Giants' reliables let them down in opener

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
11:57
AM ET
No, I did not forget that there were two NFC East teams on the field in the regular-season opener Wednesday night. It's just that the Dallas Cowboys deserved the attention in the immediate aftermath and overnight, and I wanted to spend some time mulling over what I wanted to say about a New York Giants performance for which "disappointing" is the most flattering adjective.

You certainly don't want to overreact to the first game, especially with a team like the Giants that has proven its ability to overcome just about anything. But the fact is, they didn't look good, and it's perfectly acceptable to wonder why. For me, the problem was that their reliable stars didn't deliver in the reliable way in which they need them to. Eli Manning was just a little bit off with some throws. Victor Cruz dropped three passes. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora couldn't get to the quarterback. Those are players and elements on which the Giants rely in order to succeed, and when they can't rely on those players and elements to be great, that's when their weaknesses really stand out.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireThree dropped passes by WR Victor Cruz proved costly for the Giants on Wednesday night.
The secondary is shredded by injury, yes, but if the pass rush up front is doing its job, you're not going to notice that as much. The offensive line still struggles to open holes for the running backs, yes, but if Manning is making those breathtaking, Super Bowl-caliber throws (and if Cruz is catching them), you're not going to notice that as much. The depth issues at defensive tackle seemed to have an effect late in the game. The Giants are a very good team with flaws, just like all of the other very good teams in the league. They've succeeded because they've been able to cover their flaws with outstanding quality at what they consider to be the key positions -- quarterback, wide receiver and pass-rushing defensive end.

So yes, the problems the Giants had in the opener feel familiar to Giants fans, and not in a way that's going to make them feel all warm and fuzzy while they wait 10 days to see their team in another game. There are questions that don't, currently, have answers. Can rookie David Wilson be the answer in the run game, or is he going to be fumble-prone and force them to keep him on the sideline? Is Corey Webster going to have another year like the one he had in 2011, or was Wednesday's poor performance a sign of regression? Is Hakeem Nicks playing hurt? Does Manning have a wide enough variety of reliable targets?

The point is that these are usually (and need to be) ancillary issues for the Giants, and they only show up and cost them games when Manning and Nicks and Cruz and Tuck and Umenyiora are less than great. With all of the issues in the secondary and in the running game and on the offensive line, they still only lost by a touchdown and were a third-down stop away from getting the ball back in Manning's hands at the two-minute warning. Better play from their reliables would have made the other stuff seem much smaller than it does this morning. That's how it worked last year, early and late, when the Giants were winning games.

Last year, with with exception of the two Redskins games for some reason, Manning always found open options when he dropped back to pass. Give him options, and he picks you apart. Cover his receivers, or shut down one side of the field and limit his options, and that slows him down a bit. The Cowboys accomplished this Wednesday. Other teams will find ways to do it, too. It's Manning's job to make his own adjustments and produce anyway.

Last year, if Jason Pierre-Paul was getting the attention on the left side of the offensive line, that meant Tuck and/or Umenyiora would fight through on the right side for a sack or at least some pressure. On Wednesday they did not. They said after the game they were being held all night and the holds weren't being called, but that's an ages-old lament, sung exclusively by losers. The Giants' pass-rushers need to overcome such things, and they surely know it.

Last year, Cruz didn't drop balls, and Webster didn't get beaten on "go" routes and Nicks got separation from defenders and... well, you get it. Wednesday didn't look like the Giants at their best, and the reason was that their best players didn't play the way they needed them to play. That's fixable, and once it's fixed, I imagine Giants fans will feel better about things than they do today.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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