The New York Giants are just two years removed from a Super Bowl triumph, but their current outlook for the 2013 season is difficult to gauge.
The Giants were inconsistent for much of last season on both sides of the football, with high and low points throughout the campaign. At times, the offense was as lethal as to be expected, while at others, the unit was a second-rate force unable to punch the football into the end zone once inside the 20.
The defense, meanwhile, was scarcely present. They struggled mightily in every facet, incapable to pressure the quarterback, cover receivers down the field or stop even the most subpar rushing attacks in the NFL (including 142 rushing yards surrendered to the New Orleans Saints in Week 14).
The Giants ranked near the bottom in just about every defensive category. When quarterback Eli Manning was not able to out-throw the opposing offense, Big Blue’s chances for victory were slim. So changes need to be made, right?
Changes were made, but none that appear to be immediate improvements on paper. Indeterminate acquisitions like defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Dan Connor were brought in to replace declining veterans like defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty, and linebacker Chase Blackburn. At cornerback — the Giants’ worst unit — the faces are nearly identical to those that failed to deliver the past two seasons.
Still, many — fans and analysts alike — are optimistic the Giants can have a good year, because the rest of the NFC East division is equally as inconclusive.
If the Giants are going to be successful this season, the following formula could be beneficial to their quest.
It’s All on Eli
The Giants are expected to field one of the more explosive offensive units in the NFL. With Manning behind center, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz spread out wide, and running backs David Wilson and Andre Brown sure to make their impact felt with the ball in their hands, the G-Men appear to be in good shape.
Ultimately, it will rest on Manning to make all the pieces come together—as tends to be the case anyhow. The offensive line is in question, but Manning has proven in the past and will likely need to prove once again that he can make up for shoddy line play with quick, thorough work from the pocket.
He will have plenty of options at his disposal—Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy and Brandon Myers are all expected to be key contributors—and, as is Manning’s foray, he will use every one of them to attempt to successfully guide the offense.
Prince’s Potential Must Be Realized
If the Giants are going to have any success on defense, they’re going to need elevated play from their 2011 first rounder Prince Amukamara.
The cornerback took a step in the right direction last season, but with Corey Webster quickly declining and depth but no talent behind him on the depth chart, Amukamara needs to be the guy in the secondary. 2013 will be proving grounds for him to show whether he’ll ever be the No. 1 corner the Giants thought he could be.
The G-Men can risk some shoddy coverage from Webster if they know Amukamara will lock up the other receiver across the field. Then, they can hinge their hopes on their safeties to protect them down the field and make some key plays on the football.
A Healthy Season for Hakeem Nicks
Part of Eli Manning’s slightly down year in 2012 came as a result of a season-long battle with injuries for star receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks’ struggles were evident and his production took a hit, but his presence on the field alone makes a huge difference for the Giants offense.
Sure, Cruz is a lethal playmaker that reshapes the way the Giants do things on offense, but his potential is maximized when Nicks is on the field — and healthy — with him.
In 2011, Cruz recorded 82 receptions for a franchise-record 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. Together, they combined for 2,728 receiving yards. That tally accounted for more than 55 percent of Manning’s 4,933 passing yards.
All of this came during a season in which Nicks missed just one game—though he was a bit hampered most weeks. And we all remember how the 2011 season culminated.
The Revival of Justin Tuck
Defensive end and captain Justin Tuck has become a shell of his former self. Despite playing 645 snaps last season, the 30-year-old was an absentee along the defensive line. 2011 wasn’t much better.
But Osi’s gone and JPP’s future is questionable at this time, so an appearance by Tuck in 2013 would certainly be welcomed by everyone in East Rutherford.
Tuck says he’s more focused than ever on football, even cutting back on outside distractions this summer in preparation for the upcoming season.
His timing could not be any better. He is entering the final year of his five-year, $30 million contract and could be facing his final year with the Giants.
A turnaround year for Tuck could be enough to rejuvenate the Giants’ diminishing pass rush, strengthen one of the NFL’s worst defensive units and elevate the team on another exciting run to the Super Bowl.
You can follow me on Twitter @LouisMusto.