31 Days, 31 Teams: New York Giants
2009 was a tale of two seasons for the New York Giants. During a 5-0 start the Giants looked like the dominant team they were throughout the 2008 regular season. But injuries began to take its toll as the Giants defense was ripped apart, leading to a disappointing 8-8 season. Now with a clean bill of health the Giants are focused on getting back to the postseason.
The maturation of Eli Manning continued in 2009 with a 4,000 yard season for the quarterback. There was concern going into 2009 about the young set of wide receivers but that concern quickly went away as Steve Smith and Mario Manningham proved up to the task. Smith was Manning's favorite target. The third year receiver caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards and 7 TDs while Manningham, once an afterthought, notched 57 receptions for 822 yards. The aerial attack fed a Giants offense that finished 8th in scoring and yardage. But while Manning and company had a good year the Giants running game suffered, dropping from the league's best in '08 to 17th last year. Brandon Jacobs didn't come close to putting up the number he did two seasons ago. Ahmad Bradshaw played a larger role but didn't show the flashiness he previously had in prior seasons.
The real trouble spot for the Giants wasn't running the football, it was defense. During that five game stretch to open the season New York gave up an average of only 14 points per game. Over the final 11 games that number ballooned to 32 points per game. Throughout 2009 injuries were a major problem for the Giants. Defensive mainstays Chris Canty, Aaron Ross, Antonio Pierce and Corey Webster all missed time while Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were never at 100%. Up front the lack of depth cut into a once mighty pass rush. During the Super Bowl year of 2007 the Giants registered 53 sacks. That number dropped to 32 in '09. The injuries in the secondary were also problematic. In the final five games of the season, with injuries piling up, the Giants surrendered an average of nearly 270 passing yards per game. The Giants went for depth in the offseason by signing linebacker Keith Bulluck and safeties Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle. The Giants also used their first round pick on raw defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
A 3-8 finish was far from what people expected after the fast start by the Giants. However, with all the problems the Giants had they were in the playoff race until a crushing loss to Carolina in Week 16. For the Giants to get back to the playoffs they must get back to what made them successful in 2007 & 2008: running the football and pressuring the quarterback. Certainly the Giants should see improvement defensively. If Jacobs & Bradshaw can return to form and Manning continues to throw well the Giants will contend for the NFC East title.