After posting a losing 7-9 record last season can Eli Manning adapt to a new offensive co-ordinator, recover from a tough 2013 season and led the Giants back to the playoffs?
Lets take a look at the key issues.
Key Man : Jason Pierre-Paul
The saying 'defense wins Championships' must have been coined with the New York Giants in mind. Eli Manning has led the Giants to two Superbowl wins in the last decade. However, both times the foundation and driving force of the those Championship runs has been great defenses rather than the quarterback.
With this in mind I have picked out right defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul as the man who is key to the Giants 2014 hopes. In 2011 Pierre-Paul's 16.5 sacks were key to the Giants lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Since then though his performances have slumped. In 2012 Pierre-Paul had only 6.5 sacks and last season in was only 2, although he did miss five games.
Heading into 2014 then the Giants need a bounce back year from him. The secondary has been strengthened but the defensive line will still need to bring it and Pierre-Paul is the only pass rusher whose top level bona fides are established. If Pierre-Paul has a good year then the Giants can go far.
Biggest Strength : Secondary
If the Giants are going to thrive in the NFC East this season they are going to have to stop the pass because if there is one thing we know about the rest of the division it is that they are going to have a strong passing game.
As was stated in the Cowboys season preview Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams should be one of the best wide receiver duos in the division. The Eagles spread offense will no doubt give the secondary plenty of work. Washington meanwhile have assembled a wide receiver dream team of DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and Pierre Garcon.
With this in mind the Giants have invested significant resources at cornerback. The standout signing is Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. DRC was brought in on a five year $35 million contract and if he replicates his 2013 season form then he could erect his own no fly zone over whatever part of the field he is covering. Add into this the signing of nickel package specialist ex-Seahawk Walter Thurmond and former first round pick Prince Amukamara coming off the back of a strong 2013 season and the Giants secondary is starting to look formidable.
Biggest Weakness : Offensive Line
Last season Eli Manning was sacked 39 times. That put him outside of the top 10 most hit quarterbacks but that doesn't tell the full story of how poor the offensive line was. Much of the blame for Manning's record high 27 interceptions must fall on the offensive line. Its porous nature led to Manning scrambling to get rid of the ball quickly and this in turn led to said interceptions.
To reduce the amount of interceptions the Giants have brought in offensive co-ordinator Ben McAdoo from the Packers. McAdoo's short passing game will only work though if the offensive line can hold its own in the trenches and a big question mark hands over this. Left guard free agency signing Geoff Schwartz has never been a dominant player. Weston Richburg is a rookie. The big loss however is Chris Snee. Snee's injury forced retirement means that Brandon Mosley will likely start and that is hardly comforting.
The offensive line might hold up enough to allow Manning to throw a completed short two yard pass out in the flats but if the ball carrier is immediately swarmed by the opposition defense then what does it matter?
The opening weeks of the schedule have been kind to the Giants. Matchups against the Lions, Cardinals and Texans gives New York a great opportunity to travel to division rivals Washington 3-0. If the Giants do go 3-0 and then win on the road at FedexField then they will launch a strong challenge for the division. It's a big if though.
Prediction : 10-6
I'm not in love with the Giants this season but a reasonably friendly schedule and fairly weak NFC East should see the Giants through to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. I don't see them winning the division though.
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