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A few things to fix


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by Paul Schwartz






HEAL thyself.


That was the decree for the Giants New York Giants t.gif this past week. They concluded their regular season with too many disturbing trends and lapses and breakdowns that, if not corrected, will severely compromise their chances of becoming the first Giants team to make it back to consecutive Super Bowls.


No, the sky isn't falling and the ship isn't sinking, but no one can consider the Giants to be soaring. They were 1-3 in their last four games and yes, they probably would have found a way to win the finale in Minnesota had they kept their starters on the field. To be fair, though, they needed a big comeback and a missed Carolina field goal and overtime to beat the Panthers for the only victory in the month of December.


The dominant juggernaut that steamrolled to an 11-1 record has left the building. Will it return in time for next Sunday's playoff date? Not unless these cracks in the foundation are sealed up:


The Dead Zone: The good news for the Giants is that no team in the league was more adept at driving the ball down the field; their 69 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line was tops in the NFL. The bad news is they scored touchdowns just 35 times, a frequency of 50.7 percent that ranked 20th in the league. Settling for field goals is going to get the Giants beat.


Bum rush: Justin Tuck Justin Tuck t.gif had 3½ sacks in the past eight games. Mathias Kiwanuka Mathias Kiwanuka t.gif had 1½ sacks in the past six games. Did the two starting defensive ends wear down?


Last season, the Giants feasted with a three-man end rotation that kept everyone fresh, but finding the third option this year has been problematic. Was Steve Spagnuolo trying to experiment a bit in the last regular-season game in an attempt to shake up the sagging pass rush?


Vikings coach Brad Childress said the Giants brought pressure 80 percent of the time. He estimated 50 percent would be considered high based on previous Giants games. Spagnuolo may have to manufacture pressure with increased blitzes if he can't get it with his four-man defensive line.


Fix the kick: John Carney is 44 years old and earned his second career Pro Bowl selection. He has hit 35 of 38 field goals and been a model of dependability. But his kickoffs are lousy.


He can hit it in certain directions to help the coverage, but just doesn't have the leg strength any longer. Inside the perfect conditions of the Metrodome, Carney's five kickoffs, combined with sub-standard coverage, allowed the Vikings to start on average at the 38-yard line.


That's not acceptable and is a recipe for failure in the playoffs. It is time to find a way to activate Lawrence Tynes, who is no great weapon on kickoffs, but can get the ball in the vicinity of the goal line.


Theft alert: When safety James Butler against the Vikings swiped a Tarvaris Jackson pass in the end zone, it was the first and only interception for the Giants in the past four games. That's another sagging department. Cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have the hands to make a difference, but down the stretch, turnovers through the air have been scarce. A game-changing play wouldn't hurt.


Too easy to end zone: For 12 games, the Giants made it exceedingly difficult for opponents to get quick-strike points. In the past four games the Giants too often have rolled out a big blue carpet and escorted ball-carriers into the end zone. It started with Brian Westbrook (30-yard scoring run, 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run) and continued with Tashard Choice (38-yard TD run), DeAngelo Williams (30-yard TD run) and Adrian Peterson (67-yard TD run). Big plays mean big problems.


"Right now, this is the time in the season when all the little things show up," cautioned Antonio Pierce. "Right now, we are playing teams that will exploit that, and we need to make sure about all our little things and all those minor things, executing exactly what you are supposed to do."


If the Giants aren't careful, the little things will add up to bad things.





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