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New York Giants 2011 Season Preview

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On 08/29/2011 07:09 AM in NFL
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning considers himself in the same class as Tom Brady.

A copious amount of self-proclaimed experts feel Manning's preseason comparison to the New England Patriots star signal-caller is more like an Acura measuring up to a Porsche. The two do actually share one similarity, though, having both won a Super Bowl.

And isn't that the ultimate goal in the NFL?

"I consider myself in that class and Tom Brady is a great quarterback," said Manning. "He's a great player and what you've seen with him is he's gotten better every year -- and he started off winning championships -- and I think he's a better quarterback now than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships."

If you're a statistics junkie, Manning has been intercepted 104 times over the last six years, including 25 times in 2010, while the three-time Lombardi Trophy winner Brady has thrown 65 picks in his last seven seasons.

Manning went on to add in that radio interview that he's not a 25-interception quarterback, even though it appears on his stat sheet, and also said the upcoming season should be a good one.

The Giants have high expectations every season and 2011 will be no different, even if Manning is coming off a rough year and minus a few weapons. Winning three championships in the Super Bowl era tends to lead to such lofty goals, which Manning acknowledged with his recent comments.

Manning probably does wish the Giants' front office would have picked up a few offensive tools for him to work with this season after such notable players as tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith were not re-signed. Smith, who played in just nine games last year because of a serious knee injury, headed down I-95 to join the rival Philadelphia Eagles, while Boss -- Manning's emergency valve -- took a cross-country flight to join the Oakland Raiders. Both may be sorely missed this season, with the competition in the NFC East rising at a rapid pace.

Manning will have a few new faces along the offensive line as well, as veterans Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert are no longer with Big Blue after being released in the offseason. David Diehl will shift from left tackle to Seubert's left guard spot in the new arrangement, with third-year man Will Beatty taking over Diehl's former post. David Baas replaces O'Hara at center after coming over from San Francisco as the team's only notable free-agent signing.

That reshuffling could have a tremendous impact on the Giants' ground game as well as Manning's backside. He was sacked only 16 times and took every snap for the team in 2010.

While several other NFC teams took a dip in the free-agent pool this offseason, the Giants took the opposite route. Instead of loading up, the Giants have instead been downsized by defections and notable preseason injuries. The defense has taken its share of hits with the season-ending losses of cornerback Terrell Thomas and rookie defensive tackle Marvin Austin, while rookie corner Prince Amukamara and standout defensive end Osi Umenyiora will miss the beginning of the regular season after getting hurt.

Umenyiora made headlines with a training-camp contract dispute before eventually opting to suck it up and join his teammates with hopes of working out a new deal. He recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee after experiencing swelling and is expected to miss at least the first couple of games.

Head coach Tom Coughlin inked a contract extension in July and the deal comes as his previous extension -- a four-year deal signed in March of 2008 -- was set to expire following the completion of the upcoming season. He finished his seventh year at the helm by leading the Giants to a 10-6 record and a share of the NFC East title with Philadelphia, though New York was left out of the postseason picture for a second straight year.

Since winning Super Bowl XLII over the previously-unbeaten Patriots during the 2007 campaign, the Giants are averaging 10 wins per season under Coughlin, though that could take a hit with all the injuries.

Coughlin, however, feels that with other players filling in won't make a difference.

"I think the guys will rally," Coughlin said. "We're aware of [the injuries]. We spoke about it last night in the locker room and actually prayed for the guys who were injured. "I think our guys will come rallying back. Certainly it will be a bigger plus if we do find that there are contributors, that some of the people we have here, some of the people we may discover, if they can help us and contribute I think it'll be a big plus."

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is hoping the head coach's words ring through to his players, otherwise this could be a long season for the Giants.

Fewell still has a solid corps of returnees, however, in players such as defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, linebacker Michael Boley and defensive backs Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster.

Whether they can all hold on over a grueling 16-game schedule remains to be seen.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the New York Giants, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2009 RECORD: 10-6 (2nd, NFC East)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2008, lost to Philadelphia in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Tom Coughlin (65-47 in seven seasons with Giants, 133-107 in 15 seasons overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kevin Gilbride (eighth season with Giants, 5th as OC)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Perry Fewell (second season with Giants)

OFFENSIVE STAR: Eli Manning, QB (4002 passing yards, 31 TD, 25 INT)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Justin Tuck, DE (76 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles)

2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 5th overall (6th rushing, 10th passing), tied 7th scoring (24.6 ppg)

2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 7th overall (8th rushing, 9th passing), 17th scoring (21.7 ppg)

KEY ADDITIONS: C David Baas (from 49ers), P Steve Weatherford (from Jets), QB David Carr (from 49ers), RB Andre Brown (from Redskins), C Chris White (from Seahawks), OT Stacy Andrews (from Seahawks), DT Gabe Watson (from Cardinals), DT Jimmy Kennedy (from Vikings), CB Prince Amukamara (1st Round, Nebraska), CB Brian Williams (from Falcons), S Derrick Martin (from Packers)

KEY DEPARTURES: FB Madison Hedgecock (released), WR Steve Smith (to Eagles), TE Kevin Boss (to Raiders), C Shaun O'Hara (released), OG Rich Seubert (released), DT Barry Cofield (to Redskins), OLB Keith Bulluck (not tendered), QB Jim Sorgi (not tendered), WR Derek Hagan (to Raiders), OT Shawn Andrews (released), MLB Chase Blackburn (not tendered), OLB Gerris Wilkinson (to Jaguars), S Michael Johnson (to Lions)

QB: Manning (4002 passing yards, 31 TD, 25 INT in 2010) has already put that 25-interception season of 2010 in the past with his confident remarks about belonging in the same tier as Brady. Manning is no doubt one of the top quarterbacks in the league and can be as dangerous as anyone when he's on his game, and although be without a few targets in Boss and Smith, that shouldn't keep him from enjoying another productive season. His 31 touchdown passes a year ago were a career-high and he reached the 4,000-yard passing mark for a second consecutive season. Manning has recorded at least 3,200 yards in six straight years and owns no less than 21 touchdown passes a season in that time. His leadership skills have blossomed over the past few years as well, and this season his teammates will need him even more with both the Cowboys and Eagles seemingly on the rise in the competitive NFC East. As for Manning's backups, David Carr was added in the offseason for a second tour of duty with the team, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft played for the Giants during the 2008-09 seasons. Veteran Sage Rosenfels is back for another year with New York as well and has experience and great arm strength.

RB: The Giants have one of the best rushing attacks in the league with Ahmad Bradshaw and bruiser Brandon Jacobs sharing the load. Jacobs' playing time was cut down in 2010 after a 224-carry season the previous year, but it didn't stop him from tallying 823 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 attempts. When the 264-pound back gets past the linebackers against most defenses, he usually sends undersized defensive backs bouncing off of the turf, as Washington's LaRon Landry of the Redskins found out trying to tackle him a few years back. Bradshaw (1235 rushing yards, 8 TD) is the feature back for coordinator Kevin Gilbride's offense and proved that he belongs as the starter by setting a career-high in rushing yards and carries (276) last year. His eight rushing scores were also a career-best, as were his 47 catches and 314 receiving yards. Bradshaw is a shifty back with great feet, and a change of pace from Jacobs at 198 pounds. Coughlin likes to set up Manning with the run game and has arguably two of the best running backs in the division.

WR/TE: With no Smith or Plaxico Burress in the fold, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will resume their roles as the No. 1 and 2 receivers on the roster. Both possess great height and length, and combined for 20 touchdown receptions last season. Nicks (1052 receiving yards, 11 TD) had a team-best 79 catches in his second year as a pro, while Manningham (60 receptions, 9 TD) is coming off a near 1,000-yard campaign (944) in his third season in the league and with the Giants. Since Manning wasn't sacked that much a season ago, he was able to find his two best receivers quite often. With Smith, primarily a possession receiver, not being brought back because of concerns with his knee and Burress jumping ship to the New York Jets after being released from prison over the summer, Domenik Hixon, Victor Cruz and ex-Buccaneer Michael Clayton will be competing to be the third man in the rotation. There's no doubt Boss' 35 catches for 531 yards and five touchdowns last year will be missed, but that just means somebody else has to step it up. Travis Beckum (13 receptions, 2 TD) is the likely candidate to emerge as the No. 1 tight end, while Bear Pascoe hauled in nine passes a year ago and can also play fullback. New York could still scour the waiver wire for options at the position at final cuts.

OL: For all teams in the NFL, gelling along the offensive line is a must, and is important that Giants' new faces can quickly come together and protect Manning and open holes for Bradshaw and Jacobs. New York will have an veteran bunch on the o-line led by right tackle Kareem McKenzie and guards Diehl and Chris Snee. With O'Hara, Seubert and reserve Shawn Andrews all gone and taking their injury problems somewhere else, but that opens the door for Baas and Beatty. Baas has the biggest task at making all the calls at center, with Beatty trying to protect Manning's backside at left. Bradshaw, who hopes to hit the 1,000-yard mark for a second year in a row, said in the offseason that he isn't too concerned about the new arrangement up front and expects the linemen to fit right in. Tackle Stacy Andrews, Shawn's brother, was the biggest name among the team's free-agent acquisitions along the line and is slated to be a key reserve, while backup center Adam Koets will help guide Baas once he recovers from offseason surgery.

DL: Umenyiora's contract issues and subsequent surgery on his right knee gathered much attention, and he is expected to miss a few weeks once the regular season begins. The talented defensive end ended his holdout during training camp, though he is still bothered by his financial status and is entering his ninth year in the NFL, though he missed the entire 2008 season because of a torn knee ligament. Umenyiora (48 tackles) and fellow defensive end Tuck (76 tackles) finished tied for the team lead in sacks with 12 each and give the Giants two dangerous bookends coming off the edge. 2010 first- round selection Pierre-Paul (30 tackles, 5 sacks) had an entire rookie season and offseason to get acclimated with the schemes and should have an even better year this time around. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield is gone, signing with Washington as a free agent, and the Giants hoped Austin could fill his shoes until he suffered a pectorals tear in the preseason. Tackle Chris Canty (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is earning a lot of money, but his production hasn't increased since signing a big contract in 2009. The Giants expect a lot more from him this season and also brought back veteran reserve Rocky Bernard (18 tackles, 2 sacks) while adding Gabe Watson from Arizona. Watson had seven tackles in seven games with the Cardinals a year ago.

LB: The Giants will get plenty of pressure on the quarterback from Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora, but they still need to apply more worries on opposing signal-callers from the linebacker position. Fewell's 4-3 scheme may go through some shifts and changes throughout the season, as strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka (11 tackles, 4 sacks) can play both the end spot and on the outside. He played in only three games last year because of a herniated cervical disk that many believed would close out his career, but the former Boston College standout appears ready to rock in 2011. General manager Jerry Reese was optimistic Kiwanuka would be back for this season and was right on, as the former first-round draft pick previously made it back from a broken left leg in November of 2007, the year the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. He was re-signed in the offseason and could be used as an end on pass-rushing downs, especially with Umenyiora recovering from surgery. Boley (85 tackles, 1 sack) led the corps in tackles last season and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff (80 tackles, 1 sack) was right behind him. Greg Jones (Michigan State) and Jacquian Williams (South Florida) were taken in the sixth round of April's draft for depth, as Chase Blackburn was not retained and Gerris Wilkinson headed south to play for the Jaguars.

DB: Umenyiora made headlines this offseason, as did Manning with his top-tier claim. But perhaps the biggest news from Giants camp was the injury bug that infected the secondary and claimed a few vital pieces for the remainder of the season. Cornerback Thomas (101 tackles) led the defense in stops and interceptions (five) a season ago, but will have to watch the 2011 season from the sidelines after he tore the ACL in his knee in the preseason. It's a serious injury that requires a lot of time and patience to heal from, so now Aaron Ross (35 tackles) moves in as the starter at right cornerback. Amukamara is also out until at least October with a broken foot, while a healthy Webster (52 tackles, 4 INT) will resume his role as the starting left cornerback. Veteran Brian Williams (35 tackles, 1 sack with Falcons) was recently signed for depth and will battle Michael Coe (7 tackles) for time at nickel back. Strong safety Phillips (77 tackles) and free safety Rolle (87 tackles) give the Giants a reliable pair back deep, while 11-year pro Deon Grant (72 tackles, 3 INT) was brought back in the fold to lend experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Lawrence Tynes is entering his fifth season with the Giants and made 19-of-23 field goals a season ago, while connecting on 2-of-3 tries from 50-plus yards away that included a 53-yard boot. He was good on all 43 PAT attempts as well. Punter Matt Dodge averaged 44.8 yards per boot on 72 tries as a rookie, but will be mostly remembered for kicking the ball to Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who returned it for a last-second touchdown in a dramatic win for Philadelphia at the Meadowlands last December. Dodge is in a battle to keep his job after the Giants signed former Jet Steve Weatherford (42.6 avg.) in the offseason. D.J. Ware (20.6 avg on KR) and Darius Reynaud (5.7 avg on PR) shared return duties last season, though Hixon could push either one now that he's back from a torn ACL that kept him out all of last year. Wide receiver Devin Thomas will compete for time as a returner as well.

PROGNOSIS: The Giants stormed out of the gates last season and won five straight games at one point for a 6-2 record at the midway mark. However, a 4-4 second half coupled with the emergence of other talented teams in the conference saw the Giants miss out on the playoffs for a second straight year. This could be year No. 3 without a playoff appearance if New York can't overcome a myriad of injuries to the defense and a new-look offensive line isn't able to give Manning enough time in the pocket to prove he's one of the best. Do the Giants have reason to be optimistic for 2011? Of course, but only if players can step up in other areas to help this veteran corps succeed. New York has 10 or more wins in four of the last six seasons, but is relying on some fresh faces to bring back that success from years past.

08/28 17:49:40 ET
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