A couple of people have pointed out on Twitter (and I thank them for doing so politely) that it's been too long since my last post that was completely devoted to the New York Giants. I generally work hard to avoid oversights like these, and I have no excuse. So before I disappear for a while (and in the absence of any real news on which to peg a Giants post), here are five things I think could happen for the Giants in 2013 that might surprise some people.
1. Mathias Kiwanuka gets 10 sacks. This would be a career high, by two, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for Kiwanuka to be a major factor in the pass rush. Osi Umenyiora is gone. Justin Tuck appears to be trending downward, having collected just nine sacks total over the past two years while missing five games because of injury. Jason Pierre-Paul should bounce back on the other side, but I see Kiwanuka moving up from linebacker to fill in for Tuck while Tuck struggles with health and/or effectiveness. The signings of Keith Rivers and Dan Connor, plus the expected continued development of youngsters like Jacquian Williams, should give the Giants enough at outside linebacker to allow Kiwanuka to play more defensive end in 2013.
2. Rueben Randle catches 50 passes. There was a time in the second half of the 2012 season when the Giants would take Victor Cruz off the field and line up in a two-wide receiver set with Hakeem Nicks on one side and a non-Cruz receiver on the other. At times, the other receiver was the rookie Randle. There is concern, which has no doubt been brought up in contract discussions, that Cruz gets physically manhandled at times when he lines up outside, and that his real value is as a slot receiver. With Domenik Hixon off to Carolina, the opportunity exists for Randle, the 2012 second-round pick, to show he can be the outside receiver who can keep Cruz in the slot and offer an alternative to Nicks across the field. And if Nicks and Cruz are both healthy and on the field at the same time in three-receiver sets, whoever the other guy is will be open.
3. James Brewer starts at least 10 games at right tackle. I believe David Diehl will enter training camp as the starter, but that Brewer will play well enough in his third year to take the job. This kind of follows the Giants' pattern of development for offensive linemen, and it seems clear that they don't feel right tackle is a worry.
4. The secondary struggles again. This might not jive with my predictions of a 10-sack Kiwanuka season and a rejuvenated Pierre-Paul, since I think an improved pass rush would help the secondary. But even if the Giants improve on their 33-sack 2012 season, I don't see the pass rush, as currently constructed, returning to the dominant levels it reached during the Super Bowl run two seasons ago. That means more pressure on Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara & Co. in the defensive backfield, and, as you know, I believe they will miss safety Kenny Phillips. It seems the Giants let Phillips walk because of long-range concerns about the health of his knee, and they might have been right to do so. But the defense struggled mightily without him on the field in 2012, and I don't see Antrel Rolle or Stevie Brown stepping into his uber-versatile leadership role. I think the secondary continues to be an issue.
5. Cruz will not sign a contract extension prior to the end of the season. The most recent turns in Cruz's contract dispute with the Giants have changed my thinking on this. I think each side is dug in -- the Giants willing to make him the league's highest-paid slot receiver at between $7 million-$8 million per year and Cruz demanding top-receiver money (between $10 million-$11 million per year) based on his top-receiver numbers of the past two seasons. I can't see what happens between now and the start of the season to bridge that gap, and once the season starts each side will be willing to let 2013 results determine the outcome. If Cruz has another monster year, his case gets stronger and the Giants (possibly depending on what they see from Nicks health-wise or Randle development-wise) either cave in or let him leave as a highly paid free agent. If Cruz doesn't post top-receiver numbers or if he has an injury that limits him, the Giants' case gets stronger and Cruz likely takes less to stay in New York. It's risky both ways, but as of April 6 that's the way it looks to be headed.