By Steve Silverman
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The Giants had some problems on offense last year. The running game was great one week and ordinary the next. While the passing game was generally quite effective, there were moments when the offense did not hold up its end of the bargain.
However, if the Giants are going to become the kind of team that their fans expect them to be in 2013 and have a chance to play the Super Bowl in their own home stadium, it's the defense that is going to have to show the most improvement.
The Giants have always been about defense first. When the Giants were an NFL powerhouse in the 1950s and early 1960s, it was the defense that set the tone. The names were Sam Huff and Andy Robustelli.
After those glory days, the Giants suffered through a long dry spell that did not end until 1981. That's when a rookie linebacker named Lawrence Taylor and an assistant coach named Bill Parcells got the defense revving again.
Since then, the defense has had a lot more ups than downs, and that's why it's important to get the unit back on track.
When you talk about defense in the NFL, the conversation probably begins with the Pittsburgh Steelers as far as generational consistency goes. However, the Giants don't have to take a back seat to anyone else.
The Chicago Bears may have set the standard for their performance in any one single year with what they did in 1985, but the Giants are right behind with the work they did in 1986.
Teams don't play shutdown defense anymore because rule changes have turned the advantage to the offense. But defenses must come up with crucial stops if a team has any Super Bowl aspirations.
The Giants certainly demonstrated this ability in the 2011 season and the Baltimore Ravens did it last year.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is going to be under the gun to make sure the Giants defense does not spring leaks like it did last year. The Giants ranked next to last in defense in 2012.
The Giants got pushed around a lot last year and they were particularly bad against the run. Opponents ran for 129.1 yards per game against Big Blue last year and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Teams are not supposed to gouge Fewell's defense like that, so the key is to combat those holes with bigger and stronger players on the defensive line.
Players like Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers and rookie Jonathan Hankins will give the Giants new blood on the defensive line.
The big question that Fewell will want to see answered is whether that trio will demonstrate the requisite consistency and meanness to get the job done week in and week out.
Jenkins and Rogers have plenty of know-how and should be able to make life much more difficult for opposing running backs. Look for them to come out of the gate strong.
However, Jenkins, 32, and Rogers, 34, have plenty of wear and tear. It's going to be quite difficult for both men to play 16 games at a consistent level. Both men played full seasons last year, but the odds are not in favor of older defensive linemen.
Fewell has spent quite a bit of his time talking about getting a better effort from his players than he did in 2012. Fewell has appealed to his players' pride and asked his defense to "play like Giants."
That will work. For a game or two.
Talent wins in the NFL, and when it comes to winning consistently and playing well on defense, it's young talent that often makes the difference.
Fewell can improve the gameplan and turn up the volume on motivation, but the talent level may not be what it needs to be, especially if Jason Pierre-Paul (back) and Antrel Rolle (ankle) aren't ready at the start of the season.
Giants fans may want to think that the Blue Wall is returning this year, but it seems more likely that it will be the hole in the Blue Wall that they will be talking about on Monday mornings.
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