SNY Giants: Sizing Up the Team After Four Games

The NFL season is 1/4 over and the Giants have registered a 2-2 record. As Tom Coughlin said in so many words, it is what it is…

“It’s 2-2 to me,” the coach said when asked if the Giants were a good 2-2 or a bad 2-2. “I mean, I don’t know whether…it’s not what you hoped for.”

We agree. There are some positives along with the negatives. The real story here are the rash of injuries that have once again ravaged the team. Here is how we see the Giants at the 1/4 mark….

MVP: Eli Manning

Sam Spiegelman: It’s really not a question at this point either. With the Giants running game taking a step back and Hakeem Nicks missing half of the games to date, Manning has carried the offense and made plays when it counts.

Jim Mancari:  A few poor decisions have not overshadowed Manning’s fast start to the season. It doesn’t really matter who is catching the ball on the outside; Manning will get it there. With the schedule picking up in the next few weeks, Manning will have to continue his strong play to keep the Giants in contention.

Kel Dansby: Eli has picked up where he left off last season and continues to prove that he is amongst the NFL’s elite at QB. Eli is second in the league in passing yards and tied for fifth in passing TDs. Did I mention that he has done this with four different sets of starting receivers in four games?  He has turned Martellus Bennett and Ramses Barden into legitimate targets and has the Giants in the thick of the NFC East race.

Fennelly: It’s unanimous. As Eli goes, so goes the team. These are not your father’s Giants. They no longer play lockdown defense and smashmouth offense. They rely on big plays in the passing game to offset their bend-but-don’t-break defense. They are truly reliant on Eli for any success.

Best Defensive Player

Sam Spiegelman: Michael Boley. Boley’s three interceptions came in the first three games and the linebacker has been the one rock in a very shaking linebacking corps. Injuries have plagued the defense, from the secondary down to the backers, and Boley has stepped up as run and pass defender.

Jim Mancari: Michael Boley. Boley has recorded a few key interceptions and has been god against the run. I wish I was saying that Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul was the team’s best defensive player so far, but the defensive front has had trouble finishing sacks and containing opposing quarterbacks.

Kel Dansby: Jason Pierre Paul. JPP is having a better season this year than he had to start last season. Not too many people would agree with that statement because of his number of sacks, but his overall impact is greater this season. He’s had as much of an impact on the run defense this season as he had last year on opposing team’s passing games. He is the most complete DE in the NFL and every team that faces the Giants adjust their game plans to stop him.

Fennelly: I like the way Antrel Rolle has asserted himself this season. He’s been active, leading the team in tackles and finally leading in general. Chase Blackburn and Boley have played well, too.

Best Offensive Player Not Named Eli

Sam Spiegelman: Victor Cruz. If Manning is my MVP, let’s give credit to Cruz for his continued success. Many felt Cruz would take a step backwards from his breakout 2011 campaign, but despite being opposing defense’s main target he has the fifth-most receiving yards in the league.

Jim Mancari: Hakeem Nicks. Nicks needs to get back on the field to give Manning his main target. However, if it means missing another game or two in order to prevent re-aggravating the injury, so be it. Without Nicks, opposing defenses key in on Victor Cruz, meaning the other receivers must step up.

Kel Dansby: Victor Cruz. Cruz has bounced back from that opening game debacle to show that he is the heart of this offense. He has been Eli Manning’s most consistent weapon on offense and has shown that last season was no fluke. Cruz is 5th in the NFL in receiving yards and he hasn’t even hit his stride yet this season.

Fennelly: It’s easily Cruz in my mind. He’s drawn double coverage each week, especially with Nicks out of the lineup and still manages to make plays. What an amazing find this kid has been for the Blue.

Best Special Teams Player

Sam Spiegelman: David Wilson. A catalyst on two and potentially three of New York’s scoring drives like Sunday v. Philadelphia, Wilson can alter the landscape of a game with a good kickoff return. Put Manning and Co. in a short field and that gives the G-Men a chance against any defense in the league.

Jim Mancari: David Wilson

Kel Dansby: Spencer Paysinger. Many people would automatically think of Lawrence Tynes, but Paysinger may be the NFC’s special teams representative in the Pro Bowl. Paysinger has 7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumbled recovered in his 4 games on special teams so far this season.

Fennelly: It would have been Tynes hands-down had he hit that FG last Sunday, but I’ll go with Wilson. He has re-energized the return game.

Biggest Surprise

Sam Spieglman: Martellus Bennett. We always knew the former Cowboys tight end was talented, but without any discipline he would never pan out as an NFL star. The Giants have made Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard viable receivers, but neither were near the talent level of Bennett. As a red-zone threat and a downfield playmaker, Bennett has been a welcomed addition.

Jim Mancari: David Wilson’s returns. The Giants have lacked a strong return game since maybe Ron Dixon. We’ve seen a limited sample, but if Wilson can consistently return the ball to the 35-40-yard line, Manning will have a shorter field to work with and will be able to pick apart opposing defenses.

Kel Dansby: Henry Hynoski. Instead of choosing the obvious pick in Andre Brown, I’ve gone with the reason Brown was so effective. Hynoski changes the dynamic of this teams running game and the Giants offensive line needs a boost if they hope to keep this team balanced. Hynoski jumps off of the screen when you watch him play on 1st and 2nd down. He has also been a great receiver out of the backfield for Eli on play action passes.

Fennelly: Ramses Barden. I have watched him practice and play in preseason games since he’s been here, but this year the light has gone one. Of course, he’s out again but to me, he went from being cut to a keeper this season.

Biggest Disappointment

Sam Spiegelman: The Defensive Line. The hallmark of Big Blue’s defense is the defensive line and the pressure they generate. This year, however, they’ve mustered up just eight sacks, good for 17th in the league. Without pressure, quarterbacks can exploit the depleted secondary.

Jim Mancari: David Wilson’s ball security. I was ecstatic to see Wilson run the ball this season as Ahmad Bradshaw’s counterpart. But ball security from his first carry has been an issue. Hopefully his returns will inspire Tom Coughlin to give him another chance carrying the ball. Even so, Wilson’s issues did give Andre Brown a chance, and that’s worked out well.

Kel Dansby: Osi Umenyiora. Osi has been been an average defensive end at best this season. He has 2 sacks in the first four games, which is what should be expected of a 3rd defensive end, but his effort is what lands him as the biggest disappointment. As the veteran of this defensive line he shouldn’t commit multiple mental penalties in games. His reluctance to maintain containment on running plays shows that he isn’t playing his role of the defense. The defensive line has been playing as a group of individuals so far this season and Osi is at the forefront of their problems.

Fennelly: Injuries. Every year, it seems to be the same old story – 7-8 key injuries. Since Tom Coughlin took over the team (and even in the Jim Fassel era), we have yet to see all 22 starters play for a sustained period.