NFL Nation: Mitch Petrus

ESPN.com polled 63 insiders -- or "insiders" if you prefer -- connected to the site to put together lists of the top 100 players on offense and defense in the NFL. I was one of them.

We'll reveal them 10 at a time. You can find details of the process at the top of the pieces on 91-100 on offense and defense.

Titans left tackle Michael Roos is 96th on the offensive list.

Says ESPN Stats & Info:
"Only the Panthers (37) and Vikings (32) have more 20-yard rushes outside the tackles than the Titans in the past four seasons (31). Roos has appeared in more than 98 percent of Tennessee's snaps over that span."

Roos was good, not great, in 2012 as he played alongside a fading Steve Hutchinson, and, after Hutchinson got hurt, three games with Fernando Velasco and one with Mitch Petrus.

Over his eight seasons, he's often been overlooked in conversations about the league's best left tackles. He's a smart, athletic player who moves quite well and is steady and reliable.

I'm curious how many left tackles are ahead of him on this list.
The early volume out of the AFC South as free agency opened came from Tennessee, where the Titans reached a five-year, $39 million agreement in principle with Buffalo's Andy Levitre.

Once he passes a physical, he figured to solidify an interior offensive line that has become a major issue. He will take over left guard from the retired Steve Hutchinson. Better play from the interior, where the Titans will likely draft a second starting guard, should do a lot to help the play of both quarterback Jake Locker and running back Chris Johnson.

The Titans have also agreed on a four-year deal with San Francisco tight end Delanie Walker, who will take over the spot of departing free agent Jared Cook.

Here is Scouts Inc. on Levitre:
"Levitre is a short, athletic interior offensive lineman who has played with great technique and intensity. He lacks great strength at the point of attack in the running game but understands leverage and can anchor well against more powerful bull rushers. He wins with intelligence, toughness, athleticism and effort. Levitre is the Bills' most consistent and durable offensive lineman, making all 64 starts in four seasons."

And Scouts Inc. on Walker
"Walker is an excellent player who fills a lot of roles for the 49ers. He is used as an inline tight end as well as an H-back or lead fullback. He is a very good route runner who is quick on his release and has the ability to drop his hips to get in and out of his breaks with foot quickness and a burst to separate. He is quick to read coverages and has become a solid third-down option, coming up with clutch receptions. He is not a powerful inline blocker but will show effort and some pop and power as a lead blocker."

Two others have also emerged as Titans targets: Lions defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola.

I don’t know what kind of chance the Titans have to land those two on top of the two they've already hooked. But that would make for a very solid four-pack of additions. They’ve already added safety George Wilson. Today they also subtracted two players, releasing safety Jordan Babineaux and guard Mitch Petrus.

I'm impressed with the Titans' speed out of the gate here. They need to make substantial additions to this roster and are off to a rousing start.
Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews always said he’d recuse himself on roster decisions involving his son, Tennessee interior offensive lineman Kevin Matthews.

It would have cost the Titans a tender of at least $1.323 million to retain his rights. With or without the input of Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Fame lineman, the Titans didn’t tender Kevin Matthews or interior offensive lineman Kyle DeVan.

Kevin Matthews and DeVan will become unrestricted free agents Tuesday at 4 pm ET. At that point the Titans could sign them for deals at one-year base minimum salary. The third-year base salary minimum is $630,000.

It’s time, though, for the Titans to be finished with Matthews, the project who came out of Texas A&M in 2010.

The interior offensive line is expected to be revamped with two new starting guards. As they are brought in, via free agency and/or the draft, the team is likely to move on from two expensive veterans, Steve Hutchinson and Eugene Amano.

Leroy Harris and Deuce Lutui become unrestricted free agents Tuesday.

Tyler Horn was on the practice squad at the end of last season and Chris DeGeare was on the practice squad injured list.

The Titans now have Mitch Petrus and Kasey Studdard as their interior depth.

So Tennessee doesn't only need a couple starting guards. It needs a candidate or two to compete with Petrus and Studdard for backup roles as well.

Who calls the protections, and why?

December, 20, 2012
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Andrew LuckKim Klement/US PresswireRookie Andrew Luck of the Colts is among the QBs asked to call the bulk of his team's protections.

A young quarterback breaks the huddle and steps to the line. There is much to assess staring at him from across the line of scrimmage.

What’s the coverage? Is it better to run or pass against it? Is that safety really coming at me or is he disguising before backing off to be part of a Cover 2? I need to send that receiver in motion. How would the cornerback across from him react to that? Who’s hot here if someone comes free at me?

On top of all of that, in some systems, the quarterback is also setting the protections.

Is asking him to manage the blocking scheme putting too much on his plate?

Some teams think so, leaving those decisions mostly to the center and giving the quarterback power to make a simple switch. Other teams want their quarterback to control everything, and ask him to assess what needs to happen up front, not just downfield.

“Personally, I think it ties the quarterback into everything,” said Colts offensive coordinator and interim coach Bruce Arians, who asks rookie Andrew Luck to call protections most of the time. “I don’t think the center can see what the quarterback can see. When the center depends on the [middle linebacker] because of safety locations, he gets fooled too many times.

“The quarterback can see everyone’s body language and everything else. That’s his job. He’s got to know who the 'Mike' is, where the safeties are for him to know his hots and sights. There are a lot of offenses that the center does it because the quarterback doesn’t throw hots or sights, they don’t have them in their offense. I’m not one of those people.”

In Jacksonville, meanwhile, the Jaguars rely heavily on 13-year veteran center Brad Meester.

“It starts with the center, but everybody’s had the ability to get us in the right protection to obviously make us more sound,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “I think it’s a very user-friendly offense. I think because of players having to come in and learn the system yearly, you’ve got to be careful just how much you put on their plate. But I think our guys can handle it pretty well."

In Tennessee, Jake Locker doesn’t have the responsibility Luck does in the Colts' offense.

The linemen sort out the protections, with the center serving as the key communication person. Veteran backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said there is typically one guy whose interpretation serves as the default if there is any confusion. Once left guard Steve Hutchinson became comfortable in his new team’s system and before a knee injury knocked him out, he was that guy for Tennessee.

With Tennessee’s offensive line now stocked with backups, the lone remaining original starter, left tackle Michael Roos, surely has a louder voice.

The Titans lost Eugene Amano in the preseason and plugged Fernando Velasco in at center. When Hutchinson went down, they settled on Velasco shifting to left guard and Kevin Matthews as center. In Week 15, Matthews was lost for the remainder of the season with an ankle sprain. Third-stringer Kyle DeVan played the bulk of that game as the pivot. He could be there again Sunday in Green Bay, or the Titans could put Velasco back in the middle and play recent waiver claim Mitch Petrus at guard.

Got all that?

Whoever is doing the decision-making up front and whoever is communicating it, Locker has veto power. If he sees something he believes isn’t right for what the Titans are intending to run, he is expected to alter it.

The case for a quarterback setting protections starts with the view. Linemen in three- or four-point stances don’t see things as clearly as the quarterback, who can stand upright and scan the field before getting under center.

“They might start somewhere, we see where they start and we might say, ‘No, no, no, let’s do this’ or ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah let’s do that,'” Hasselbeck said. “Or if a team blitzes, we have different words that mean ‘same protection other side’ or whatever it is.”

The Texans and the Jaguars work in a similar fashion, where the line and quarterback work in conjunction. Both teams have veteran centers who typically get things started, Chris Myers in Houston and Meester in Jacksonville.

A couple of weeks ago when the Titans prepared for the Texans, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews made the quarterbacks aware of three especially difficult looks. If the center saw one of those, he’d take the lead and tell Locker what to check into.

At other times, the quarterback’s ability to recognize things he wasn’t advised about is very important.

“One thing that is big with me and veteran players in general is, you develop problem-solving skills,” Hasselbeck said.

On the bus or plane after the game, he might talk with a lineman or a blocking tight end who says he knew a certain play wasn’t going to work.

“The coaches don’t care if you change the play if you’re getting them out of a bad play,” Hasselbeck said. “They care if you change the play and you are getting them out of a decent or good play.

[+] EnlargeBrad Meester
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY SportsThe Jaguars rely on veteran center Brad Meester to make the majority of their protection calls.
“My advice to guys is just to scream ‘this play is not going to work’ or ‘check it.’ Something. I don’t need to know everything about why. I just need to know that someone along the line isn’t feeling good about their assignment. I can always get us into a decent play. Always.”

Some quarterbacks don’t want to be real involved in sorting out protections.

Mike Munchak was the Titans' offensive line coach while Steve McNair quarterbacked the Titans. He said McNair didn’t want to be concerned with setting protections. His safety blanket receiver, tight end Frank Wycheck, recalled McNair asking weekly what his “emergencies” would be against an opponent and making sure he had a solution in mind or was ready to freelance when he saw those.

But Hasselbeck thinks most coaches want it on the quarterback, at least to some degree. He was responsible for calling protections in Mike Holmgren’s scheme in Seattle. He likes not having to do it all when he’s playing in Tennessee.

“It’s partly 'best seat in the house,' it’s partly you’re expected to be the guy who spends the most hours at the facility watching the most amount of film,” he said. “You’re the coach on the field. You’re the guy that talks in the huddle."

Still, there are situations where he’s been told in meetings that top offensive linemen would just “feel it” when it came to certain stuff from a defense, and that the line would “just pick that up,” Hasselbeck said.

“That’s not a world I’ve ever lived in,” he said. “I’ve lived in a world where you use your cadence to try to get a tip. You move the protections. You tell the running backs exactly where to block. And if you have to throw hot, you have to throw hot. And that’s a hard way to live on the road or against certain guys.”

Munchak said the center can be fooled more easily, so the quarterback needs to be involved, but he doesn’t want Locker making constant protection decisions at the line.

A quarterback like Peyton Manning, who controls everything, can handle it. Munchak played with Warren Moon, who did the same during some of the run-and-shoot era.

“But for the most part, I don’t think a lot of quarterbacks are comfortable doing that,” Munchak said. “I don’t think they want to do it. I think it’s too much for them. And then all of a sudden they’re not making the throws and doing the things you want them to do. I think there is a place for a percentage of doing it, but not all the time.”

Some athletic quarterbacks wind up in situations where they have no real idea of where a protection might break down, but can make guys miss when they come free. Hasselbeck’s seen this year’s top three rookie quarterbacks -- Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson -- as well as Ben Roethlisberger do it this season.

When Hasselbeck was a backup behind Brett Favre in Green Bay, he saw it to an extreme.

“He knew how to pick things up, and he was very, very good at it,” Hasselbeck said. “But sometimes he just wouldn’t care. He was like, ‘Ah, I can get it off.’ And he’d get it off and take a shot in the chin. There is a price to be paid sometimes when you do it.

“I would lean on coaching it up.”

The Titans clearly hope Locker comes to buy himself time in the fashion that Roethlisberger, Luck, RG III and Wilson can and do.

Myers is a key leader for the Texans, and he carries a lot of responsibility for calling protections. He likes working with a veteran quarterback, in Matt Schaub, who participates in the process, and he likes having other offensive linemen who are capable of making calls or adjustments, too.

While Myers welcomes the play here and there when he doesn’t have to figure out the equation and solve it before the snap, he’s always ready and willing to do so.

“We have the quarterback do it, have a tackle do it sometimes when we have to fan out in certain play-actions,” Myers said. “So the responsibility isn’t solely on one guy, and I think that’s a great thing. We have the ability and the leadership and the people who have played long enough, we’re able to put it on everyone’s shoulders as opposed to just one guy.”

Observation deck: Patriots-Giants

August, 30, 2012
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I don't know why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin played his starting offense for four series in Wednesday night's 6-3 preseason victory over the New England Patriots. It's kind of accepted that you're not supposed to play your veteran starters in the final preseason game, and it does seem silly to risk injury to them with a week left before the first game that actually counts. But Coughlin knows what he's doing, and he tends to do it his way. And hey, maybe Eli Manning really is indestructible -- and while we just joke about it, Coughlin knows for sure.

Anyway, everybody came out of it fine, including star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who only played the first two series as he got his first game action of the preseason. Nicks didn't show any effects from the foot fracture he suffered in the spring, and he should be good to go next Wednesday night against the Cowboys.

As for this game, in the four series he played, Manning didn't look in sync with his receivers, the offensive line looked awful in run-blocking and (likely as a result) the running backs didn't show much. No, not even David Wilson. What's it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course. There's no way the Giants game-planned for this game and no way they were going to put anything on tape Wednesday night that might have been potentially helpful to the Cowboys next week. Manning and his gang will be ready, of that there should be no fear. Not now that they've made it through the preseason games healthy.

What else did we see in this fiasco of a non-game?
  • Defensive end Adewale Ojomo has to make the team, right? I don't know whether that means Adrian Tracy has to go or what, but Ojomo's done nothing to deserve being cut. Another sack, and man did he look good stuffing the run. If these games are ways for off-the-roster guys to make the roster, Ojomo could end up being this year's prime example.
  • While we're on the defensive line, Linval Joseph has flat-out been one of my favorite players to watch in this preseason. He's playing like a man possessed, and between him and Rocky Bernard the Giants shouldn't miss a beat in the first half of games in spite of their injuries at defensive tackle. My only question is if they have the depth they need to spell those guys and make sure they don't wear down in the second half or as the season goes along. But when Joseph is on the field, they have another dimension to the line. He's everywhere making plays right now.
  • The other line? Not so much. Chris Snee and Will Beatty sat this one out with injuries, and the issue with the line continues to be depth. Mitch Petrus had some trouble at guard, and the interior of the line just gets pushed back too easily, especially on run plays. They need to find better ways to extend forward and open some holes for the backs than they did this preseason. And last year, for that matter.
  • Ramses Barden made a highlight-film catch, reaching behind himself and a defender, and continues to impress. Finally healthy and producing, Barden looks like he's got a chance to make the team and an impact. Jerrel Jernigan helps more on special teams, and it's hard to see them cutting him so soon after drafting him so high, but again, Barden has outplayed him.
  • They're still using D.J. Ware as the third-down back, even with Wilson in the game, and that tells you what they think about Ware (and maybe Wilson) in pass protection.
  • I saw some nice plays by linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich in the third quarter. But I was watching three games at once by that point, so I can't tell you how they looked overall.
  • Can't imagine that Andre Brown fumble makes him feel real good about his chances with 36 hours left until final cuts are due.
  • Steve Weatherford is fantastic. He must really like punting against the Patriots.
Been a couple of hours since the breakfast links, in which I pointed out that there is almost nothing being written anywhere in print or on the Internet about what the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are up to these days. And nothing's changed. Still nothing out there. No rumors, no reporting, nothing. But I have Giants fans (I think) who still come here to read this blog, and it's a disservice to them if we allow the inertia of the coverage to dictate our content.

To that end, here's a list of some of the most popular questions I'm getting on Twitter and in the mailbag from Giants fans the past couple of days, and my best attempts to answer them:

Why didn't the Giants make the deal the Eagles made with Houston to get DeMeco Ryans?

It's not a terrible question. The Giants need a middle linebacker too, and if someone as good as Ryans could be had for nothing more than a fourth-round pick and a swap of third-rounders, why didn't the Giants do it? There are several possible answers. First, the Eagles have a great deal more salary-cap room than the Giants do, and Ryans is making $5.9 million this year. Second, the Giants got by just fine without a top-of-the-line middle linebacker last year, and they likely believe they can do so again. If they re-sign Jonathan Goff, as they're expected to do, and he's healthy, they believe he's more than good enough at that spot given their other strengths on defense. They didn't have the same level of need that the Eagles did. And third, it's not as though there was a "For Sale" sign on Ryans. The first any of us heard that he was available was when we heard the Eagles had acquired him. Maybe the Eagles just asked the right question at the right time. Ryans was no longer useful to the Texas at his salary, since they'd switched to a 3-4 last year and were taking him off the field in passing downs. For the Eagles, he'll play all three downs and likely flourish in his original position. Maybe the Eagles just had a good idea no one else had.

Is there a chance Brandon Jacobs comes back?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Debby Wong/US PresswireThe door is not closed on running back Brandon Jacobs returning to New York.
There is, until he signs elsewhere, that chance. The running back market is dormant, and there hasn't been a peep to indicate any team has had Jacobs in for a visit or expressed interest in him. That doesn't mean no one has, of course, but it indicates that the market isn't teeming with stellar offers for his services. If no team offers him more than whatever the Giants' final offer was, sure, he could come crawling back. But I still think he'll find a new home. The Carolina Panthers, who were already loaded at running back, signed Mike Tolbert, who was one of the best options on the market. So any team that was looking at Tolbert now has to look at lesser choices, and Jacobs is on that list.

Speaking of which, how about a trade for Jonathan Stewart, if Carolina has so many backs?

The Panthers moved quickly to dispel any notion that the Tolbert acquisition means they'll deal Stewart or DeAngelo Williams or even Mike Goodson. But that could be a leverage play to keep interested teams from thinking they're desperate. The fact is, they should see what they can get for Stewart, who's miscast there in a timeshare with Williams (and now Tolbert), and if I were the Giants I'd be extremely interested. Stewart is a big-time talent and would be a big upgrade over Jacobs in the Giants' backfield tandem with Ahmad Bradshaw.

What are they doing on the offensive line?

With Kareem McKenzie gone, the most glaring need is right tackle. But if Will Beatty is recovered from his eye problems, they could move either him or David Diehl to right tackle. They liked what Kevin Boothe gave them at left guard late last year, and they think highly of Mitch Petrus in that spot going forward, so they feel like they have some depth on the interior. I think they should get a tackle, be it in free agency or in the draft, because they're getting thin at those spots. But I don't think it had or has to be any of the bigger names out there. As they always do, the Giants will target someone they like for their team and system and then work to get him. And if they miss, they'll look for a solution on their own roster.

I'll keep you posted if anything else comes up. Hopefully this holds you over.

Difference-makers: David Diehl

January, 11, 2012
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The New York Giants you see before you -- a team that has made it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs -- are not the same New York Giants we watched for most of this season. Their enthusiasm and effectiveness bear little, if any, resemblance to that of the team that lost five of six games from mid-November to mid-December. What's the difference? Well, there are many. And each day this week, leading up to the playoff game Sunday in Green Bay, we'll take a look at a player or players who have helped turn these Giants from a mid-pack pretender to a Final Eight contender.

Diehl
Today: OT David Diehl

Diehl has of course been on the team all year, but he played left guard for the first 10 games. When starting left tackle Will Beatty had to have eye surgery and miss the rest of the season, Diehl slid out to his old spot and has been the Giants' starting left tackle ever since, with Kevin Boothe or Mitch Petrus (when Boothe had to move to center in place of an injured David Baas) playing guard next to him.

The new alignment has worked out well, and has coincided especially with a major improvement in the Giants' running game. New York has averaged 33.4 more rush yards per game in its last six games than it did in its first 11. Whatever the reason -- whether Diehl has been energized by the move back to tackle, whether he's played better than Beatty has, whether Boothe is a starting-quality guard who just happened to be on the bench -- it's working. Offensive line play is about cohesiveness and communication, and the current combination is getting the job done better than the old one was with Diehl at guard and Beatty at tackle.

Pro Football Focus rated Diehl's performance as the third-best by a tackle on wild-card weekend, behind only Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert. It should be noted that PFF graded Diehl rather poorly over the final six games of the regular season -- only twice ranking him in the top 50 among tackles in a given week and topping out at 41st in the Week 13 loss to the Packers. But this is less about Diehl's individual performance than it is about the way the line has worked together.

"He's a pro's pro," Boothe said of his veteran teammate. "He's seen it all and done it all, at every position, basically, on the line. So it's easy to communicate with him in any situation. When you have somebody who's been in as many battles as Dave has and who works as hard as he does, it makes it easy."

This is one of the advantages the Giants feel they have over almost any other team in the league. They have veterans who have been in their locker room for a long time -- guys who have been champions and who can be trusted to set a cool, professional tone regardless of the circumstances. The Giants lost their starting left tackle in Week 12. That would have been a difficult thing for most teams to overcome. But the Giants were able to replace him with a guy who knows the position cold, and because of that they have been able to turn a potential negative into a major positive.
Ahmad BradshawAP Photo/Peter MorganAhmad Bradshaw and the New York Giants racked up 172 yards rushing on Sunday against Atlanta.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The key to running the ball effectively in the NFL is patience. The ability to fight off frustration. You run and you get very little. You run again and you lose yards. The temptation sets in to just junk the run game and start chucking the ball.

You watched the Saints-Lions game Saturday night and you're thinking that looks like a pretty sweet way to go. But you have to fight it. You have to stay patient, believing it will work. And the book -- albeit an old book, with frayed corners and yellow-edged pages, says you'll be rewarded.

The New York Giants are putting on a clinic in this sort of patience. For most of this season, they were the worst running team in the entire NFL. They finished the season ranked 32nd among 32 teams in rush yards per game at a miserable 89.2 yards per game. On the surface, they seemed to have morphed into a passing offense, with Eli Manning sailing past 4,000 yards again and Victor Cruz joining Hakeem Nicks to form a dangerous downfield wideout combo. But through it all, the Giants insisted they wanted to run the ball, insisted they still could. And at exactly the right time of the year, they are proving their stubborn, patient selves right.

"At this time of year, especially in the playoffs, that's got to be a strength," Giants left tackle David Diehl said in the wake of the Giants' 24-2 playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. "Getting that run game going, keeping that opposing offense off the field and helping keep our great defensive line fresh. That's what we want to do, and today we did it."

Did they ever. The Giants rolled up 172 rushing yards against a Falcons defense that ranked sixth against the run in the regular season. That's the Giants' season high in rushing yards by 50 -- surpassing the 122 they got in a Week 6 victory over Buffalo and doing so on two fewer carries. They went to the run game because an aggressive Falcons pass rush was clobbering Manning early. But more importantly, they stuck with the run game even while it wasn't working. They didn't start breaking through until the final minutes of the first half, when Brandon Jacobs bounced out to the right for a 34-yard second-down scamper that set up the game's first touchdown. But once the Giants got going, they were on their way to their best rushing day of the season.

"I think numbers-wise, it will be," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "But it was a difficult time getting started. That first half was tough."

He could be talking about the game or the season. The Giants averaged 82.3 yards per game and 3.18 yards per carry in their first 11 games of this season. But over the last six games, starting with the Dec. 4 loss to next week's playoff opponent, the Green Bay Packers, they have averaged 115.7 yards per game and 4.42 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
AP Photo/Matt SlocumGiants receiver Hakeem Nicks torches the Falcons' defense for a 72-yard touchdown reception.
What changed?

"If I could tell you that, we would have done it 10 weeks ago," right tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "But obviously, it gets you in a better rhythm and also opens up a little bit what the offensive coordinator can do in terms of calling plays."

All true, but what's more important for the Giants is that their improved run game allows them to play the kind of physically dominating style of football that traditionally wins this time of year. With their defensive line fully healthy for the first time all season, they've been the dominant physical team on defense in each of their last three games. And now that the offensive line is opening holes in the run game so much more effectively than it was earlier in the season, they're able to do that more on the other side of the ball as well.

"Confidence, man," said running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who had 63 yards on his 14 carries while Jacobs carried 14 times for 92 yards. "We feel good about our running game, and we stick to it."

They felt confident all year, and stuck to it all year, even when it wasn't working. But things turned around when injuries forced the Giants to make changes on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Will Beatty had surgery on his eye in advance of the Week 12 game in New Orleans, forcing Diehl from left guard back to his old position of left tackle. They rushed for just 73 yards on 22 carries that night while the Saints were blowing them out, but they seemed to do better opening holes for Jacobs.

Over the next few games, the Giants got Bradshaw back from his foot injury but were forced to play without center David Baas. But Kevin Boothe and Mitch Petrus filled in well, and Boothe has remained in the lineup as Diehl's replacement at left guard. Whether Beatty was overmatched, whether Diehl has been energized by moving back to tackle (as he admitted to me last week he was), or whether Boothe is just a really good run-blocker, the combinations they've been using since the Beatty injury have been more effective than those that were in force for the majority of the season.

If we can get that run game going like we did in that second half, that opens up a lot of windows," Manning said. "For the passing game, it makes the safeties come down and get in the mix and we feel, with our receivers, we will be able to hit some big plays."

The big play Sunday was the 72-yard touchdown throw to Nicks, and had the Giants not been running the ball as well as they were, it may not have happened. When it was over, Coughlin spoke of "balance" in the offense and the importance of sticking with the run even when it's not working.

It's possible there's never been a better macro example of that than this year's Giants, whose running game could not have picked a better time to show up.

Victor CruzWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire"It's been an amazing ride," Victor Cruz said of his breakout season and the Giants' division title.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tell me you saw Victor Cruz coming, and I'll call you a liar to your face. Sure you might have thought he'd turn into a good receiver with Eli Manning throwing him the ball in a pass-happy New York Giants offense. But no way did you see 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. No one did. Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin didn't dream those numbers for Cruz in their wildest, most hopeful dreams.

But what they did see was talent, and a chance to develop that talent. And that is what the Giants do. They stay the course. In an era that demands instant gratification, instant success, the Giants preach and exercise patience as the best way to get better. Cruz's breakout season began last summer, when he showed up for every lockout workout Manning called and worked with his quarterback on every detail he could process. It crescendoed with a 99-yard touchdown catch in Week 16 and a 74-yard touchdown catch in Week 17 against the Cowboys -- two huge plays that keyed two huge victories and a surprise division title. The fact that an undrafted second-year wide receiver who didn't catch a pass last season was so central to that effort is nothing short of vindication for a franchise determined to do things its own way.

"It's about having a very good organization -- an organization that believes in their guys," veteran left tackle David Diehl said. "If you're here, you're a Giant. You're here because they want you here. And everybody here is going to work to make sure you become as good as you can possibly be."

This was the offseason, remember, in which the Eagles loaded up and the Giants did nothing. Philadelphia's free-agent frenzy was the story of the league in August, and it pushed the Eagles to the top of the preseason prediction lists for the NFC East. The Giants did nearly nothing, and in fact lost players to free agency. They let a couple of prime Manning targets walk out the door and declined to replace them, and they got roasted for it, here and in many other places. They did not know that guys like Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul were going to blow the NFL's doors off in 2011, but they knew they had those players, didn't have the ones who left or got hurt, and that the best chance they had to make something of the season was to work as hard as possible with the guys on the roster.

"A realistic goal for me was just to get a catch in a real game that mattered, in a real game that counted," Cruz said, looking back over his season to the expectations with which it began. "Due to some injuries, I was able to come in and play a significant role. It's been an amazing ride. It's been a roller coaster for me. But I'm excited that we're here, we won our division and we're going to the playoffs."

The Giants needed some external things to happen to make this possible. They needed the Eagles and Cowboys to blow a bunch of fourth-quarter leads, helping make this the first full season in history in which the NFC East could be won with fewer than 10 victories. But at the end of a season that could easily have slipped away while they were losing four straight to some of the league's best teams, the Giants stiffened up.

"It's one thing to be regarded for your toughness," Coughlin said. "But also to play tough in important and big games. I like that our guys rallied around and did that."

Few did it better than Cruz, who had five touchdown catches this season longer than 65 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he had three catches this season on which he gained at least 60 yards after the catch, including Sunday night's big touchdown. He's a quarterback's dream -- a receiver you can trust not only to catch the ball in a big spot but to make the absolute most of it once he does.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireThe emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul has helped the Giants overcome injuries.
"He just keeps doing it, and thank god he does," Coughlin said. "I'm cheering for him, doing cartwheels on the sidelines as he's running by. Just a heck of a game and a heck of a season by the kid."

Cruz is the emblem of what the Giants have just pulled off -- a player who has developed quickly and brilliantly thanks to the coaching and the environment provided by one of the league's proudest and most stable franchises. They could have traded Osi Umenyiora out of spite when he threw his tantrum, called the general manager a liar and sat out training-camp practices. They didn't, and there was Umenyiora, wrecking things for the Cowboys on Sunday night in the biggest game of the season. They lost left tackle Will Beatty in the second half of the season, center David Baas for crucial games, and they were able to patch it together by moving Diehl back out to tackle and getting big performances from guys like Kevin Boothe and Mitch Petrus. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss leave? Mario Manningham struggles? No problem, because Cruz turned out to be a superstar. Umenyiora and Justin Tuck struggled with injuries all year, but Pierre-Paul made up for it by becoming one of the most fearsome pass-rushers in the league.

"You know coming in that there are going to be injuries, that things are going to happen to make it tough on you," Diehl said. "But when you play here, you really believe everybody on that roster has a chance to make a play that helps you win a game. Or in this case, a division."

Yeah, nobody saw Victor Cruz coming. Not even the Giants -- not to this extent. But that's not the point. The Giants exist and sustain themselves on the belief that someone is coming -- that someone is going to step forward and perform in a way that leads them to great things. They're willing to believe it can be someone different every week, but the point is that they always believe they have enough in their own locker room to get it done. This year, they turned out to be right.
The New York Giants will get starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw and linebacker Michael Boley back for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. But starting center David Baas was a surprise late addition to the Giants' inactive list due to headaches, leaving New York extremely thin on an offensive line that already ranked as one of its major problems.

With starting left tackle Will Beatty out indefinitely following eye surgery, left guard David Diehl will slide over and play left tackle for the second game in a row. Kevin Boothe, who played guard Monday night in New Orleans, will start at center in place of Baas. And reserve lineman Mitch Petrus will make the first start of his career and be the left guard.

Compounding the problem is that reserve tackle Stacy Andrews has been hospitalized with pulmonary embolisms in both of his lungs.

The good news, however, is the return of Bradshaw, who missed four games with a broken foot and was better earlier in the year at finding the few holes the Giants' line could open up for him than Brandon Jacobs has been since. Bradshaw's return also will help the passing game, since he's Eli Manning's most reliable screen target and one of the best pass-protection running backs in the league.

The defense also will get a boost from the return of Boley, who has been one of the Giants' best defensive players this year but missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. Boley provides a veteran presence in an otherwise very young linebacking corps. For most of the year, he has been the defensive player with the speaker in his helmet, in charge of relaying the signals from the sideline to his teammates.

Wide receiver Mario Manningham is also inactive and will miss his second game in a row with a knee injury. Linebacker Mark Herzlich, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy and running back Da'Rel Scott round out the list of Giants inactives.

Giants will have top wideouts vs. 49ers

November, 13, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The New York Giants' list of inactive players carried quite a bit of interest for the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10.

Receivers Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are both active despite injuries. How well they hold up will be the next big question. The 49ers' secondary has been a hard-hitting group this season. Their secondary has also been vulnerable, at times, against the best quarterbacks it has faced, notably Tony Romo and Michael Vick.

The Giants will be without running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as expected. Their full list of inactive players Sunday: receiver Jerrell Jernigan, cornerback Prince Amukamara, Bradshaw, fullback Henry Hynoski, guard Mitch Petrus, defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks and tackle James Brewer.

The 49ers' list carried little suspense. Defensive end Ray McDonald is active, though it's unclear whether he'll start after missing Week 9 with a hamstring injury. Quarterback Scott Tolzien, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, offensive lineman Mike Person, offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, fullback Moran Norris, receiver Brett Swain and nose tackle Ian Williams are inactive.

No surprise: Jackson, Amendola inactive

September, 19, 2011
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The St. Louis Rams and New York Giants have submitted their inactive lists for their Monday night matchup.
We're about an hour from kickoff. I'm seeing Rams fans wearing Eric Dickerson and Jack Youngblood jerseys, and another with a Sam Bradford jersey. The stadium remains mostly empty at this time, however.

Corey Webster won't play vs. Redskins

January, 2, 2011
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The New York Giants included starting cornerback Corey Webster (rib, knee) on their inactive list Sunday, which means that Aaron Ross will start opposite Terrell Thomas. The move isn't a surprise since Webster wasn't able to practice this week. Michael Coe probably becomes the Giants' third cornerback for the game in Washington.

Here are the rest of the inactives, courtesy of ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk: TE Jake Ballard, C Shaun O'Hara, G Mitch Petrus, DE Dave Tollefson, OL Jamon Meredith, WR Duke Calhoun and WR Hakeem Nicks.

Asante Samuel will play for Eagles

December, 19, 2010
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Eagles will be back to full strength at cornerback with the return of Pro Bowler Asante Samuel on Sunday against the New York Giants. Samuel was a game-time decision because of a knee injury, but he'll be ready to go. Dimitri Patterson will start on the other side and Joselio Hanson will go back to his nickel role.

The bad news for Eagles fans is that right tackle Winston Justice is once again inactive. He'll be replaced by King Dunlap at right tackle. And that means that Dunlap will see a steady diet of defensive end Justin Tuck in this game. Eagles new defensive end Derrick Burgess is also inactive. Rookie defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim should see some time in today's game. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (foot) will also be ready to go today.

Giants inactives: RS/WR Darius Reynaud, DB Michael Coe, TE Jake Ballard, G Mitch Petrus, OL Jamon Meredith, WR Devin Thomas, DE Alex Hall, DT Linval Joseph

Eagles inactives: QB Mike Kafka, CB Brandon Hughes, LB Stewart Bradley, LB Keenan Clayton, T Austin Howard, DE Derrick Burgess, T Winston Justice, TE Garrett Mills

Final Word: NFC East

November, 19, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11.

The Giants will try to stop the hottest quarterback in the NFL. As New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told SI.com on Thursday, there's no easy answer for slowing down Michael Vick. But you can't do what the Redskins did against Vick, which was stay back and let him survey the field without a pass rush. I'm still shocked that Jim Haslett decided to take that approach. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is excited about his game plan, which will probably bring pressure from all over the field. Don't be surprised to see Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle coming on some safety blitzes. The Giants want to force the issue early in this game. But there's a good chance Vick will burn them if they get too aggressive.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Cowboys' offensive linemen will have their hands full trying to contain Ndamukong Suh.
Jason Garrett has immense respect for Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham have a great weapon in Suh. They've even been experimenting with moving Suh to the outside in an attempt to confuse offensive linemen. Center Andre Gurode and right guard Leonard Davis have to keep moving their feet against Suh because he's relentless. Look for the Cowboys to try to double-team the rookie at times. For the most part, you have to try to avoid Suh altogether. I like him for the defensive rookie of the year award.

Will Albert Haynesworth stay on his feet against his old team? Haynesworth is in the news again for remaining on the ground during one play in Monday's embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But he's returning home to see a lot of former teammates and friends in the Nashville area. I think Haynesworth will have an excellent game, which might serve as a further indictment for how he played against Vick and the Eagles. Titans coach Jeff Fisher has great respect for Haynesworth as a player, so the Titans are going to scheme for him this week. The Skins have to be disciplined Sunday because the Titans have been known to play past the whistle. If the Skins lose their cool early, it could be a long afternoon. Tennessee players are not opposed to paying a few fines.

The Giants' offensive line could be a mess against the Eagles. The good news for Giants fans is that coach Tom Coughlin said Friday that left tackle Shawn Andrews had made some progress with a back issue that has kept him out of practice for three consecutive days. If Andrews can't go, Will Beatty would have to step in to play left tackle next to either Mitch Petrus or Kevin Boothe at left guard. The Eagles love to play games at the line of scrimmage, so the Giants will have to communicate at all times up front. This could be a nightmare game for Eli Manning if Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott blitzes as much as I think he will. Then again, Manning has been really good against the blitz this season.

Jon Kitna will continue to throw to his "violent" receiver. Kitna told reporters at Valley Ranch this week that Dez Bryant brings a violence to his game that he's not really used to seeing in receivers. He's obviously become Kitna's favorite target, in part because he doesn't have to be wide open to haul in passes. Here's that quote from Kitna per ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon: "It’s almost as if people around him are irrelevant,” Kitna said. "His goal is to get to the goal line and if you just happen to be in the way, you’re in the way. He’s kind of like Adrian Peterson out there."

Now there's a pretty nice compliment for a wide receiver. I think the Cowboys will pick on Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith in this game. He's simply not big enough to compete for balls with Bryant and Miles Austin. And maybe Roy Williams will do something special against his former team.

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