The Giants got off to a great start in 2009, going 5-0 and looking like a potential Super Bowl contender. But it was all downhill from there.
New York went 3-8 to close the season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004, which was Tom Coughlin's first year with the Giants. Now it's up to Coughlin to get the team back on track.
The first thing is fixing a broken defense, and the Giants hired new coordinator Perry Fewell, added Antrel Rolle through free agency and drafted defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round to add depth along the line. If Osi Umenyiora, Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross can return to health, the defense should be dominant again.
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On offense, the Giants need to get back to their identity and work on their ground game. They got too pass happy last year -- and turnover prone -- and it showed in their inconsistent play.
While Eli Manning played well and the Giants displayed an explosive offense with Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, they are a better team if they run the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and rely on their defense. It's not like the Giants are going to stop throwing the ball, but don't expect the aerial assault we saw last season.
Fantasy owners, especially those who have followed Coughlin's tenure in New York, should prepare for more running and less passing.
Sleeper ... Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Bradshaw had a productive season overall in 2009 with 163 carries for 778 yards (an impressive 4.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns and 21 catches for 207 yards. He did all that with injured feet, and he's expected to be healthy this season. Bradshaw will share carries again with Jacobs, but there's room for two running backs to play well in this offense. And we expect Bradshaw to be more consistent in 2010.
Last year, he scored his seven touchdowns in five games, and he only had two games with more than 100 rushing yards. He was never considered a quality Fantasy option because owners were concerned about his injuries, the presence of Jacobs and the Giants improved passing game. This year, Bradshaw should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy running back. Jacobs is also in line for a bounce-back year after a disappointing season in 2009 (Bradshaw actually outscored him by two rushing touchdowns), but Bradshaw will fall on Draft Day. You can get Bradshaw with a late-round pick, and he's the type of player who will outperform his draft position.
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Bounce-back candidate ... Brandon Jacobs, RB
Jacobs was terrible in 2009. He had only five rushing touchdowns -- 10 less than he scored in 2008 -- and ran for just 3.7 yards per carry while ending his two-year streak of at least 1,000 rushing yards. The disappointing thing was he had a career-high 224 carries and started 15 games, but he was limited by a nagging knee injury.
This year, Jacobs is expected to be healthy, and he's motivated for a rebound season. We think he's closer to the 1,089 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns he gained in 2008 than the way he played last year. And the good thing is Fantasy owners will shy away from Jacobs based on how he played last season, which is good for you. If you can get Jacobs in Round 4 or later you'll be happy. He's going to return as a starting Fantasy option in 2010.
Bust ... Eli Manning, QB
Manning was amazing last year, throwing for 4,021 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He finished as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback, and he enters this season with plenty of potential. But I'm not ready to put Eli on the same level as his brother, Peyton. The Giants are still a running team, and they should return to their roots this season. While coach Tom Coughlin sees the stats Manning posted, and he should be excited about a talented receiving corps in Smith, Nicks, Manningham and Kevin Boss, Coughlin has some other numbers that should have him concerned.
For example, Manning was sacked a career-high 30 times. That speaks to the Giants having problems on the offensive line, but it also shows Manning was holding the ball longer than needed and also throwing into coverage. Manning also had 22 turnovers, including a career-high eight lost fumbles. The Giants also had their fewest rushing attempts since 2004, which was the last time they missed the playoffs. The Giants ran the ball 443 times last year, but they averaged 474 carries from 2005-08 -- all playoff seasons.
Now, it wasn't like Manning was excessive with his passing. He only attempted 509 passes, which was 30 more than 2008, but 20 less than 2007. The difference for Manning was he set a new career high at 62 percent completions. Considering Manning has a career average of 57 percent completions, Manning is likely to be less accurate this year. We don't expect Manning to have a huge drop-off in production, but don't consider him a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. He should still be viewed as a borderline starter or a key reserve, and he's only worth a mid- to late-round pick in standard leagues.
Remember, we're still talking about a quarterback with career averages of 3,107 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also plays for a conservative coach and, despite what we saw last year, this is still a run-dominated offense.
The Giants want to get back to running the ball, and they have a good early season schedule to make that happen. Things will get tougher for Jacobs and Bradshaw to close the season with games against Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay in three of the final four weeks, but that's when Manning and the passing game could take over. Still, we see Jacobs and Bradshaw leading the offense this year, and the Giants should push around most of their opponents on the schedule. We also have a Manning-Manning showdown in Week 2 with Eli playing at Peyton's house in Indianapolis.
Training camp topics
No matter how you view the Giants offense this year, they have to make sure everyone is healthy after dealing with an offseason of injuries. Some key players spent time on the sidelines in Jacobs, Bradshaw, Nicks and Boss.
To refresh your memory, that's the starting backfield, play-making wide receiver and No. 1 tight end. The good thing is all should be fine for the start of the season.
Nicks and Manningham will battle for the No. 2 receiver spot behind Smith, and we expect Nicks to start. Even with the Giants expected to run the ball more, Smith and Nicks are still starting options in the majority of Fantasy leagues, and Manningham and Boss should be key reserves.
The Giants have a lot of talent on offense, and it should be exciting to see how it all blends together.
Brandon Jacobs (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Hakeem Nicks (toe; probable for the start of training camp) ... Ahmad Bradshaw (foot; probable for the start of training camp) ... Kevin Boss (ankle; probable for the start of training camp) ... Andre Brown (Achilles' tendon; probable for the start of training camp) ... Domenik Hixon (knee; out for the season) ... Jim Sorgi (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Chad Jones (leg; questionable for the regular season) ... Jay Alford (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Aaron Ross (hamstring; probable for the start of training camp) ... Justin Tuck (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Kenny Phillips (knee; questionable for the start of training camp)
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