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Post-Plax Giants will return to pre-Plax heights


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There has been on inescapable truth the Giants have had to deal with for the last eight months: They were 10-1 when they lost their No. 1 receiver last November. Then they went into a season-ending 2-4 slide.


That’s it. There’s no hiding from it. They were 10-1 before Plaxico Burress put a bullet in his thigh, 2-4 afterwards. It’s why all the talk, rumors, reports, etc., this offseason centered around the Giants’ pursuit of receivers. It’s why my e-mail box contained at least one e-mail every day for six months about whether Braylon Edwards was Broadway bound.


And if you think the media is making too much of the receiver issue, consider this statement from Brandon Jacobs during Super Bowl week last January:


“If we had Plax on our team, we go 15-1 and we win the Super Bowl,” Jacobs said. “And I’m not afraid to say that and I’ll say it to anybody on any team. We had a different identity with him and we didn’t have enough time to change our identity to be effective at what we wanted to do.”


So here we are, on the eve of the 2009 season and this is what the Giants are left with: Almost the same exact team - - with a few exceptions - - that they had last season, but still without Burress and still without that No. 1 receiver. The Giants and GM Jerry Reese have banked everything on their belief that the current receivers can fill the Plaxico void and return the Giants to the days when they were dominating the NFL at 10-1.


If they don’t, you can be sure you’ll hear and read a lot about Reese’s failure to acquire a veteran receiver. It’s a legitimate issue, though unfair if the price of those receivers isn’t considered, too. It’s also not the only reason the Giants collapsed last season. The pass rush and the quarterback should be tagged with that failure, too.


Regardless, the Giants have had all offseason to fix their problems and they are confident they remain the best team in the NFC? That’s not exactly a stretch in what is a weak and wide open conference compared to the AFC. But the Giants still have a little boom-or-bust potential and need a few things to go their way.


Having said that, here is my look at the 2009 Giants, with my rarely right prediction at the end.




This is a team built to win, and barring a Mets-like series of injuries it’s hard not to see them winning at least more than half of their games. They have three of the four key ingredients I think you need to be a Super Bowl contender: 1. A strong running game, 2. A powerful offensive line, and 3. A top-tier quarterback. And the truth is, they might have No. 4 - - a strong pass rush - - though I want to see it in action first. They know that games are won in the trenches, so that’s how they’ve built this team. And they know running the ball is a big part of that, and even with Derrick Ward gone I believe Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.




The receivers are most definitely a worry. It’s not that I don’t like them. After watching them all summer I’m sold on their speed and I’ve seen them catch enough passes - - and tough ones at that - - that I know they can do it. But I certainly was worried by the way they dropped all those passes against the Jets. It’s alarming that they fell down when the lights were turned on, especially since that was only a preseason game. And it’s equally alarming when you remember all the drops they had down the stretch last year. The other big worry is all the defensive injuries. None of the defensive linemen are on the injury report, but who really knows how healthy defensive tackles Chris Canty (hamstring), Rocky Bernard (hamstring) and Fred Robbins (knee) are? And while DT Barry Cofield (knee) and DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) appear full strength, they are still trying to comeback off surgery. I like the defensive line and the potentially strong rotation a lot, but I don’t like the injuries, especially when LB Michael Boley (hip) and corners Aaron Ross (hamstring) and Kevin Dockery (hamstring) are added to the mix.



Brandon Jacobs had 1,089 yards in 13 games last season, which is a good total, but not a Pro Bowl total. However, I think his arrow is pointing up. If - - and admittedly this is a huge if - - Jacobs can stay healthy, I think he’s got 1,600 yards in him. And I think that’s the case even though he’s splitting the backfield with Ahmad Bradshaw. I don’t expect Bradshaw to carry the same full load that Derrick Ward did last year, unless Jacobs gets hurt. So the 1,000-1,000 split from ’08 could be more like 1,400-700 in ’09. Jacobs could certainly exceed that. He needs help, though. He needs his offensive line to stay healthy. And he needs the Giants’ passing game to hit on a few big plays early. Otherwise he’s going to spend at least the first half of the season running into walls of eight defenders almost all the time.




There’s no getting around it: Hakeem Nicks looks like a keeper. Forget the preseason stats, because they mostly came against scrubs. The more important thing is what your eyes tell you. He looks like a top receiver. He’s smooth. The ball doesn’t make a sound when it’s absorbed into his huge hands. He doesn’t miss a stride even when he has to reach for a pass. I’m told he runs good routes and knows the offense, and he looks like a veteran as he gets position on corners in attempts to make a play on the ball. Add in some good speed and moves and … well, it’s really a lot to get excited about. I know you know the stats by now: No rookie receiver has had more than 16 catches for the Giants since 1984. I think Nicks will top that. The only thing that could keep that number down is that the Giants appear to want to bring him along slowly. I don’t expect much early from Nicks, but if he’s healthy I think he’s primed for a big second half.




For all the offseason panic about the wide receivers, everyone seemed to forget that TE Kevin Boss hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s not a receiver, but he’s still a big receiver who could be a huge factor in the red zone. He’s got the size to replace Burress, he’s got great hands and he’s got good enough speed to take advantage of the frequent linebacker-on-tight end matchups he’s likely to see. He can’t be a regular out in the passing attack because he’s got blocking responsibilities. And he still needs to get better at getting open quickly, because he’s always been more of a straight-ahead, downfield threat. But he’s still improving and Manning likes throwing in his direction. I expect his receiving numbers to take a significant step up.




This is not a perfect team. It’s not a juggernaut. And I’d be surprised if it’s as good as last year’s pre-Plaxico version. But look around the NFC? Who’s better? The Vikings and a quarterback who was retired until late August? The Saints with no defense? The Eagles with all their injuries? The Falcons with a second-year quarterback? The mess in the NFC West?


This is a weak and wide-open conference and the Giants, with their powerful offensive line and potentially powerful defensive line, are as good as any team in it. Yes, they have issues that could potentially be significant. But they are undoubtedly a good team that has the potential to be great if things go their way, if they’re healthy in December, and if they don’t - - figuratively or literally - - shoot themselves in the foot.


They are also a team that, health-permitting, will get stronger as the season goes on. I get the sense from the players that they don’t know yet what their identity is, and that it may take a few weeks to establish it. On defense, injuries have prevented them from really getting a good look at what new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has in store. On offense, the chemistry between Manning and his unheralded receivers hasn’t quite been there.


That will take time, but it will happen. And when it does, the Giants could be close to the bullies they looked like back on Nov. 28. Because it will take time, though, the record won’t be as gaudy. But a 9-7 team won the NFC last year and a 10-6 team won it the year before that, so the final record really doesn’t mean a thing.


The Giants are good. That’s all that matters. And they do have the potential for much, much more.


PREDICTION: 10-6, NFC East champs.

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