Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The Super Bowl Champs: season preview, defense
Our defense was, like most things about us, is incredibly underrated. We were 2nd in the NFC in yards allowed per game. Bet you didn't know that. Before I get into the players, Steve Spagnuolo, our D coordinator (and former Eagles linebacker coach, thanks a lot), is unreal. He did a great job last year, was creative and aggressive with his game plans, and always put our defense in a position to succeed. He deserves a lot of credit in getting the absolute most out of our personnel. Ok, so on that note, let's get into it.
Our defensive line was very, very good last season. We consistantly got pressure to the quarterback and finished first in the NFC in sacks. However, the retirement of Michael Strahan was the biggest loss to our defense this offseason and his shoes will be tough to fill. But, his opening at the DEnd position will be filled this year by Justin Tuck who we just resigned to a fat deal this offseason. Tuck was lining up at end and tackle last season as there was no spot anywhere on the defensive line for him to start. But, he has a tremendous amount of ability. The new contract we gave him proves that our high ups think he is ready to start at DE for us and be an impact player. I think he will not make Giant fans miss Strahan too much. Osi does not need much introduction, he a premier DE in this league. At tackle, we return both starters from a year ago Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins. Both are huge and good. And neither get the notoriety that they deserve. With Tuck replacing Strahan, many who do not know the Giants well enough think that our defensive line will be hugely downgraded from a year ago, but that is not the case. This starting front will continuously pressure the quarterback and once again be a huge strength for our defense.
The other key loss to our defense was Kawika Mitchell who signed with the Bills this offseason. We brought in veteran Danny Clark to replace him on the weak side. Clark came to us from Houston and is just 2 years removed from a 113 tackle season with Oakland. He has been running with the first team in camp and has reportedly looked great. Of our starters on D, he is the only non-rookie to be entering their first seasons with the Giants and so he is still getting acclimated to a group of guys who all know each other very well. Antonio Pierce returns to the middle linebacker position and is the undeniable leader of this group. He said he has been impressed with Clark in camp so far and that's pretty much all we need to know to be satisfied with this guy entering the season. I have also taken a strong liking to Clark in reading about him since camp. He wants to prove that he belongs as a starter on this squad, and he is eager to earn the respect of our top defense. He will fit nicely at outside linebacker and I expect an 90+ tackle season from him. Pierce, already mentioned, is the leader and boss of our linebacking crew. he is a tackling machine and has never had a sub-100 tackle season since being with the Giants. He is a rock at MLB. I am very, very excited to watch Mathias Kiwanuka on Sundays. I was devestated when he went down with a season ending injury in week 11 last year. Last season was his first at LB as a converted DE and he really started to figure it out in the couple games prior to his injury. He gives us a legit blitzing option and I think can blossom into a special linebacker this season for us. I have high hopes for him this season and he gives Spags a lot of different options in terms of his versatility. Our depth at linebacker is also phenomenal. Kehl, DeOssie, and Blackburn are all very solid guys off the bench. Kiwanuka was a big question mark for this group entering last year, but he began to emerge as an impact player in the weeks prior to his injury. Clark, I guess, can be deemed a question mark because he is new, but if we absorbed Kiwanuka's loss with the same guys last year and won the super bowl, we obviously have capable reserves. A lot to love about this group this season.
Our secondary is easily the weakest unit on our entire football team both offensively and defensively, but I still believe it to be average. Basically, everything about our secondary pissed me off to no end last year. I hated everyone but Ross. They all sucked. They were old. They were just fucks. But for some reason they started to play very, very well as a unit in towards the end of last year and into the playoffs. So, individually, let's see. Our starting corners will be 2nd year man Aaron Ross and Corey Webster. Ross started basically all year for us his rookie season and played very well. We had no other viable options to start and I was pleased we just sent him out there and let him play through his mistakes instead of starting Dockery or some other asshole. With a year under his belt I expect him to take another big step forward. Opposite him is Webster. Webster was maddening last year. He was so, so, sooooooooo worthless for basically the entire year. He could barely make his way off the bench and everytime he was out there it seemed like he was either commiting a penalty or trying to get his head out of his ass. But he did manage to dislodge it on week 15 and started to droughn opposing wide outs. We left him in single coveraged on TO and Moss in the playoffs and he was absolultely amazing. Now, am I sold on him? Kind of. There is one thing I noticed that caused his transformation from bench fodder to shut down corner: his aggressiveness. I think he learned how to play cornerback given the constant and unrelenting pressure we put on the quarterback. He was jamming his guy at the line more and not playing so far back off of them. He has all the physical talents to be a good corner in this league but his mild form of mental retardation was preventing him from consistently seeing field time. I think he might have figured it out last year. He got more physical and looked like a different guy out there. Could it have been a mirage? Of course. That stretch he had for us in the playoffs last year was unreal. But he has been playing reasonably well in camp so far, as far as reports have been going. But he does seem to be prone to make poor decisions. He really is still an unknown commodity. I would not be surprised if he regressed horribly and is the same Corey Webster that we have grown used to or if he will build upon his immensely successful postseason play and prove to be for real. We'll see. This year, with Madison in a 3rd corner role, I love him. Webster and Ross can still learn a lot from him and as he will be relied upon less in a reserve role, I will not be screaming at the TV as much when he fucks up. Dockery sucks. Whenever he does something good, I need to be pinched. Whatever. Now, Kenny Phillips. This guy is serious. He is our first round draft pick rookie safety out of THE U. He has tremendous closing speed and great athleticism. He hits REALLY hard, and we already have had to tell him to ease up in camp and tackle softer. He has been recently running with the first team in camp and looks to have claimed the starting free safety spot. I can't wait to see the first time he unloads on some unsuspecting randall catching some crossing rout over the middle of the field. Maybe he can break TO's ribs or something. That would end his season right? We brought in Sammy Knight in free agency to compete for the other starting safety job but it looks like James Butler will start there. Butler is ok, I guess. A timeshare of Knight and Butler could be good, keeping them both fresh, and making them combined sort of like one averageish safety. Eh. But Phillips is the man, and he will be great for us. He has a great nose for the ball and he is one of the most exciting safeties we've had in a while. Michael Robinson also gives us further depth at the position. Secondary is ok.
So that's the team. A very underwhelming list of names on paper, but as a unit, these guys can play. I mean, 2nd in the NFC last season in yards allowed. Everyone says that we didn't improve enough, etc. etc. It's a joke and a poor argument when assessing this team. How much room for improvement do we have on this side of the ball? Our defense is stout and it will be good again this year. Again, nobody gives our defense much of a look, and for no good reason. Kiwanuka back will be huge for us. Even a suspect secondary can look great with the pressure we constantly put on the quarterback. This was surpremely evident last season.To this same effect, judging by what kind of ripping we have been taking around the football world, it is like returning largely -almost exactly- the same team that won the super bowl last year is a bad thing. The only signficant loss to our entire loss is Strahan, and we already have Tuck to slide into his spot. Shockey was wearing ripped jeans an ed hardy tshirt and a nascar trucker hat when we were beating GB, Dallas and NWE. The Giants are a good football team with the ability, as we saw last year, to be great.