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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: October 21, 2:58 PM ET
Giants hope to get stronger after bye

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

For the sixth time in Tom Coughlin's seven seasons as head coach, the New York Giants enter their bye week with a winning record.

But what matters most is how the Giants finish. The Giants are 4-2 and hoping to get some major reinforcements back over the break that will help them down the stretch. After the first six games, ESPNNewYork.com takes a look at six Giants issues heading into the break with a closer look at the remaining schedule.

1. READY FOR REINFORCEMENTS

Health has been a major issue with this team since the lockout ended.

After this break, the Giants may be at their healthiest state all season. Defensive end Justin Tuck expects to return from a three-game hiatus due to pain in his neck and a strained groin. After over a month of not playing, Tuck hopes to finally play his first game this season alongside Osi Umenyiora. Tuck and the Giants hope that his injuries do not linger throughout the season -- something that is very possible if he re-aggravates his neck or groin injuries.

Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee (concussion) and running back Brandon Jacobs (sprained MCL) are also expected back against Miami.

And first-round pick Prince Amukamara will soon make his NFL debut. The rookie cornerback has been out since breaking his foot in his second practice of camp and has slowly been making his way back. He could begin practicing next week and the Giants may slowly integrate the rookie into the secondary.

Also, wide receiver Ramses Barden and backup center Adam Koets are eligible to come off the PUP list as well.

After losing the likes of cornerback Terrell Thomas, middle linebacker Jon Goff and wide receiver Domenik Hixon to season-ending knee injuries, the Giants are getting healthy at the right time.

"Hopefully we come back and fit in," Tuck said of all the injured Giants. "This team is starting to catch a little bit of a rhythm here. Hopefully we can add to that."

2. ELITE ELI

Eli Manning
Eli Manning's numbers so far this season have been on the 'ellite' level.

Eli Manning considers himself to be a top-five quarterback in the NFL, and so far he has played like one. So far, Manning is third in passer rating (101.1), fifth in yards (1,778) and sixth in touchdowns (11). Most important, he has kept the turnovers down to five interceptions and two lost fumbles through his first six games.

Last season, Manning passed for 1,479 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions while losing four fumbles through his first six games.

Then over the final 10 games of last year, Manning threw 21 more touchdowns but also 17 more interceptions. If the Giants are going to go anywhere this season, Manning can't have that many interceptions after the bye. Teams with explosive offenses such as the Patriots, Saints and Packers will make the Giants pay. Manning has been very good so far and will have to keep it up.

3. WHAT A RUSH

The Giants' running game has struggled this season, but Ahmad Bradshaw finally got going right before the bye. Bradshaw rushed for 104 yards -- his first 100-yard game of the season -- and three touchdowns in last Sunday's win over the Bills.

The Giants must be able to run the ball like this later this year, especially when the weather gets colder and their schedule becomes increasingly tougher. So far, the passing game has been very good, but the Giants have to find a way to be balanced, be physical and eat up the clock. Running the ball will allow Manning to use play-action and keep opposing quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers, on the sidelines.

"There is no question, especially when you start hitting the month of December and late in the season, that is going to be your strength, especially in the NFC," left guard David Diehl said of the running game. "You have to be able to control the ground game and control the line of scrimmage and most importantly, the time of possession."

4. STEPPING UP

After the Giants lost wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss in free agency, GM Jerry Reese was confident there would be somebody to step up in their place.

So far, Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard have made big contributions at times this season, and they continue to emerge into playmakers for Manning.

Tom Coughlin
After falling short of the playoffs last season, can Tom Coughlin's bunch avoid a post-bye letdown?

Cruz has a flair for the dramatic, capable of making both good and bad game-turning plays. He has shown that he can be that third wide receiver the Giants are searching for. The second-year undrafted player just needs to display a bit more consistency to go with those highlight catches.

Ballard is not only is a big body who can block, but he has surprised the coaching staff with his ability to run routes and make impressive catches. In his last three games, Ballard has 11 receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

Rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams has played his way into the linebacker rotation with his speed. But the most impressive young player on the team has been defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Many expected the second-year player to take a step forward this season, but JPP is second in the NFL in sacks with 7.5 with either Tuck or Umenyiora injured. Tuck's return should make Pierre-Paul that much more dangerous.

5. GETTING DEFENSIVE

The Giants' defense has a lot of work to do over the break. It has to find a way to do a better job of stopping the run and limiting big plays.

Over the last four games, the Giants have surrendered an average of 158 rushing yards per game. Running backs such as LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson have gashed the Giants for big runs. Jackson had an 80-yard touchdown run, and the Giants also surrendered a 60-yard catch-and-run to the Bills as well last Sunday.

Also, the Giants have struggled against the no-huddle, and that doesn't bode well against teams such as New Orleans and Green Bay. Tuck's return will help. And if Amukamara can get up to speed, he will give the Giants' secondary another body.

6. BYE BYE WEEK

Since his first season as head coach of the Giants in 2004, Coughlin is 4-3 in games after the bye week. However, the Giants have won their last three post-bye week games.

Eli Manning
Eli Manning will have his chance to go up against Tom Brady in Week 9.

The Giants must continue that winning streak and beat the Dolphins after this bye week because their schedule is absolutely brutal. The Giants' final nine games are tortuous with the combined record of those last nine opponents at 30-16 at the moment.

The Giants need to take things one game at a time, but we are going to take a sneak peek game by game:

Nov. 6 at New England (5-1): Eli and Brady are on the same field and we'll see if they are in the same class.

Nov. 13 at San Francisco (5-1): The surprising 49ers are no longer a San Francisco treat under Jim Harbaugh. Watch that handshake, Tom.

Nov. 20 vs. Philadelphia (2-4): They may not be the Dream Team, but the Eagles are still loaded with talent and still very much alive. Vick and DeSean Jackson return to the Meadowlands for the first time since last year's December debacle that cost the Giants the NFC East and a playoff spot. If the Giants want to win the division, they need to put away the Eagles.

Nov. 28 at New Orleans (4-2): As if facing Brees wasn't difficult enough, the Giants have to play the Saints in the deafening Superdome on "Monday Night Football" after what will probably have been an emotionally draining game with the Eagles.

Dec. 4 vs. Green Bay (6-0): Because the schedule isn't hard enough, the Giants get up close and personal with Rodgers and the defending champs. Rodgers picked apart the Giants last year 45-7 to effectively end any hope they had of making the playoffs. The Giants will be seeking revenge against a Packers team that could potentially be undefeated.

Dec. 11 at Dallas (2-3): The Giants travel to Jerry World to face the hated Cowboys for the first of two meetings in less than a month. Like their game against the Eagles, the Giants will be in for another NFC East heavyweight match with the Cowboys, no matter what their records are at this point. Dec. 18 vs. Washington (3-2): The Redskins have been the surprise of the NFC East thus far. If the Giants are true contenders, this is a must-win game. They dropped the season opener to Washington. These two division games in a row against Dallas and Washington may go a long way in deciding whether the Giants take the East.

Dec. 24 at Jets (3-3): Plaxico versus Coughlin. Rex versus little brother. Eli versus the Sanchise. On Christmas Eve, the Giants and Jets meet, and the two teams very well could be fighting for their playoff lives in their respective conferences.

Jan. 1 vs. Dallas: The Giants hope to break in the new year with a playoff berth and NFC East title. But if they don't survive their second-half gauntlet and miss the postseason for a third straight year, ownership may be searching for a new head coach in 2012.