New York Giants writers Jeff Shull, Chris Gamble, and Jason Evans got together for a little roundtable discussion to see what 2012 has in store for the defending Super Bowl champions. Here is the result of their discussion:
Are the New York Giants capable of winning the division again this year?
Jeff Shull: Absolutely. The Giants are capable of winning it every year so long as they have Eli Manning as the QB, Tom Coughlin coaching, and Jerry Reese putting the roster together. Losing Terrell Thomas hurts, but the Giants won it all without him last year and added depth to the position this off-season. The defense should show improvement from a year ago; they changed up schemes towards the end of last season and only allowed 13.6 points per game in their final six games.
Chris Gamble: Yeah, they are capable. Almost every team in the NFC East is capable. The Giants will have a tough schedule, however, and that could make it a little tougher on them this year. However, only if the defense can stay relatively healthy, and losing Terrell Thomas hurts a lot more this year with no Aaron Ross and Prince Amukamara still struggling to stay healthy. If the Giants running game shows some improvement it will take a huge burden off the defense and Eli Manning. But, as Jeff mentioned, having Tom Coughlin on the sideline makes a big difference. This team believes in him and he believes in them.
Jason Evans: Of course they are. They won it last year and they didn’t lose that much talent that they couldn’t replace from last season. I think the Philadelphia Eagles will be their hardest competition.
Did we see the best of Victor Cruz in 2011 or can he get better?
Jeff Shull: I’m not sure how Cruz gets better than 1,536 yards, but he’s fully capable of averaging around 1,200-1,300 yards. Teams will key on him more this season and use last year’s film to contain him, but he’ll definitely get his numbers as the Giants like to throw the ball around.
Chris Gamble: Cruz reminds me of a more dynamic Wes Welker. Both are fantastic in the slot, both are their quarterback’s favorite target, and both play in an offense with multiple weapons where paying too much attention to one player will get you burned somewhere else. With that said, I don’t know if he will get 1,500 yards but I wouldn’t be surprised. Remember, he didn’t get started until Week 3 and Eli Manning has gone to him early and often this preseason, and Hakeem Nicks needs to prove he is healthy. If Cruz gets over 100 catches this year he might shock some people.
Jason Evans: I think Victor Cruz will be a solid big play receiver. However, I can’t see the numbers that he put up last year being matched this year. There were a lot of times where he would take a 10-yard slant and run 80 for a touchdown. That’s really hard to replicate.
Which Eli Manning will we see, the 2010 or 2011 version?
Jeff Shull: Definitely the 2011 version. 2010 was an anomaly as many dropped passes led directly to interceptions. The Giants also added some weapons in Rueben Randle, Martellus Bennett, and Adrien Robinson, and they get Domenik Hixon back.
Chris Gamble: Eli Manning and Kevin Gilbride are the model of consistency in the NFL. I don’t think Eli will replicate the yardage numbers but cutting down on interceptions and increasing his touchdown totals are possible. Ramses Barden looks good, Rueben Randle looks like he might eventually become a deep threat in this league. There is still Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and, as Jeff mentioned, Domenik Hixon. Having Bennett in the red zone might be a huge difference maker. The guy is a tank.
Jason Evans: Eli’s turned a huge corner in my mind last year. He’s not going to throw for almost 5,000 yards like he did last year because they won’t throw as much as they did last season. However, he will put up numbers and throw a good amount of touchdowns. 4,200 yards and 28 TDs with 13 INTs is my prediction.
Which rookie, drafted or undrafted, will have the biggest impact for the Giants this year?
Jeff Shull: On offense it is hard to ignore what David Wilson did in the preseason. With Ahmad Bradshaw likely going down with injury at some point, expect Wilson to be counted on to carry the load. On defense it may actually be this kid Adewale Ojomo, who made the team after being considered a long shot before camp. He had four sacks in the preseason, second only to Quinton Coples on the New York Jets.
Chris Gamble: Yeah, Wilson is the obvious choice but I think, in terms of impact, Will Hill will have the biggest impact. This kid was an afterthought last season playing in the Arena Football League. But, here he is, taking Deon Grant’s spot and laying down some big hits in the injury-depleted Giants secondary. Will Hill is here to play some football and I think he will quickly become a fan favorite, especially after he devastates some wide receivers coming across the middle.
Jason Evans: I’m going to go with David Wilson. I think he might be the most important rookie as well because of his position.
Will Martellus Bennett be able to replace Jake Ballard’s production?
Jeff Shull: I think the combination of Bennett and Bear Pascoe will more than account for Ballard, plus add a blocking dimension Ballard just didn’t have. Bennett is one of the premier blocking tight ends in the game.
Chris Gamble: Bennett is huge, is fast, and can block. As Jeff pointed out, the blocking element was overlooked a lot in Ballard’s game. Having Bennett around will boost the running game a little so Bennett will have a great all-around impact on the course of the game than Ballard did. He has the talent to put up huge numbers. As long as he keeps his head in the game.
Jason Evans: I think Martellus will have a good season and more replicate his production than replace it. Him and Rueben Randle need to replace Ballard and Mario Manningham and I think they are capable of it.
Which player do you think is on the hot seat?
Jeff Shull: Bottom of the depth chart guys are always on the bubble, but particularly this could be the last chance for guys like Ramses Barden or Domenik Hixon. With young players like Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan emerging, Barden and Hixon need to show something in 2012 to warrant their continued existence on the roster.
Chris Gamble: David Baas and Will Beatty are my picks. It is no secret that the Giants offensive line struggled last season. Baas missed significant time because of neck and head injuries and Beatty, whose contract is up at the end of the year, needs to prove he can stay healthy. Beatty needs to stay on the field or the Giants will look elsewhere for their future left tackle.
Jason Evans: David Diehl. When you make a lot of money, get a DUI in the offseason, and haven’t been that great in a while you may be gone.
Which game do you foresee being the most important for the Giants?
Jeff Shull: This is a tough question. All the divisional games are important, but I think the season finale against the Eagles could decide the division. That seems pretty important, right?
Chris Gamble: Hmmm. It doesn’t seem like there are any easy games this year. The Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns might be a must-win given the strength of the Giants schedule. Right now they are the only real fluffy team on the schedule and the Giants will need to win as many of those games as possible.
Jason Evans: Too hard to predict for the offseason. Every game means a lot when you only play 16.
Will Jason Pierre-Paul have more than 15 sacks this year, or less?
Jeff Shull: More. He could approach Michael Strahan’s sack record. We haven’t begun to see what JPP can do. He is an absolute monster and my early pick for defensive player of the year.
Chris Gamble With Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora healthy JPP could either take a huge step forward or see his playing time reduced a tad to keep him fresher throughout the year. I wouldn’t be surprised by 18 sacks but I think 14.5 is what we get.
Jason Evans: I say 13 but I can see him, Justin Tuck, and Osi all having more than 10 this year.
What is the key, or keys, to the Giants’ season?
Jeff Shull: Staying healthy, avoiding too many bad losses, and Eli Manning. I could really say that about every single season, but it’s what the season always comes down to. The last time the Giants had a healthy regular season, they finished 12-4.
Chris Gamble: Health, health, health. With Terrell Thomas already out for the year, Jayron Hosley and Prince Amukamara banged up it is starting to look like it might be another tough stretch for the Giants. They are going to need some guys to step up. The key will be to beat the teams within the division. This is a good football team, even if a lot of the experts might not think so.
Jason Evans: Health and the pass rush. With the weakened secondary due to injury, this team needs to get to the quarterback and often.
Predictions for the Giants in 2012?
Jeff Shull: I wrote an article about it every week already, so I’m sticking with those. The Giants will finish 10-6 and compete for the NFC East, at the very least will secure a Wild Card spot.
Chris Gamble: I think the Giants might shock some people and go 11-5 this season and win the division. If they can win the games on their schedule they can beat anyone in the playoffs. Will that happen? Probably not but they will be in the playoffs.
Jason Evans: 10-6, with a Wild Card berth.