power to draft fellow Alabama-Alum Rolando McClain with their first round pick. The Giants have the 15th pick in this April's draft and McClain has already announced that he will forgo his senior season and enter the draft. There is a chance that McClain may not fall to them at 15, but they should consider moving up to get him; that's how good this guy is. For those of you who did not see the Alabama-Texas BCS National Championship Game, McClain was all over the field and manhandled the prolific Texas offense (before and after Colt McCoy left the game). McClain's speed and play recognition will allow him to step in and have an immediate impact for the Giants. He may be the most NFL-ready player in this year's draft and the Giants should do all they can to bring him to East Rutherford.
Probably the most intriguing question facing the Giants defensive personnel is what to do with Osi Umenyiora. No other Giant has garnered the negative press he did this past season, starting with his very public confrontation with Bill Sheridan during training camp and ending with his postgame comments from week 16 where he questioned whether he would be back next season. I can guarantee you that if he is made available, there will be 31 other teams interested in him. Osi is one of the most liked Giants on the team right now. Many people in the media have suggested that the Giants should move him now while his value is still high. It is true that he is a headache, and it is more likely than not that he will make another contract stink at some point before the season starts. Unfortunately for him, he is under the Giants control and he has done little to earn a new contract. As a matter of fact, he hasn't lived up to the contract he signed following the 2007 season. Despite this, I am a huge Osi fan and I want him in a Giants uniform on Kickoff Weekend 2010, but the Giants must do what is best for the whole team. If the right offer is presented, Jerry Reese should consider moving Osi. The one thing the Giants have going for them is that they have the best defensive line depth in the NFL. The Giants have outstanding back-ups at every position, many of whom would be starters on other teams. For example, would there be a huge fall-off from Osi to Kiwi? I don't think so. The Giants need to maintain youth on their roster and the only way they can do that is through the draft. Therefore, if a team comes to the Giants and is willing to part with a 1st and 3rd round or a 1st rand 2nd round picks in this years draft, then the Giants should move Osi. On the other hand, under no circumstances should the Giants simply cut Osi and receive nothing in return. Headache or not, he is a top 10 defensive end in the NFL. Regardless of whether my opinions on what the Giants should do this offseason come to fruition or not, I have faith in Jerry Reese that he will make the correct coaching and personnel decisions to get the Giants back on track to being Super Bowl contenders in 2010.
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