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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Giants must turn over a new leaf in 2011

By Ohm Youngmisuk

As Tom Coughlin enters what could be a long offseason with a potential labor stoppage looming, the New York Giants head coach will have plenty of time to digest all the turnovers that plagued his team this season.

The Giants led the NFL with 42 turnovers. If there was a way to lose the ball, the Giants pretty much found it. Whether it was having passes get tipped off the fingers of their own receivers, throwing a left-handed interception into the end zone or losing a fumble because of a failure to slide, the Giants discovered ways to beat themselves -- and sometimes got creative doing it.

Coughlin even used the term "psychological" when discussing turnovers a few weeks ago. Now the Giants, who finished with 10 wins but out of the playoffs, have an entire offseason to correct a major reason why they weren't able to reach the postseason.

The Giants' 42 turnovers led to 107 points by the opposition. During their six losses, the Giants gave the ball away 22 times. If they cut that number by only five, they might be preparing for a playoff game this week.

"I think we could have won a couple more games," said general manager Jerry Reese, whose team also led the NFL in takeaways with 39. "If you take away 10 of the turnovers right there, there's probably two games there."

Eli Manning's otherwise good statistical season was marred by turnovers. He threw for 4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns but had a league-leading 25 interceptions. He also lost five fumbles.

Manning had his share of bad luck as a good amount of his interceptions went off the hands of his own receivers. That happened from the first game of the season against Carolina all the way to the last game of the year in Washington.

But many times, Manning tried too hard to make something happen. He lost a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter in a 27-17 loss to the Eagles after he failed to slide on a first-down scramble, killing any hope of a comeback.

Asante Samuel
Asante Samuel was among the cornerbacks who feasted on Eli Manning's passes this season.

"Obviously we have to do a better job protecting the ball, I don't know if that was always the reason that we lost all our games," Manning said. "Some turnovers came at the end of games when you're trying to get back into it. That's definitely an area that we have to correct. There are other things that we have to correct that sometimes lead to turnovers, and that's something we'll look at in the offseason, why some of the turnovers and why, on my part, interceptions were occurring."

Manning stayed healthy this season but he still had to deal with injuries around him. He had his starting offensive line in front of him for a total of six games. Center Shaun O'Hara dealt with foot injuries all season long, and the Giants were forced to start six different offensive line combinations due to various injuries.

Five of Manning's wide receivers went on injured reserve and he had to play seven games without his Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith due to pectoral and knee injuries. He also lost Hakeem Nicks for three games and had to get late-season additions Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas up to speed in late November.

The Giants had to move receivers around and it was hard to replicate Manning's comfort level with his most trusted targets.

"You're trying to move receivers around, and it's tough," Manning said. "On paper, you kind of draw it up and you think they know what they're doing, but all of a sudden, you get different coverage and you have a little pressure and you have to move around and your timing is just off.

"We weren't as sharp as we needed to be on some of our route running and decision-making. Every week, it seemed like Manningham was playing a new spot. We just kind of had a roller coaster of different receivers in and out."

Manning shouldered the blame and said he will fix the turnover epidemic, insisting, "I'm not a 25-interception quarterback."

Critics have wondered if Manning, who turned 30 this week, has taken a step back after winning the Super Bowl during the 2007 season.

"That is for other people to judge," team president and CEO John Mara said. "Obviously, it wasn't his best year. But he had a lot of tipped balls, also playing with I don't know how many combinations on the offensive line and how many combinations at receiver. I don't think we need to kill him for all the interceptions. He's our guy going forward and he's won before and we think he will win again."

Manning and his receivers weren't the only ones with butterfingers. Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled seven times, losing six of them. He lost the ball so many times Coughlin demoted him and started Brandon Jacobs at the end of November.

The Giants continued to use their leading rusher more than Jacobs but the fumbles have some wondering if the Giants will move forward with Bradshaw, whose contract is up after he ran for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns.

Coughlin loves Bradshaw, who plays hurt and runs as hard as anyone in the game. But Bradshaw will have to go to the Tiki Barber school for ball protection this offseason. Bradshaw did try carrying the football around with him, holding it high and tight like Coughlin teaches him. He might need an entire offseason of doing that, though.

Just two years ago, the Giants and the Miami Dolphins set an NFL record with just 13 giveaways in a 16-game season. But they had 31 in 2009 and now have had a total of 73 turnovers in the past two seasons.

"I think we can [fix it]," Coughlin said. "We can do something with design, we can do something with individuals. There may be certain things that have to be accomplished by just knowing who is doing what and where and when, so I think that we can."