Eli Manning and the Giants could be back on top if they put the Super Bowl win out of their minds and act like a 9-7 team this offseason. Zumapress/Icon SMI
As I inaugurate this blog on the NFC East, I thought it fitting to start with the team that stands atop the NFL -- the New York Giants. The Giants are in an odd position: they're Super Bowl champions, but glaring weaknesses gave them the worst record of any NFL champion, and they were one of only two teams to have a negative scoring differential.
How can the Giants repeat as NFC East champs and remain Super Bowl contenders? The first step is for the front office to act as if they're the 9-7 team their record says they were. General Manager cannot afford to "tweak" the team as if it's a league power. The Giants were outscored by 6 points on balance last season, and they're going to have to make some changes to show their playoff run wasn't a fluke.
On the offensive side of the ball, they're obviously set at quarterback. Eli Manning was in the top 5 last season in key stats measuring the effectiveness of quarterbacks at Advanced NFL Stats. Manning was the "mad bomber" of the NFL last season with more than a quarter of his passes going 15+ yards. Only Tim Tebow and Carson Palmer went deep more often.
The single best stat for measuring quarterbacking effectiveness is Adjusted Yards per Passing Attempt, which accounts for things like sacks and interceptions on passing plays. Manning was 5th last season -- one of just 6 QBs to average more than 6 yards per attempt.
Wide receiver looks solid with the emergence of Victor Cruz to go with Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard. Cruz blossomed from an undrafted free agent into one of the game's top 5 receivers last season. Manningham is a free agent, but is replaceable if he can't be re-signed at a reasonable price.
That leaves us with the offensive "problems" that must be addressed: the offensive line and the running backs. The line was awful last season, making Manning's performance all the more impressive. They were bad in both pass protection and run blocking.
This complicates the running back evaluation process, but both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs appear to have lost something last season. Between the two, Jacobs is the one more in need of replacement. Despite his size, he's not a great short yardage runner, he too often fails to move the chains, and he's not much of a pass-catcher. The Giants should be looking for a replacement in the draft.
On defense, the Giants front seven is formidable when healthy. Heck, even with injuries they were good. Their problem: the secondary. They need to upgrade at both safety and corner. My thinking is that they could use one new starter at safety, and a couple new starters at CB.
One thing the Giants don't need is a new coach. Tom Coughlin has proven he's a terrific NFL coach who has a unique ability to rally a team when it's seemingly down and out. This season, New York seemed nearly dead when they were inexplicably whomped by the crummy Redskins. That was their last loss, however -- a credit to Coughlin's ability to refocus the team on a goal that was still attainable.