Giants regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
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Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 15

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireVictor Cruz had a breakout season for the Giants in 2011.
Biggest surprise: Second-year wide receiver Victor Cruz. One of the big questions back in training camp was how the Giants would replace key passing-game targets Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, who had left in free agency. Quarterback Eli Manning even expressed his concern on that very subject. But Cruz had been working with Manning during the lockout and was ready to burst onto the scene more brilliantly than anyone could have expected. He caught 82 passes, nine for touchdowns, and set a Giants team record with 1,536 receiving yards -- a figure that ranked third-best in the NFL. He surpassed Hakeem Nicks as the team's best big-play threat and helped the Giants be able to basically ignore a down year from Mario Manningham.

Biggest disappointment: Has to be a run game that ranked 32nd in the NFL. People want to point out that it seems to have gotten better in recent weeks with both running backs -- Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs -- finally healthy together. But all season, the problem with the Giants' run game was not the backs but rather a poor run-blocking offensive line. Things did get better once Will Beatty got hurt, David Diehl moved to left tackle and the surprising Kevin Boothe got into the mix. But these Giants are more a passing team than ever, and have been unable to put games away on the ground with very few exceptions.

Biggest need: Even if cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff come back from the season-ending injuries they suffered in preseason, the Giants will need to beef up in the secondary and linebacking corps. Just too many coverage problems this year. No matter how good the pass rush is, you need to be able to cover opposing receivers or you're going to keep being vulnerable to the big play.

Team MVP: Manning. With no run game to speak of, a shaky offensive line and a leaky defense for much of the year, Manning elevated the Giants over and over again in games they seemed to have no business winning. His five fourth-quarter comebacks are as big a reason as any that they're still playing. Manning finished the season with 4,933 passing yards, which ranked fourth in the league in this pass-happy season, and established himself as one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the league.

Down with JPP: A close second in that team MVP race is second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks, won the first Cowboys game almost by himself and kept the pass rush viable in spite of injuries to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He's the Victor Cruz of the Giants' defense.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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