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2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Mike Freeman | National NFL Insider

Offense

Ex-Giants receiver Amani Toomer, in a recent moment of uber-phony trolling that would make Skip Bayless blush, declared that Tony Romo was a better quarterback than Eli Manning. It's impossible that Toomer truly believes this, but the comments also play into a common theme when it comes to Manning. Despite winning two Super Bowls against maybe the best coach and best quarterback in history, as well as ending a perfect season bid, all while showing mental and physical toughness, leadership, and pure talent, Manning is still highly disrespected.

Vital Info: Giants
New York Giants
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2012 Schedule • Roster
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Full 2012 Projections:
Pete Prisco • Pat Kirwan

The Giants offense (and team in general) is one of the more fascinating in all of football. Key parts leave in free agency and they are replaced. The line is maybe the best in football despite moments of shuffling and instability. Running back in, running back out. Doesn't matter. Receivers leave and go, and still the offense churns along. Why? Because of Manning. Manning's goofy looks hide the fact that he's a deadly, devastating thrower, and his abilities allow the offense to go through numerous changes, highs and lows, and still win titles. Does Tony Romo do that?

Defense

Former Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan, in a message to me on Twitter: "This year's defense could be better than last year's." The reason why is the unit's athleticism and depth have only increased. Pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul is on the verge of becoming a genuine superstar, and Justin Tuck is coming off an injury but should be fine and explosive. The linebackers will be better, as will the secondary.

The Giants are often perplexing, playing like the Browns in certain spates of the season only to play the best defense in football when it counts later in the year. I've heard this said privately by more than one Giants player: this is a smart veteran group that knows when to turn it on, and they turn it on at end of year. That's a dangerous approach, but it works for them. Big time. And will likely work again.

Key Changes

Roster Additions: RB David Wilson, WR Rueben Randle

Roster Departures: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, TE Jake Ballard

Brandon Jacobs had to go. He was slowing, and had basically de-evolved into a guard. Also, his attitude stunk. Addition by subtraction, with a little algebra thrown in.

The interesting thing to see is what will happen to New York's offense without Manningham. More than a few people in football think Manningham will be harder to replace than either the Giants or others believe. Letting Manningham go was the right move, but it could cost them. Manningham was a bit of a knucklehead at times with lapses in concentration and dropped passes at pivotal moments, but when he's on, he's on, as witnessed in the Super Bowl. Manningham forced defensive coordinators to account for him.

Manningham was a solid-enough presence to take pressure off Hakeem Nicks (and to some degree Victor Cruz). It's unlikely another receiver can fill that role as well as Manningham, despite all of his faults. Some scouts think both Nicks and Cruz will see slightly reduced numbers this season.

That's definitely possible, but one thing Manning does well is develop new targets. He makes receivers the way Antonio Cromartie makes babies. Few quarterbacks are better at it.

X-Factor: Martellus Bennett

He tends to get fat and lazy (his blood type is Rocky Road). Not good, but there is incredible potential there. (Currently, he's heavy, with more muscle, but that can change quickly.) Again, back to Manning. If Bennett's chocolate chip cheesecake eating butt can't prosper under a highly accurate thrower looking to make -- no, dying to make -- the tight end a huge factor in the offense, then Bennett might as well retire now.

The unflappable Tom Coughlin

It's incredible, really. The toughest coach in the sport is 65 years old and he remains sturdy and smart. Not sure how many times some in the media have attempted to have him fired. Twice, four times, 10? More? It's no accident the Giants are remarkably mentally sturdy because their ornery coach is. This won't change. For the next season or two the Giants will be Super Bowl contenders, not just because of the talent but because of Coughlin's unbreakable will. There are only one or two coaches in all of sports who that can be said about.

Bradshaw's big break?

His surgically-repaired foot seems fine. If it is, Bradshaw should be in for a solid year. More than that, actually. With Jacobs gone, Coughlin will lean on Bradshaw more than he usually does. If his body holds -- and that's a huge if -- Bradshaw could end up being one of the top two or three backs in football this season. Yes, you read that correctly.

Defending their turf in the NFC East

The Giants do sometimes play down to their competition, and they likely will again this year. The problem is they know how to do something other teams in the division do not: regain their composure. The problem with New York's two biggest threats in Philadelphia and Dallas is that neither is mentally tough. This is why the Giants have emerged from the division twice recently and won Super Bowls. No East team can match that mental intensity and they likely won't this season.

Insider's Take

An AFC scout: "This team is going back to the Super Bowl. There are holes and questions, but with this team every year there are holes and questions. To me, it's Green Bay and (the) Giants in the conference finals. That front office might be the best in football and they had another good draft.

"One thing worries me -- Victor Cruz. Whenever I see or read about him, he's partying or (doing the salsa). He's going to be more critical to them this year than he was last season. I'm concerned he's been partying more than he's been getting ready for the season."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Giants are the world champions and they did by throwing the ball on offense and rushing the passer on defense. The offense wound up ranked dead last in rushing last year, something I thought I would never see in my lifetime with a Tom Coughlin offense.

Giants' Rivals: NFC East

2012 Preview • Schedule
Cowboys @ Giants: 9/5 (8:30 p.m. ET)
Giants @ Cowboys: 10/28 (4:15 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Eagles @ Giants: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)
Giants @ Eagles: 9/30 (8:20 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Redskins @ Giants: 10/21 (1 p.m. ET)
Giants @ Redskins: 12/3 (8:30 p.m. ET)

What made matters more difficult was they averaged 3.7 yards per rush on first downs, putting Eli and the passing game in some very tough spots. The drafting of RB David Wilson from Virginia Tech is an indication they will return to being a better running team.

The Giants will run from 12 or 21 personnel and expect Manning to utilize his play action pass game package as well on first downs. Bear Pascoe is an interesting player for them because he can be a fullback, tight end, H-back or even flex his alignment. He reminds me of Joel Dreessen, now with the Broncos. Teams better be ready for the Eli offensive charge when his team is behind. OC Kevin Gilbride will get into 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and let Manning do his thing. Last year Eli Manning threw for 3,063 yards of his 4,933 yards when his team was losing, and 21 of his 29 touchdown passes came while they were behind.

The interesting piece to this passing puzzle is whether Jerrel Jernigan or rookie Reuben Randle takes over the job left open by the departure of Mario Manningham.

Manning had the Eagles' and Cowboys' number when it came to touchdown passes but he blanked against the Redskins in 72 passes, while throwing four interceptions. Teams will study the Redskins games to get ready for the Giants' offense.

The Big Blue 4-3 defense gets after the passer with multiple players. 45 of their 48 sacks came from defensive linemen, so this team doesn't need to blitz to get to the QB. They are predominantly a zone cover package and played a very effective version of big nickel defense (three safeties in the game and two linebackers).

Big nickel gives them better matchups against vertical threat tight ends and hybrid running backs with real receiver skills. For example, Jason Witten in two games last year caught 10 balls for 81 yards and 0 touchdowns.

The return of cornerback Terrell Thomas to team up with Corey Webster could mean more man coverage calls, especially on first downs against big run teams. The acquisition of linebacker Keith Rivers will turn a team weakness into a strength.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

Despite questions on the offensive line, the Giants elected to fill other areas of concern with their first three picks in April, saving the developmental picks for the Day Three developmental rounds -- just as general manager Jerry Reese has done for years.

Giants Draft Analysis

Fourth-round offensive tackle Brandon Mosley fits in with Reese's philosophy of developing the "big uglies." Mosley signed with Auburn after a successful junior college career on the defensive line and at tight end, and outworked bigger-name signings to emerge as an excellent right tackle.

Mosley, 6-5 and 318 pounds, has the length, strength and physicality the Giants prefer but there is no denying he is a project who'll have to adapt to New York's driving blocking scheme after playing in Auburn's spread attack. He already has been singled out by coach Tom Coughlin not only as a candidate who could play some at right tackle but also at guard. In many ways, Mosley is similar to David Diehl, a former Illinois guard who the Giants selected in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.

While Virginia Tech's David Wilson was a bit of a surprise in the first round, he is similar to Ahmad Bradshaw in that he's a hard man to bring down cleanly. Wilson, not Trent Richardson, led the Class of 2013 running backs in yards after contact.

With Mario Manningham signing with the 49ers, the Giants were wise to add former LSU standout Rueben Randle in the second round. Not only does Randle fill a significant need -- especially with Hakeem Nicks recovering from a broken right foot -- he also was a terrific value at No. 63 overall.

The rest of the Giants' picks:

1st Round - No. 32 overall - David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
2nd Round - No. 63 overall - Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
3rd Round - No. 94 overall - Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
4th Round - No. 127 overall - Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati
4th Round - No. 131 overall - Brandon Mosley, OT, Auburn
6th Round - No. 201 overall - Matt McCants, OT, Alabama-Birmingham
7th Round - No. 239 overall - Markus Kuhn, DT, North Carolina State

 
 
 
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