- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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There were plenty of things that went wrong in the New York Giants' title defense in 2012.
This week we are taking a look at five issues that kept the Giants from making it back to the playoffs one season after winning it all. We’ve already looked at the pass rush, Corey Webster’s struggles and the Giants’ missing intangibles. Today we explore the impact of Hakeem Nicks' injuries.
The numbers: Nicks finished third on the Giants with 53 receptions, notching 692 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time in three seasons that Nicks did not have at least 76 receptions, 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in a season.
The reasons: Nicks’ season got off to a painful start when he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot during the team’s second OTA in late May.
He had surgery and was brought along slowly during training camp. But he missed valuable offseason and training camp reps with Eli Manning.
Nicks didn’t look like himself from the start as he played with pain in his foot and acknowledged it would take awhile for him to regain his old form.
In Week 2, Nicks exploded for 10 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown, but landed hard on his knee late in the fourth quarter. The Giants opted to rest Nicks with a Thursday night game at Carolina. But despite the week off, Nicks’ knee experienced swelling before the Giants’ Week 4 game at Philadelphia.
Nicks ended up sitting out three straight games –- he said he was initially told he may have needed up to eight weeks of rest -- before returning to action.
Nicks attempted to play through the pain but wasn’t able to practice most of the time, and Manning admitted that negatively affected the offense’s timing.
On top of that, a hobbled Nicks wasn’t able to explode and release the way he normally can.
Nicks' knee impacted the Giants’ big-play aerial attack. In 2011, Nicks had seven catches of 30 yards or longer during the regular season. This past season, Nicks had just three plays of 30 yards or longer.
And without the threat of a healthy Nicks, the Giants saw their number of passing plays of 40 yards or longer dip from 18 during the 2011 regular season to 10 this past season.
“Not having Hakeem 100 percent for most of the season, really the last 10 weeks, can hurt,” Manning said on WFAN radio last week. “He is out there playing hurt and you love that toughness about him.
“It just made it tough when you are starting a receiver who’s got to win those one-on-one matchups and is your deep threat and playmaker,” Manning said. “It can be tough to adjust to that and timing was off on a number of things.”
Nicks failed to register a catch in the last two games, playing just one snap in the season finale as the Giants went with rookie Rueben Randle.
How to improve: Nicks has to get healthy.
A healthy Nicks gives Manning a physical receiver who can dominate games at times, stretch the field and help the running game while taking attention off Victor Cruz. A healthier Nicks could be a big boost for a third wide receiver to emerge as well.
While Nicks is aiming to return to OTAs this spring fully recovered, the Giants may want to bring the receiver along slowly and wait until training camp.
Whatever the Giants do, they need Nicks to return to his old form next season if they are going to be a contender again.
“Hakeem Nicks has been one of the linchpins in our offense,” GM Jerry Reese said on ESPN Radio last week. “He was banged up and I really think it took its toll on our offense and what we are trying to do.
"He was trying to fight through it," Reese said. "But in hindsight, I think if we had to think about it again, maybe we would have taken him out a little quicker than we did. But that is neither here or there at this point. But I do think it affected the quarterback's play some."
Tell us below how much you think Hakeem’s injury impacted the Giants this season.