2014 NY Giants Preview: Can Eli Still Make Fans BELIeve?

EliManning

Eli Manning must stay on his feet and keep the ball out of the opponents’ hands if the Giants are to make the playoffs.

by Drew Sarver

Tom Coughlin’s tenure as head coach of the NY Giants has seens its ups and downs. Those same highs and lows have been experienced by his starting quarterback, Eli Manning. Despite two Super Bowl victories, each of which saw Manning take home the game’s MVP Award, the Giants are in a period of transition. One that could cost both Coughlin and Manning if things don’t work out right.

Based on the pre-season, the Giants have their work cut out for them.

Key New FA Additions: RB Rashad Jennings, OL Geoff Schwartz,  CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, LB Jameel McClain

The Giants counted on running back David Wilson to be an integral part of their offense in 2013, but the former stand out at Virginia suffered a season ending neck injury and was forced to retire after a scare during training camp this year. Andre Brown missed half of the 2013 season, but led the team with 492 yard rushing. With his departure as a free agent, the Giants turned to Jennings, who rushed for 723 yards for the Oakland Raiders and looked sharp during the exhibition season.

With the retirements of Chris Snee and Dave Diehl, and the departure of ineffective center David Baas, Schwartz was a major signing to bolster an offensive line that was one of the weakest links on last season’s team. Unfortunately, Schwartz suffered a dislocated toe during the exhibition season and will miss the first half of the season.

The Giants secondary is one of the deeper area’s on this year’s squad, but the acquisition of Rogers-Cromartie give the Giants another top cover guy. He’ll need to be since he’s not particularly physical or consistent.

The Giants linebacking corp are many years removed from the LT years, Jessie Armstead, and Aaron Pierce. Jon Beason was a great addition last year and the Giants hope they can get big-time production from McClain, an excellent run stopper.

Key Departures: Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, David Diehl, David Baa, RB Andre Brown, WR Hsakeem Nicks, TE Brandon Myers, RB Brandon Jacobs

NFL Draft Additions:

Round 1: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Round 2: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado St.

Round 3: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse

Round 4: Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

Round 5: Nat Berhe, S, San Diego St.

Round 5: Devon Kennard, LB, LSU

Round 6: Bennet Jackson, CB, Notre Dame

Beckham is being heavily counted on to take pressure off the Giants’ number one playmaker, Victor Cruz. Unfortunately, Beckham missed the pre-season with a bad hamstring and won’t suit up in week 1.

Richburg was a nice choice for an offensive line that needed help. With the injury to Schwartz, Richburg is going to have to adapt quickly.

Bromley joins a line that struggled last year to get to the quarterback last season. A Giants’ fan growing up, Bromley is expected to use his strength and speed to clog up the middle.

Williams could eventually emerge as the team’s number one back this season. That will all depend on the success or failure of Jennings. Either way, Williams should get a good amount of carries in reserve.

Berhe adds more depth to a deep defensive backfield. Extremely athletic, Berhe could have a big impact down the road.

Kennard is a physical player that the Giants will need to contribute immediately. Linebacker continues to be a weak spot on the Giants roster.

Jackson will start the season on the practice squad.

The Offense:

The biggest addition to the Giants is new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. For years, fans have been all over Kevin Gilbride, not affectionately known as “Killdrive” by his detractors. McAdoo brings his version of the west coast offense to a team that has relied on deep QB drop backs and long passes from Manning. The first string offense, particularly the passing game, was a disaster during the exhibition games. The quicker the offense adapts to McAdoo’s schemes, the more successful the team will be. So far, a .500 record might be a stretch.

Jennings, Williams, and Peyton Hillis will need to run the ball effectively to give Manning time to find his receivers. The heaviest pressure is on the re-tooled offensive line to open holes for the aforementioned trio and to keep Manning off his back. Versatile fullback Henry Hynoski returns after missing most of last season due to injury.

Rueben Randle continues to not be on the same page as Manning. At times, Randle looks spectacular; at other times he looks completely lost. Beckham’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for an offense in transition.

The Giants tight end position is up in the air after another free agent, Brandon Myers, left after one year. Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, and Adrien Robinson are the underwhelming trio that will split time at tight end, at least until someone better comes along.

The new line, for now, has J.D. Walton at center with Will Beatty and Richburg filling out the left tackle and guard positions. Brandon Mosley starts at right guard with second year man Justin Pugh getting the nod at right tackle.

In addition to Cruz and Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, Preston Parker, and Corey Washington are the other wideouts. Washington could be the break out star of latter trio.

The Defense:

The key to the Giants defense has been to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. When the line and linebackers get in the quarterback’s face, the Giants coverage in the secondary holds and makes run stopping easier.  The pass rush was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season. The primary reason the team was 23rd in the NFL against the pass. The squad finished tied for 25th in the league in sacks.

Veteran leader Justin Tuck is gone and Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a season in which he struggled post-back surgery. Mathias Kiwanuka, who has played linebacker as well for the Giants, will lineup at the opposite end of Pierre-Paul. Damontre Moore will fill in, in pass rushing situations. Cullin Jenkins and  Johnathan Hankins are plugged in at the tackles spots, with Bromley spelling them.

Jon Beason begins the season with a foot injury, but will start at middle linebacker. He’s also one of the team leaders. Mcclain and Mark Herzlich will back him up. Jacquian Williams starts at the weakside with Kennard lined up at on the strong side. Spencer Paysinger will see some time as a back up and will be a regular on special teams.

The defensive backfield is deep with Rogers-Cromarte and the ever-improving Prince Anukamara at the corners and Stevie Brown, back from knee surgery, at free safety. Veteran mouthpiece Antrel Rolle, who had one of his best seasons in 2013, returns at strong safety. He’ll serve as a good mentor for Berhe.

Special Teams:

The Giants’ special teams have struggled over the years, particularly at stopping the opposing returner. The Giants return men was nothing special last season, as the team finished in the bottom five  of all teams. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the Giants have tabbed Parker as the punt returner to being the season. Quinton Demps gets the nod on kick returns, with Parker as his backup.

Kicker Josh Brown and punter Steve Weatherford return to their respective positions.

Outlook:

The Giants could finish in second place in the NFC East this season and not come close to a playoff spot. That’s because of how flawed the teams in the division are.  There’s plenty of pressure on head coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning, o-coordinator Ben McAdoo, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul to turn things around from last season’s medicore 7-9 mark.

It will be far from easy, 8-8 looks about as good as the team will be. It’s not out of the question that the Giants will split their six division games against Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington. But Seattle, Indianoplis, Arizona, and Detroit are on the schedule, and what should be an improved Atlanta squad.

The key to the season is for Manning to keep his turnovers down from the last two seasons. That will at least give the Giants a fighting chance.

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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