NFL Nation: Matt Dodge

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Much of the buzz around New York Giants camp has been about the impending enshrinement of Michael Strahan in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. But while he has plenty of love and respect for that great former Giant, punter Steve Weatherford is also enjoying the fact that former Raiders punter Ray Guy is going into the Hall of Fame this weekend. Guy will be the first punter ever enshrined.

Weatherford
Weatherford
"Being a punter, it may sound silly for me to say it, but I think it's about time," Weatherford said before Giants practice Thursday. "He's the best player at his position ever. He deserves it."

Weatherford was a soccer player who took up punting at age 15, and he said Guy was the name everyone knew when it came to punting. So it's not just that a punter is going into the Hall of Fame; it's that it's this particular one.

"He's the guy that everybody thinks of," Weatherford said. "He was the person that made people start to care about that position and think it was more than just a body on the team. Really revolutionized the position, and you can't say enough good things about not only what he was able to do for his franchise, and all the Pro Bowls and records, but really for the position itself."

Weatherford enjoys being a punter at a time when the fans and the game place unprecedented value on the position. He said he encounters Giants fans who still commend him for the brilliant game he had against the 49ers in the NFC championship game three seasons ago and the performance he delivered in the Super Bowl against the Patriots two weeks later. He believes Giants fans have special reason to appreciate the importance of his position.

"Just Jeff Feagles," Weatherford said, invoking the name of one of his close predecessors here. "He wasn't out there hitting 65-yard punts, but he was so good at keeping the ball away from the returner and just a really, rock-solid, steady punter. And this is a really difficult place to punt -- very windy, can get nasty, can get cold. And he just did a great job for an incredibly long time.

"I think he's one of the greats, and they don't really appreciate him until we brought a rookie in here and it really went to show you how difficult a place this is to play. Not only the conditions, but this place, if you don't play well, the fans will eat you up."

The reference there is of course to poor Matt Dodge, the rookie famous for kicking the ball to DeSean Jackson at the tail end of the Eagles' miracle comeback over the Giants in December 2010. Dodge lost his job to Weatherford in training camp the following season, and after the Super Bowl victory, the Giants rewarded Weatherford with a five-year, $12.5 million contract, of which about $4 million was guaranteed.

"You've got punters in the NFL now that are making $4 million a year and you've got some running backs on your team that are making less than $1 million," Weatherford said. "That just goes to show you, when you do find a really good punter, you've got to hang onto him. Because you never appreciate the punter until you don't have one that you can trust and depend on."

It's a good time to be a punter in the NFL, and for that reason Weatherford and his brethren will salute Ray Guy when he gets that gold jacket.

Giants know the value of a punter

March, 16, 2012
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Did you know that the last time DeSean Jackson ran back a punt for a touchdown was Dec. 19, 2010? New York Giants fans remember the day, and while this past year's Super Bowl title helped erase some of the painful memories of a 2010 season stolen in an eyeblink, the Giants do, too. Last summer, they replaced Matt Dodge, the punter responsible for kicking that ball to Jackson, with Steve Weatherford, who went on to deliver the best Conference Championship Game/Super Bowl exacta by a punter in recent memory.

The Giants designated Weatherford their franchise player last week, and they did so according to the spirit of the franchise player rule -- because they were determined to work out a long-term contract with him and needed more time. As Ohm Youngmisuk reports, the Giants and Weatherford agreed Friday on a five-year contract that keeps the reliable Weatherford in blue, and makes sure punter doesn't have to be a concern for the defending champs this year.

Yeah, it's a punter contract. But (a) the Giants are having a pretty quiet week, so this qualifies as big Giants news, and (b) everybody's welcome to laugh at the importance of punting if they want. But you couldn't watch the Giants' playoff run and fail to understand the role Weatherford played in it. A stunning, nearly flawless performance in San Francisco in an NFC Championship Game that was decided by special teams in crummy weather. And three Super Bowl punts that stuck the Patriots inside their own 10-yard line. That's about the opposite of Dec. 19, 2010, and that was the point of getting Weatherford all along. He is hereby rewarded for meeting or exceeding all expectations.
Punter Steve Weatherford wasn't the biggest-name signing of the 2011 offseason, but he was a significant factor for the New York Giants in their run to the Super Bowl title. Weatherford performed and fit in so well that, since the Super Bowl, he and the Giants have been discussing a long-term contract extension. Unable to reach an agreement on terms and unwilling to let Weatherford test the open market, the Giants beat Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline by designating Weatherford as their 2012 franchise player.

What this means, technically, is that Weatherford would be guaranteed $2.6 million this year if he signed the tender and the two sides didn't reach agreement on a long-term deal. But in reality, it means the Giants and Weatherford plan to continue to work out the details of a long-term deal that's very likely to end up being signed before the July 16 deadline. The original intent of the franchise player rule was to allow teams to pin a valuable player in place while it worked toward signing him, and that appears to be what's at work here.

It's the right move for the Giants to keep Weatherford. A team whose 2010 season was done in, in part, by the failure of rookie punter Matt Dodge saw first-hand the impact a great punter could have on its chances. Weatherford was excellent all year and downright brilliant in an NFC Championship Game that was decided by field position and special teams. In the Super Bowl, he delivered three punts that forced the Patriots to start inside their own 10-yard line.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn't easy, and it kind of went against everything he's about. But as New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford stood next to kicker Lawrence Tynes on the Candlestick Park field Sunday afternoon and watch Baltimore's Billy Cundiff miss the kick that ended the Ravens' season, Weatherford kept his cool.

"In a situation like that, I'm not going to be like, 'Whoa, Lawrence, did you see that?'" Weatherford recalled Tuesday. "So I was just kind of looking out of the corner of my eye to see if he was watching, and he was, very serious, very quiet. I didn't say anything."

Four hours later, with the Giants about to line up the overtime field goal that would win them the NFC Championship Game, Weatherford (who's the holder for Giants field goals) was not quite as willing or able to control himself. As Tynes tells it:

[+] EnlargeLawrence Tynes and Steve Weatherford
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireKicker Lawrence Tynes, left, celebrates with Steve Weatherford after kicking the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game.
"He was animated. We got that penalty and moved back, which was great because now we had grass, and he's jumping around and pointing and saying, 'Lawrence, this is a Super Bowl spot right here! We're going to the [expletive] Super Bowl! Then he ran over and was yelling the same thing at Coughlin, and Coughlin was like, 'OK, get back out there.' And he comes back and he's like, 'Let's [expletive] make this kick! We're going to the Super Bowl!"

Good thing for Weatherford and the Giants that Tynes had been in this situation before. Neither the sight of Cundiff's 32-yard miss hours earlier nor the hyperactive lunacy of the man charged with securing the snap at the moment could rattle the Giants' kicker. His second career overtime NFC Championship Game-winner was true and sent Weatherford sprinting around the field screaming celebratory profanities into Fox's cameras.

"Just unbridled joy," Weatherford said. "That was my soul. You saw my soul on TV."

This was Weatherford's fourth career conference championship game. He was on the Saints team that lost the NFC game to the Bears five years ago and the Jets teams that lost the AFC title games each of the past two years. So he'd been close before. He says the fact that this year's Super Bowl is in Indianapolis, about 30 minutes from his hometown of Crown Point, Ind., makes it even more dreamlike.

"I'm glad it's with this franchise," Weatherford said.

The franchise is glad, too. The as-it-turns-out-overblown story of the Giants' offseason was the one about all of the needs they didn't address in the draft or in free agency. But the signing of Weatherford turned out to be a big one. He was signed, ostensibly, to compete for the job with Matt Dodge, the ultimate goat from 2010's most painful Giants loss. But anyone who'd followed Weatherford's time with the Jets knew it wouldn't take much for him to unseat Dodge. He did, and went on to have a huge year for the Giants -- a major upgrade at a position that's a lot more important than most fans want to believe it is.

Before he was the holder on the game-winning kick, Weatherford amassed 557 gross punting yards in the NFC Championship Game. Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information, who obsesses about punters, tells me that's an all-time single-game postseason record. And yeah, he punted 12 times, but this was the kind of game that punting can win.

The 49ers' Andy Lee was the best punter in the league this year, and San Francisco led the league in both average starting field position and opponents' average starting field position. You can't beat the 49ers unless you have a good punting game, and Weatherford went quite literally toe-to-toe with Lee on Sunday and came out ahead. It's a major reason the Giants were even in position to kick the overtime game-winner. As the Giants' offense stalled time and again throughout the second half and overtime against the ferocious 49ers' defense, Weatherford kept doing what he could to make sure and pin the 49ers' offense as deep as possible.

"He's been great all year," said Tynes, who's as relaxed and calm as Weatherford is hyper and cuckoo. "I think that was one of the big underrated things we did, bringing in a guy like Steve who does what he does so well and so consistently."

Jason Hanson returns to Lions practice

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
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Let's update the still-unsettled state of the Detroit Lions' kicking game.

Place-kicker Jason Hanson tested out his injured left knee during practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's workout. Hanson returned from the bye week with stitches in his left knee and still isn't certain whether he'll be able to kick Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Hanson wouldn't reveal how he suffered the injury but it appears to have resulted from an accident during the Lions' bye. Asked about a report that it involved an ATV, Hanson told Detroit-area reporters: "I'm not even sure what classifies as an all-terrain vehicle, but I was not out riding a four-wheeler and goofing around when this happened. But I was with my kids, and all the other details of what happened, I don't feel like sharing."

The Lions worked out free agent place-kickers Shayne Graham and Rhys Lloyd, but as of Thursday afternoon hadn't signed either. Presumably, they'll test Hanson out Friday before and possibly wait until Saturday to decide whether he'll be available for Sunday's game.

Meanwhile, three punters -- Matt Dodge, Robert Malone and Glenn Pakulak -- worked out Thursday, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Current punter Ryan Donahue strained the quadriceps muscle in his kicking leg Wednesday while practicing as an emergency place-kicker. His status remains uncertain as well.

New York Giants cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
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Click here for a complete list of the New York Giants' roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Four rookie linebackers made the team. And yes, I know some of you were telling me that would happen Friday, but I expected Adrian Tracy to make the team and I was wrong. He was one of three 2010 draft picks -- including fellow linebacker Phillip Dillard and punter Matt Dodge -- among Saturday's cuts. But in part because of the way they played on special teams, rookies Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger all made the team. That's the corps of backup linebackers behind starters Jonathan Goff, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley.

Running backs D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott made the team while 2009 draft pick Andre Brown was cut. Devin Thomas made the team as a wide receiver over Michael Clayton based on a strong preseason showing. And the Giants basically keep three tight ends -- Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe with rookie Henry Hynoski slated to be the starting fullback.

No-brainers: Dodge had a very good preseason, has a lot of talent and probably will find work somewhere. But once the Giants brought in Steve Weatherford, who's been one of the best punters in the league the past two years, Dodge's days were numbered. Weatherford will be the punter, and the bad memories of Dodge and DeSean Jackson can begin to fade. Health issues cost Sage Rosenfels the backup quarterback job, which goes back to David Carr.

What's next: I think they need to sort through the Eagles' castoffs. In particular, tight end Donald Lee and nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson make a lot of sense for the Giants, as the former would fill a huge hole and the latter would allow them to keep Antrel Rolle at safety. And personally I always think they need linebacker help, but they disagree and they like their rookies, so I guess we'll see.

A place where you can talk cut day

September, 3, 2011
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I don't completely understand the phenomenon that is NFL cutdown day. More specifically, I don't understand the fans' fascination with it. But I recognize that said fascination exists, and that it's awkward for you all to be discussing this on yesterday's post. So here's a new post, written expressly for the purpose of providing you with a fresh comments section in which to discuss things like Kellen Clemens' release from the Washington Redskins. I hope you enjoy it.

Once the cuts are in, I will have a post for each team, breaking it all down. Meantime, based on various reports, we've heard:


And more, of course, as most of you know who are tracking these same reports. More later. I promise.

Observation deck: Giants-Jets

August, 29, 2011
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I'm going to start with the positives, because I get accused too often by overly sensitive New York Giants fans of being too negative about their team. And when they look bad, I promise I'll continue to point that out. But in their second-to-last preseason game Monday night -- a meaningless 17-3 loss to the New York Jets -- I saw a lot of things on the Giants' defense that I really liked.

I'm going to start with Justin Tuck, even though that seems obvious, because he's the Giants' best defensive player and it all starts with him. If Tuck is flying around the field, pressuring quarterbacks and making plays on the edge, the rest of the Giants' defense works off of that. And I think Monday night's Tuck was a Tuck who looks ready for the season. As a result, the defensive tackles looked energized, swingman Mathias Kiwanuka was active and effective, Aaron Ross (pressed into starter's duty after the injury to Terrell Thomas) made several nice plays in pass coverage and the Giants' defense more than handled the Jets' starting offense in the run game and the passing game.

I was especially impressed with Ross, who is a starting-caliber cornerback more than capable of filling in for Thomas if he's able to stay healthy (which, granted, has been a big issue with him). The Giants showcased their depth at safety by moving Antrel Rolle into a slot cornerback role (and bringing Deon Grant in at safety) in the nickel package, and that should work fine until and perhaps after Prince Amukamara returns from his injury. And I think Jonathan Goff looked very strong against the run as he continues to grow in his role as the starting middle linebacker. As I have continued to stress when discussing positives and negatives of all four teams this month, the preseason has no predictive value whatsoever, so I'm not saying the Giants' defense will be great because it was great in this game. But to see their established players putting up strong individual performances this late in the preseason should encourage Giants fans that those players are healthy and their minds are right.

Now, not all can be rosy in this Giants' preseason, and so a good night on defense came with hiccups. Kiwanuka left the game with a groin injury he later described as "not serious," and Tuck left with what the team described as a "neck burner," which they obviously hope isn't serious. But while the Giants' first-team defense was in the game, they looked fired up and ready to go.

Now, about the offense and the special teams ...

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
AP Photo/Julio CortezBrandon Jacobs was ejected from the game after being goaded into a fight by Muhammad Wilkerson.
1. The running game will be critical. Ahmad Bradshaw's playing time was limited because of a minor back injury, but he looked very good when he did play, especially on a 29-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass in the second quarter. Brandon Jacobs looked outstanding, as he has all preseason, running with spark and power and looking as though he could easily regain the No. 1 running back role should Bradshaw get injured or struggle with fumbles again. Sadly, though, Jacobs spoiled his effort with an idiotic play that got him ejected from the game. Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson baited him into a fight. Jacobs, who fancies himself a boxer, threw a couple of punches, and both players were thrown out. Jacobs is a proven hothead who last season threw his helmet into the stands when he got upset during a game, and it's possible the book on him is that he's easy to rile up and prod into a stupid mistake. He surely did nothing in this game to dispel that.

2. Eli Manning and the interceptions. One was on a fourth-down play where he was trying to take a chance because it was fourth down. The other was just a poor decision. And the fact that there were two of them is, of course, what stands out when we're talking about a guy who threw 25 picks last season. Now, he looked good throwing to Hakeem Nicks (and to Bradshaw), but the lack of depth of receiving options has him looking confused at times. He doesn't always seem to remember that Victor Cruz is on the field, let alone see that he's open. So it may be that there's work to be done for Manning to get used to his new receiving corps. It may also be that he'll look totally different come the regular season, as so many established players who struggle in preseason do. The good thing is that you know a poor preseason performance won't affect Manning's confidence or attitude, even if the same can't be said about the fans watching him. Fact is, Manning's got the job, and if he's going to have a bad season, the team is too and there's nothing anyone can do about it. I think he'll be fine.

3. Not-so-special teams. Rookie Jerrel Jernigan looks as if he already needs a vacation. Muffs, fumbles ... not the kind of stuff you like to see out of your return man. They may need to look at other options. And the kick and punt coverage continues to look terrible, which actually does mean something since those teams are populated by guys playing for roster spots and increased playing time. One bright spot is that both punters looked good again, which I continue to believe means good things for Steve Weatherford and bad things for Matt Dodge. We'll see on that, but whoever gets that job is going to look a lot better if they can cover his kicks.

4. Cruz versus Domenik Hixon. It was all Cruz early in that No. 3 wide receiver spot, with Hixon coming in late in the game again. I continue to believe the Giants have been trying to ease Hixon back from his knee injury and that he's the favorite to earn playing time in that No. 3 wideout role as the season goes along. But the fact that Cruz and Mario Manningham have seen so much time there makes me think they're going to continue easing Hixon back in once the regular season begins and want to know what they have there in terms of other options. Especially since they're not getting much out of the tight end position.

5. Offensive line improvement. New center David Baas appears to be over the issues that plagued him in the first preseason game. And left tackle William Beatty might not look super-smooth over there with his grabby arms and constantly-moving feet, but he's more or less blocking his man. Left guard David Diehl struggled a couple of times early on, as he failed to pick up a few interior pass-rushers on the blitz. But that got better as the game went along. And the run-blocking is just outstanding across the board.

Finally, I'm not too troubled by this inability to punch the ball into the end zone that has everybody so upset. It's preseason. They moved the ball well. Pretty good chance they'll call different plays when it counts, no?

Observation deck: Giants-Bears

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
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Observations from the Giants 41-13 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football":

We preach all the time that preseason games don't matter, but so few people really take it to heart. Fans like to hang on every play, to wonder whether or not it matters that Eli Manning doesn't look sharp, or to try and figure out whether or not Brandon Jacobs deserves more carries than Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end, there are no accurate judgments to be made off of these games and the only thing that actually matters in any of them is that nobody gets seriously hurt.

And that's why, regardless of the final score or the potentially very encouraging way the rest of the team played during the game itself, Monday night's victory over the Bears was a disaster for the New York Giants.

Shortly before halftime, Giants starting cornerback Terrell Thomas collided with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and limped off the field. At halftime, Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealed to ESPN's Suzy Kolber than Thomas had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would miss the entire season.

[+] EnlargeNew York Giants Terrell Thomas
AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas has a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the entire season.
This is devastating news, first and foremost, for Thomas, one of the very good guys and leaders on the Giants' roster and a player who has one year left before free agency. Thoughts go out to him, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

But it's also awful news for the Giants, who earlier this preseason lost cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson to major injuries (and later in this game saw Brian Witherspoon carted off with a knee injury). Amukamara is out for at least a couple of months, Johnson for the year and now a team that was already struggling for depth at cornerback has lost one of its starters. They've gone from hoping Aaron Ross could be a reliable No. 3 corner and play as their extra defensive back in passing situations to hoping Ross can be a reliable starter and probably using safety Deon Grant in that role as they did last year. The Giants weren't deep to begin with, and they came out of their second preseason game with a major hole on the roster and in the starting lineup.

So that's all that matters from this game, period. But if you want to know what else I saw that might have a chance to matter down the road if by some coincidence regular-season developments jive with preseason performance in specific areas, here you go.

1. On the bright side, Ross looked very good. He knocked down two Jay Cutler passes intended for Roy Williams on third down early in the game. He made another play on a receiver later to prevent a touchdown (though he may have pushed off on that coverage). He made a nice tackle on Marion Barber behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter. You could do worse than Ross as a fill-in cornerback when one of your starters gets hurt, and it's encouraging that he played well. But again, the Giants were figuring on Ross as their third corner, not one of their top two.

2. Oh, and X-rays on William Beatty's foot were negative. Which is a good thing. Beatty didn't have to take on Julius Peppers all night as we expected, since the Bears moved Peppers over to the other side to terrorize Kareem McKenzie and the Giants' overmatched tight ends. Beatty looked better overall in this game, holding his own and keeping his man off the quarterback, though he still looks a little grabby to me. You don't like to see a left tackle reaching quite as much as Beatty does to try and prevent the edge rush. He's got to do a better job of getting his whole body in front of his guy, or he's going to be a walking holding penalty.

3. Giants' special teams looked better. Devin Thomas is really showing his speed and athleticism on kick returns. Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford both bombed huge punts all night. There was good kick coverage, including a big tackle by receiver Victor Cruz as he continues to work to try and secure a spot in the receiving corps. Jerrel Jernigan doesn't show much on punt returns, but the Giants had so many problems on special teams last year that if they can get it down to just one, Coughlin is going to be ecstatic.

4. How did those receivers keep getting open between Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips? It happened twice in the first half, and Cutler hit it for a big gain each time. It looked as though the receiver got by Webster and Phillips didn't get over in time to help. There are three possibilities that I can see: 1. Webster let his man go by him without making sure he had the safety help; 2. Phillips was supposed to help but was slow getting over; 3. Phillips went with the tight end up the seam after the tight end got by middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, which would kind of lead back to (1.) though with some blame to be shared by Goff. Either way, I'm certain it'll be discussed in detail in meetings this week. The Giants will obviously need mistake-free play from Webster and Phillips with as vital a piece as Thomas now missing from the secondary.

5. Victor Cruz, preseason wonder. Domenik Hixon had the big touchdown catch, but I really believe the Giants are trying to bring Hixon along slowly as he's coming back from his knee injury. And if that's the case, it opens up opportunities for guys like Cruz to get more reps at wide receiver. Cruz lined up with the starters in the team's three-receiver sets at the start of the game, and he did a lot of good, athletic, impressive things, just like he did last year in the preseason. As long as he keeps contributing on special teams, he's a good bet to make the roster. And if he does and Hixon is still being babied come the regular season, Cruz should get a serious chance to show whether or not his preseason success can carry into the regular season this time.

6. Some notes on the sure things. Manning looked fine, though I wouldn't put him in John Beck's class as a preseason quarterback. (Easy, folks... I kid because I love...) Brandon Jacobs looked especially spry on his touchdown run. And how about Justin Tuck's downfield tackle on Matt Forte? Tuck's a beast, but I couldn't help thinking a linebacker or a safety should have made that unnecessary. Overall, the Giants' defense looked very good, especially when it came time to keep the Bears out of the end zone in goal-line situations. Mark Herzlich's interception on the fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter was the most fun of the stops.

7. Still could use a tight end. Not that this is a Priority No. 1 at this point, but Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe have been fully underwhelming at a key position for the Giants' passing game. We saw Manning audible at the line a few times and look to check it down, but with Steve Smith in Philadelphia and Kevin Boss in Oakland, he's still looking for reliable options to serve as safety valves. There was a third-down throw on which he and Mario Manningham couldn't connect that made you think he missed Smith. But two more preseason games to go and work still to be done, as is the case with every team.

I love a contrarian point of view, and K.C. Joyner's got one here. While everybody is gushing over the Philadelphia Eagles as free-agent champs and NFC East favorites, K.C. has written an Insider piece Insider listing eight reasons to think the New York Giants should be the favorites instead. Like I said, it's an Insider piece, so if you want to read it you can either buy the insider subscription or call my cell phone and I'll give you my password.

K.C.'s eight reasons are:

[+] EnlargeKenny Phillips
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireSafety Kenny Phillips, 21, now healthy, is among the reasons the Giants could win the NFC East.
1. Michael Vick was lucky last season, as a high percentage of his potential interceptions weren't actually intercepted.

2. Eli Manning was unlucky last season on the opposite end of the same scale.

3. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are better against good coverage than DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are.

4. Manning can overcome the loss of Kevin Boss and Steve Smith simply by throwing to Nicks and Manningham more.

5. Jason Pierre-Paul and Marvin Austin will improve the Giants' already strong pass rush.

6. Steve Weatherford is a better punter than Matt Dodge, who cost them games last season.

7. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty is the best in the NFL, and that should help the transition to the reworked alignment there.

8. Kenny Phillips is fully healthy.

K.C. has numbers to back up many of these points, and many of them are points with which I agree. I think Phillips will be a huge help, agree completely on Weatherford and can easily believe both that Manning will throw fewer interceptions than he did last season and that Vick won't be quite as awesome as he was last season. On the comparison of the two teams' wideouts, I have no reason to doubt K.C.'s numbers.

I have specific issues with points 4, 5 and 7, as follows:

4. I don't think it's as simple as "throw it to Nicks and Manningham more." Nicks and Manningham surely benefited from defenses having to pay attention to Smith, who'd caught 107 balls the season before, when he was on the field. He's gone and has not been replaced.

5. I like Pierre-Paul and Austin fine, but they're not being added to the mix. They're replacing people who have departed. Mathias Kiwanuka moved back from the line to linebacker, and Pierre-Paul will take his spot. Barry Cofield signed with the Redskins, and Austin replaces him. It's a big leap to believe that those two young players will approximate the production and performance of those two veterans and a bigger one to believe they'll improve on it.

7. Flaherty could be a wizard, but if William Beatty isn't ready for the starting left tackle job in his third season in the league, the Giants' line will struggle. And as of right now, we still don't know if he is.

So what do I think of K.C.'s basic thesis? I think the Giants have a very good team as far as the front-line starters go, and I don't think it'd be some huge upset if they won the division. I have all kinds of respect for the work K.C. does and the numbers on which he is basing his conclusions. He makes a strong case and a case worth making amid all the Eagles hype.

But the way I see it, the Giants' problem the past couple of seasons hasn't been one of measurables.

The Giants' defense over the past two seasons has been inconsistent and hasn't always played up to the level of the talent on the roster. The same can be said, in places, for the running game and for Manning. The Giants were good enough to make the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 but didn't, and the reason they didn't was because the good players they have in key spots like that didn't always perform the way the numbers would expect them to perform. Supposedly reliable parts of the roster let them down when it mattered most. Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled. Manning threw interceptions. Kareem McKenzie had an inexplicably bad game against the Titans. Half of the defense quit on its coordinator in 2009.

That's the kind of stuff that doesn't show up in preseason projections, when we're imagining everyone playing as well as they can possibly play and predicting outcomes based on that. If the Giants stay healthy and play 16 games that reflect the talent on their roster, sure, they can be division champs. But that was true last season and the season before, too. And those teams, which looked a lot like this team except maybe deeper, didn't do it.

Camp Confidential: Giants

August, 14, 2011
8/14/11
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's funny to say this about a team that plays where they play, but the New York Giants like it when nobody notices them. They like being forgotten, underestimated, treated as an afterthought. They're OK with the Jets getting all the back-page-tabloid attention and the Eagles being the big offseason story because of their free-agent shopping spree. The Giants believe in their own way of doing things, and if that means lying in the weeds while people on the outside are distracted by other teams that are hot at the moment, that's fine with them.

"We believe in our organization, and we believe in our coaches," said ninth-year offensive lineman David Diehl, who has moved from left tackle to left guard as part of the Giants' offensive line shuffle. "We're not running around doing the free-agency fiasco and all that stuff. Yeah, you hope that, if an opportunity arises, you bring in guys that fit holes. But at the same time, we've got guys that have been here, guys that are a part of this team, guys who know the system."

That's why, even though they lost tight end Kevin Boss and receiver Steve Smith in free agency and didn't sign new guys the way the Eagles did, the Giants say they're not worried. They have a different way of doing things here. They build through the draft and groom their own players to replace the ones who leave. And they have a few guys they think can fill the holes created by their cuts and free-agent defections. It remains to be seen whether they're right, of course, but the vibe at Giants training camp is clear: Go ahead, underestimate us. We'll see how it turns out in the end.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeWilliam Beatty
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Giants will have a revamped offensive line that includes William Beatty, left, at left tackle.
1. The new offensive line. When they cut longtime center Shaun O'Hara and guard Rich Seubert on the first day of free agency, the Giants signaled a decision to change an aspect of their team that hadn't changed much over the past six or seven years. They signed free-agent center David Baas from San Francisco, moved Diehl inside, and gave the starting left tackle job to 2009 second-round draft pick William Beatty. So there are questions that must be answered about how quickly the newly configured group can jell, how smooth the relationship between Baas and quarterback Eli Manning will be and, perhaps most importantly, whether Beatty in his third NFL season is ready for the responsibility of protecting Manning's blind side.

"In the case of William Beatty, it's time," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We've had him here. He's talented. He's had an opportunity to learn. He's practiced against some of the best. We've had some defensive ends around here that can play. So it's time. It's his turn."

Beatty started four games in his rookie season and two last season as he was being groomed for this opportunity. He's perhaps the best example of the Giants' belief in their ability to groom their own replacements for departing veterans rather than having to hit the free-agent market to do so. Now, he must prove that their faith in him was justified.

2. Can Osi Umenyiora be happy? Upset about his contract, the Giants' star defensive end has sat out practice and demanded that the team re-work his deal or trade him to a team that will. Neither of those things appears likely to happen, though the Giants have offered an olive branch in the form of some 2011 incentives depending on the number of sacks Umenyiora gets this year. He had his knee checked out last week and there's a sense he could return to practice Monday. The way Jason Pierre-Paul played in Saturday night's preseason opener only helped the Giants' leverage in this situation. They believe Pierre-Paul, their 2010 first-round pick, can be a capable replacement for Umenyiora at the defensive end spot opposite Justin Tuck. Of course, if Umenyiora wants to come back and play, they'll be thrilled to be able to rotate three such weapons at the defensive end spots. It would also enable them to put Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker and leave him there.

3. Manning's safety valves. As the Giants' passing game evolved over the past couple of seasons, Manning relied heavily on Smith and Boss as targets when things broke down. Both are gone. The Giants hope that 2009 third-round pick Travis Beckum is ready to replace Boss. Beckum is a good receiver, but he doesn't have Boss' size or blocking ability. And they're trying everyone from Mario Manningham to Domenik Hixon to Victor Cruz in Smith's old slot-receiver role in the hopes that someone can play the position the way Smith did. Top receiver Hakeem Nicks appears poised to have another big year, and the Giants can use Manningham on the outside as they did last season. But Manning is justifiably concerned about who will be there for him when a play inevitably breaks down, and tight end and slot receiver are positions that need to be sorted out before camp ends.

"When we've gotten in trouble in the past, we always had Steve in the slot, and that's kind of all we worked on -- Steve's in the slot, there you go, he's got it down," Manning said. "And so last year, when he got hurt, we were in trouble. No one else really knew how to play it. So this year we're putting everybody -- Hakeem is in there, Manningham's getting in here, we're getting a lot of people in there to get them to learn some of it, so that'll probably create some more opportunities for us to move guys around and get some mismatches."

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

[+] EnlargeJonathan Goff
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireJonathan Goff is entering his second season as the starting middle linebacker.
Linebacker has been a weak spot for the Giants the past couple of years. Unable to add outside free agents because of cap concerns, they'll address it by moving Kiwanuka there for first and second downs. But much will still fall on the shoulders of Jonathan Goff, who enters his second season as starter at middle linebacker in the Giants' 4-3 defense. "I'll have better composure this year," Goff said. "Last year, being my first year, was a little bit of a learning experience for me. This year, I think we're all on the same page to move forward as a defense and get better. It's just natural now." Goff is responsible for communicating the calls from the sidelines and for making any front-seven checks. (The coverage checks are the responsibility of the safeties.) He knows he'll need to take a stronger on-field leadership role for the defense to play more consistently this season.

AN 'EXPLOSIVE' PHILLIPS

Two years ago, Kenny Phillips was on the verge of breaking out as one of the top safeties in the NFL. But he lost his 2009 season to a left knee injury, spent the 2009-10 offseason rehabbing the knee and wasn't the same player when he returned in 2010. This year, Phillips said, he was able to condition himself the way he normally would for a season, rather than have to rehab, and believes it has made a huge difference. "Just being more explosive," Phillips said. "Last year, just seeing the field, it was kind of difficult at times, because I'd been away from the game, to be able to break on the ball -- to actually see it and then be able to get to it. But this year, now, everything is just fluid. My technique and everything is sound. I just feel good about everything this year." Phillips said he learned a lot last season playing and working with veteran safety Deon Grant (who remains an unsigned free agent), and that, with his physical ability fully restored, he believes he'll be a better player.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Hixon could be a very important player for the Giants if he's recovered from his knee injury. He showed ability to play that slot receiver position when he was healthy, and will get a chance to show it again, though it seems clear the Giants would like to have multiple options there in case something goes wrong.
  • Linval Joseph, the 2010 second-round pick, would seem to have the playing-time edge at defensive tackle over 2011 second-round pick Marvin Austin. But each brings impressive size and agility to the position, and between them the Giants should be able to capably replace Barry Cofield, who signed with Washington.
  • The starting secondary of Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster looks excellent in practice. The question is whether there's enough depth behind those guys if there's an injury. Cornerbacks Michael Coe and Brian Witherspoon and safety Tyler Sash have a chance to earn playing time with Prince Amukamara hurt and Grant not re-signed. Witherspoon has been impressive on special teams and looked good in Saturday's game. Sash appears to be very athletic, but he needs to play with more discipline.
  • Kiwanuka at linebacker is a work in progress. No question he has the ability to play it, but he over-pursued Saturday at times the way a defensive end might.
  • Even before he left Saturday's preseason game with a thigh injury, kicker Lawrence Tynes looked as though he might be cause for concern. Having missed a few practices as he recovers from knee surgery, Tynes was unable to boot kickoffs out of the back of the end zone the way it seems every other kicker in the league has so far this preseason. And he missed a couple of field goals (though the first was a 56-yarder he shouldn't have been asked to try). Worth keeping an eye out to see how he looks the rest of August.
  • As for punters, Matt Dodge has looked better than he did in his difficult rookie season, but it's going to be tough for him to beat out Steve Weatherford, who's just better at the job.
  • Observation deck: Giants-Panthers

    August, 13, 2011
    8/13/11
    11:48
    PM ET
    The New York Giants could have used a feel-good preseason opener Saturday night. No, I don't think you can read much into these preseason games. You don't know which teams are game-planning and which aren't. You can make judgments on individual efforts in certain cases, and get a sense of what teams might be planning in terms of playing time and defensive and offensive alignments. But when we say a team looked good or bad in a preseason game, we are not making any predictions or judgments about the way the season will go based on that.

    All of that said, after a week in which they got knocked around in free agency and faced questions about whether their offseason plan was sound or even extant, the Giants could have used a match that left them feeling good about things. Kind of like the one the Redskins had Friday.

    They didn't get it.

    Yeah, some good things happened in their 20-10 exhibition loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jason Pierre-Paul was the star of the first half, looking fast, athletic and hungry as he recorded two sacks. Both punters looked good, third receiver candidates Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz had nice moments, and Michael Boley ran back an interception for a touchdown on the first series of the game. But all in all, it wasn't a good night. There were tackling issues, communication issues and special teams issues. The backup offensive line was so bad that it may have gotten kicker Lawrence Tynes hurt.

    Other than the Tynes thing, none of this is cause for any reason concern. Just because they were sloppy Saturday night doesn't mean anything about the season. I'm just saying, given the way their fans were feeling in the wake of the free-agent departures of Steve Smith, they could have used a better performance.

    Here's some stuff I saw:

    [+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
    AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJason Pierre-Paul nabbed two sacks and could be a viable replacement if Osi Umenyiora continues to sit out.
    1. Pierre-Paul looks like a monster. The Giants' 2010 first-rounder has been getting a lot of snaps with the starters in practice with Osi Umenyiora sitting out, and he looked fantastic Saturday night. Two sacks, pressure on almost every play, quickness off the edge, athleticism, determination -- everything you want in a pass rusher. If Umenyiora wants to continue to sit out because of his contract, the Giants have some tape they can show him of a guy who looks like a very capable replacement. If Umenyiora wants to come back, the Giants have even more depth on the offensive line and can keep Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker. Pierre-Paul's rapid development would be a very useful thing for the Giants.

    2. Other good stuff from the defensive line. We saw encouraging play from the defensive tackles, too, with Chris Canty getting into the backfield, Rocky Bernard getting a sack, rookie Marvin Austin playing well in the second half and the Giants generally producing a lot of pressure with their defensive front. As expected, they moved Kiwanuka up to the line in passing downs, and they did the same thing with Adrian Tracy when he replaced Kiwanuka in the second quarter. Tracy played well, helping generate the pressure that led to the Bernard sack as well as Alex Hall's. The Giants are looking for depth at linebacker, and Tracy could help if he plays like this.

    3. The punters look good. The coverage? Not so much. Matt Dodge hit a couple of nice punts, including one that looked a little bit like a Jeff Feagles directional special. But Steve Weatherford was one of the best punters in the league the last couple of years and hits the ball farther than Dodge does. Could be tough for Dodge to win this competition. And regardless of who wins it, the coverage team will just have to do a better job. This is one area that actually does mean something in preseason, because the guys on special-teams coverage units should be playing hard and trying to win roster spots. They were miserable all night until Cruz came up with a big solo tackle on a punt return in the third quarter. A guy like Michael Coe, who has an opportunity with the Giants losing so much depth at cornerback, needs to come up bigger than he did on Armanti Edwards' long first return.

    3a. Also, one punt-related question: Why in the world did Tom Coughlin call for a 56-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter when Tynes is coming off knee surgery and he's trying to get a look at two punters? Just wondering. Seemed like a weird decision. Tynes, who is also the only kicker I've seen so far this preseason who hasn't been able to kick it through the end zone on kickoffs, missed the attempt.

    4. William Beatty -- some good, some bad: The new starting left tackle got manhandled a bit on the first two offensive series, looking overwhelmed and doing a lot of reaching and grabbing as he was getting beaten off the edge. But he seemed to settle in and looked much more authoritative and aggressive on the next few series. He stayed in longer than did the other starting offensive linemen, and it's no coincidence. Whether Beatty is ready to handle his new full-time job will go a long way toward determining how well the Giants handle their transition to this new offensive line assignment.

    5. Brian Witherspoon was a bright spot. The Giants' starting secondary looks as though it should be very good (though there did seem to be some communication issues there early on). The question is whether they have depth behind the starters, with Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson hurt. Witherspoon was a star of the second half on special teams as well as at cornerback. A guy to watch as the preseason rolls along.

    6. Quick hits: It was fun to watch top draft pick Cam Newton get his first game action for the Panthers. He beat Giants rookie Tyler Sash with a great throw on his first drive, but Sash and Coe made good plays to help keep him from capping that drive with a touchdown pass. ... It appears as though Hixon is the leader for that No. 3 receiver spot. He got a lot of work in the slot in the second half with Sage Rosenfels throwing to him. ... I thought Danny Ware looked all right as a third-down back catching screen passes. ... The word on Tynes was a thigh contusion, which is better than a knee injury for sure.

    More on the Giants on Sunday, as you'll get my "Camp Confidential" report on them. Meantime, let me know what you thought.

    Little bit late Friday night with our daily roundup of the free-agency day in the NFC East because, well, it's been a bit of a nutty day overall. But you're not here to read about my day. You're here to ask, of whichever team is your favorite, the following question: So, how was your day?

    Dallas Cowboys?

    "Infuriating." It seemed as if the Cowboys put their entire offseason plan on hold for a day because Jerry Jones decided he wanted to try and get Nnamdi Asomugha. Then it seemed, for a fleeting second when the Jets dropped out of the running just before dinnertime, as if they might have actually gotten him. Then they found out that they didn't get him. Then they found out that he'd signed in the division, with the Eagles. That's a bad day, folks. And the re-signing of Marcus Spears didn't seem like it was enough to make anybody any happier. The Cowboys still need two starting safeties and another starting defensive end, and there remain several good options on the market at both spots. So now that Asomugha is elsewhere, they can re-focus on filling needs and smoothing over the surely hurt feelings of the cornerbacks on their roster.

    New York Giants?

    "Punterrific!" OK, no, that's not a word. But while the Giants were busy again, the only thing that really happened for them Friday was that they agreed to terms on a new deal with former Jets punter Steve Weatherford. He will surely replace the embattled Matt Dodge to the delight of Giants fans who refuse to forgive Dodge for that whole DeSean Jackson thing. Brandon Jacobs agreed to restructure his deal to help them re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, but Bradshaw remains unsigned, along with Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Plaxico Burress stopped by to visit Tom Coughlin, but then he went on to Pittsburgh and I still wonder if he's just using the Giants for leverage. Oh, and Osi Umenyiora is officially holding out, so that's fun. Any or all of these sticky situations could resolve themselves in the next day or so, but in the meantime, the best thing that happened for the Giants on Friday was the punterrific addition of Weatherford, which will have to do.

    Philadelphia Eagles?

    "Awesome." They sneaked in at the last minute and signed the best free agent on the market. They did it right when the Cowboys thought they were about to get him. A defense that was their weak spot last season now boasts a three-man cornerback rotation of Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also formally announced the addition of Jason Babin to the defensive line and a couple of under-the-radar moves in receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and tight end Donald Lee. Eventually, they got around to announcing the signing of Vince Young to a one-year deal to serve as Michael Vick's backup. The Phillies were so inspired that they made their own big trade, and it was party time in Philadelphia. If they Eagles can beef up a bit at linebacker and find a backup running back, they'll be just about all set. They'll just need to find a way to make Jackson happy.

    Washington Redskins?

    "Quiet." Washington was the busiest team in the division all week until Friday, when they didn't make a move of major consequence. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan talked about what he sees as the looming quarterback competition between John Beck and Rex Grossman, which kind of reminded everybody that all the other moves the Redskins have been making could have a hard time helping too much in 2011. Washington still needs a right tackle, and I could see them making a move for Braylon Edwards before that situation resolves itself. But they'd been busy and effective all week, and there was nothing wrong with a quiet day for them.

    My day? Well, I was right there with the rest of you, wondering how the Nnamdi thing would shake out and shocked when it took the final turn it took. I was watching Adam Schefter on "SportsCenter" when he got the news on his BlackBerry and broke it on the set, which was humorous. My day isn't over, either, as I have one more Eagles-related item to write before I can think about the pillow. But as always, I have enjoyed the interactions on Twitter and the work I do to try and keep you informed and entertained. I hope you're enjoying it too.

    How was your day?
    More punter news!!!

    Giants fans are going to like this one. According to tweets by him and his agents, former Jets punter Steve Weatherford has reached agreement on a new contract with the Giants. Weatherford (@weatherford9) tweeted this: "I'm on my way back to NYC but my helmet has changed. I'm excited to get the opportunity to help this prestigious franchise win a world title."

    And the agency that represents him (@TheTitanGrp), shortly thereafter, tweeted this: "We are excited to announce Titan Client @Weatherford9 is staying in NYC and has signed with the New York Giants!"

    Now, the first reaction might be that Weatherford will come in to compete with Matt Dodge, whose high-profiled 2010 struggles as Jeff Feagles' replacement culminated with DeSean Jackson's game-winning punt return in the Week 15 loss to the Eagles. But no. Weatherford is as good a punter as there is in the league, and this move means Dodge is history in New York. I mean, unless the Jets want him.

    Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders offered this, also on Twitter (@FO_ASchatz): "Weatherford the #1 punter in league by FO measures in 2010. Worth estimated 15 pts worth of field position over average."

    So there you go. Punter news, brought to you by Twitter and giving Giants fans something about which to smile on a Friday afternoon in late July.

    Matt Dodge on the hot seat

    July, 29, 2011
    7/29/11
    9:17
    AM ET
    More punter news!

    On Thursday, The Star-Ledger reported that the Giants were talking to Brad Maynard about coming in to replace embattled punter Matt Dodge. Today brings news, courtesy of The New York Post, that they're also talking to 43-year-old veteran Matt Turk.

    Giants coach Tom Coughlin repeatedly expressed confidence last year in Dodge and his ability while Dodge was struggling through some high-profile mistakes. That seemed to fall apart in the wake of DeSean Jackson's game-winning punt return in Week 15, when Coughlin was famously caught on camera chewing out Dodge for not punting the ball out of bounds. And if the Giants are poking around on veteran punters now, it could mean that the importance of winning this season outweighs the importance of maintaining patience with Dodge.

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