The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for Fanhouse.com

Giants' defense the key

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A year ago, the New York Giants entered the season with one question mark: at wide receiver, where they no longer had Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.

Everything else? Great, including a defensive front beefed up by the free-agent acquisitions of Chris Canty, Michael Boley and Rocky Bernard.

Surprise!

The receivers were better than anyone expected, led by third-year man Steve Smith, who caught a team-record 107 passes and made the Pro Bowl. First-round draft choice Hakeem Nicks averaged 16.8 yards on 47 catches; and second-year man Mario Manningham caught 52.

But the defense ...

It stunk, allowing 427 points, the most for the defensive-oriented franchise since 1966. Bill Sheridan, the coordinator who replaced Steve Spagnuolo when he became head coach of the Rams, was fired after one year; Osi Umenyiora, a three-time Pro Bowler was so bad coming off a knee injury that he was benched; Canty and Boley were hurt most of the year; and safeties dropped quickly, leaving backups and street players looking at each other while wide-open receivers streaked through the secondary.

Still, the Giants managed to finish 8-8, missing the playoffs in the last week for the first time in five seasons.

They'll be back this season with a chance to do very well.

Why?

Perry Fewell is the new defensive coordinator. Unlike Sheridan, he has a track record and was 3-4 as the interim head coach of the Bills last season after Dick Jauron was fired. So far, the team seems to have responded to him, although OTAs and minicamps are NOT the regular season.

On offense, Eli Manning is in his prime; those young receivers should get better and the offensive line that was so good in 2008 and 2009 is still around, reinforced by Will Beatty, a second-round pick last year who may replace David Diehl at left tackle and allow Diehl to move back to his natural guard position. And the Giants always have a corps of good running backs -- look for Ahmad Bradshaw, if he stays healthy, to carry a bigger load this season.

On defense, Canty and Boley are healthy so far; Kenny Phillips, badly missed at safety, should be back and if he's not, the Giants signed veteran safeties Antrell Rolle and Deon Grant. Umenyiora will be in his second year back and he's angry, so he should provide more. Yes, there's a hole at middle linebacker but also plenty of young guys to try and fill it.

So basically, this is still pretty much the team that won a Super Bowl three seasons ago and was 11-1 in '09 until Burress got into trouble. It has fewer question marks than Philadelphia, which is breaking in a new quarterback and certainly fewer than the Redskins, where Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen really have to tear things down to build things back up.

That leaves the Giants and Dallas at the top of the NFC East and the NFC East almost always gets two teams in the playoffs. Once they're in ...

Well, we saw the Giants in 2007.

By Dave Goldberg  |  July 13, 2010; 12:03 AM ET  | Category:  Dave Goldberg , New York Giants , Playoffs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Canty and Boley stink. There's a logjam at defensive end that can only be loosened by moving Kiwanuka back to LB, replacing Boley. Too bad the coaches are so in love with Michael, a major contributor to last year's defensive collapse. Grant will have to prove himself.

Posted by: jpherling | July 15, 2010 12:15 PM

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