By Curt Macysyn
Going into the bye week with two straight victories has buoyed the confidence of the New York Football Giants. Led by a defensive resurgence, New York has not allowed an offensive touchdown in 10 straight quarters. The offense has played just well enough to secure a win, and more importantly, the team has not shot itself in the foot with turnovers. But their two wins came over mediocre opponents, so New York will have to raise its level of play in order to have any real chance of securing a playoff spot. To do so, these five players will have to lead the way.
After Week 6, when the Giants were still searching for their first win of the year, quarterback Eli Manning was on pace to throw 40 interceptions on the season. While all of the interceptions were not the Giants signal caller's fault, Manning, at times, was careless with the football. In the past two weeks, Manning has protected the ball better with no interceptions against the Vikings and the Eagles, and consequently the Giants have won both games. Manning had been known as a fourth quarter comeback specialist, and he will have to revive that moniker in the last eight games for the Giants to make a playoff run. While Manning to Victor Cruz has been a stalwart play call for the G-men, Manning needs to be able to spread the ball around to wideout Hakeem Nicks, tight end Brandon Myers and second-year receiver Rueben Randle, in order to be successful.
RB Committee: Brandon Jacobs, Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis
With Andre Brown coming off a leg injury, the Giants figure to employ a running back by committee approach in the second half of the season. As evidenced by their six straight losses, the team needs desperately establish a consistent running attack and achieve a more balanced run-pass ratio. As an example, New York has thrown the ball 311 times this season, while running the ball only 176 times. After David Wilson's two fumbles in Week 1 against the Cowboys, the injury to Andre Brown, and the lack of depth at the position, New York became a one-dimensional passing team. Wilson progressed slightly before a neck injury sidelined him in the first Eagles game, and the running game only got on track after the team picked up veteran Brandon Jacobs. When Jacobs got hurt, the team reached out and signed Peyton Hillis, who has been effective as a runner, receiver and blocker. With Andre Brown back in the mix, the Giants will have a solid three back rotation to rely upon through eight games, something that most of their opponents cannot say.
Nicks is in the final year of his rookie contract and was the subject of trade rumors through the end of October. But the trade deadline has passed, and Nicks remains with Big Blue. Unfortunately for the Giants, Nicks has not looked like himself all season, and the fact that he skipped mini-camp appears to have hurt his timing with Eli Manning. Nicks has zero touchdown catches thus far this season, and if he gets shut out in the second half, it is likely that New York will be shut out of the playoffs. The receiver has been credited with six drops this season, the third highest total in the NFL.
The Giants defensive captain has only 1.5 sacks on the season, a far cry from his personal best of 12 sacks, which he accomplished in 2008 and 2010. But Tuck played an inspired game against the Minnesota Vikings when he had a sack and four tackles to his credit. Gone are the days when Tuck can be counted upon for double-digit sacks, but the nine-year pro still needs to put pressure on the quarterback and be stellar in run support. The Giants are not a heavy blitz team, so quarterback pressure has to come from the front four, and if Tuck can supply some pressure, New York's defense will continue to thrive.
Thomas is the toughest selection on the list because the Giants have gotten more from him already than they should have rightfully expected after missing the last two seasons with knee injuries. But Thomas raised the bar for himself by playing every snap against the Eagles, and he contributed in a big way against Philadelphia. The fifth-year cornerback from Southern California had 11 tackles and a sack/forced fumble that took away an Eagles scoring chance. When Thomas first injured his knee in 2011, he was primed for a Pro Bowl season; now two years later, TT is rounding into form again. A healthy and productive Thomas will make the Giants a much more difficult defense to navigate in the second half of the season.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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