- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Football Outsiders' Vince Verhei takes a look at three NFC playoff contenders that didn't make it and tries to identify the biggest areas in which they need to improve. Two of these teams -- the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys -- play in the NFC East. For the Giants, Vince's area of concern is linebacker. He writes that the Giants' linebackers didn't make enough plays, and that the one who made the most, Chase Blackburn, is bound for free agency. Also at issue were injuries and constant lineup shuffling at the position:
As a result of all this chaos, the Giants' run defense struggled. They ranked 30th in adjusted line yards, which measures average yards per carry with a cap on long runs and a bonus for stuffs in the backfield. In other words, the New York front seven was pushed around more than almost any other defense in the league. The Giants need an infusion of youth, athleticism and attitude in the middle of their defense if they're going to get to the 2013 postseason.
Agreed, but here's the thing: The Giants never make linebacker a priority in the offseason. They've needed linebacker help for years now, and this year they fooled us into thinking they had a bunch of 2011 rookies who were ready to take the next step and that Keith Rivers was going to jump-start his career in a reserve role. None of these things happened, and now they're linebacker-needy again. But in the salary-cap era, teams make choices about how to spend their significant resources, and the Giants consistently spend theirs on the defensive line, the secondary and passing-game weapons for Eli Manning. I don't see that changing enough to convince them to use an early draft pick or big free-agent dollars on a linebacker this year, even though you could make the case that they should.
For the Cowboys, Vince picks safety, though he fails to mention that one of the Cowboys' starters, Barry Church, got hurt early in the season and is likely to be back. I think safety would be a fine place to the Cowboys to dabble if they could find a clear upgrade, but I think Dallas' offseason focus needs to be on its lines, offensive as well as defensive.