Commentary

These Giants lack fire

With the Jets increasing in stature, how will the sparkless G-Men rekindle the flame?

Updated: September 14, 2011, 6:42 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Just one week into the NFL season, we already know that the New York Giants have a depleted defensive line, a shredded secondary, barely a tight end worth speaking of, no third receiver worth mentioning, an offensive line that's a work in progress, a head coach with a drill-instructor mentality and a quarterback seemingly with no personality whatsoever. Forget about the Giants losing to the Washington Redskins on Sunday; under this type of duress, it's worth wondering how they managed to be competitive for a half.

But as their 28-14 loss in the nation's capital continues to reverberate, and the reality of their dire straits becomes clearer by the day, it's worth noting that a lack of motivational leadership -- that one emotional force every successful NFL team seems to thrive on -- is flagrantly missing with Big Blue. Even if you recover from injuries, how do you recover from that?

Where's Lawrence Taylor when you need him? Or Harry Carson or Carl Banks or even Phil Simms? I'm not talking about them literally, of course. I'm talking about someone, anyone, comparable to them, capable of bringing an intensity and fervor into the Giants' locker room.

The Baltimore Ravens have Ray Lewis. The New England Patriots have Tom Brady. The Pittsburgh Steelers have James Harrison. The New York Jets have Rex Ryan.

And the Giants? Their firebrand isn't coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning or someone healthy on the defense. Instead, it's ... public-relations director Pat Hanlon.

Hanlon's in-your-face tweets are way more entertaining than watching the Giants themselves. But when the most interesting part of your franchise is someone who watches the game from the press box, you've got problems.

With defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck (neck injury) and cornerback Terrell Thomas out with injuries, and tight end Kevin Boss (Raiders) and wideout Steve Smith (Eagles) gone via free agency, clearly the Giants are left with their share of maladies.

"But every team needs that special someone," former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress said recently. "That special something to get you up, to get you motivated and ready to roll, regardless of the circumstances. We've got plenty of guys like that on this team."

Eli Manning
James Lang/US PresswireEli Manning & Co. logged a lifeless performance in D.C. on Sunday.

Obviously, Burress was talking about the New York Jets.

The same Jets team that has registered come-from-behind victories in five of their last 15 triumphs, while talking Super Bowl every chance they get. Which brings up, perhaps, the biggest problem the Giants have right now.

Aside from a bevy of injuries and having a quarterback fresh off a league-leading 25 interceptions last season, the Giants also have the specter of dissipating momentum staring them dead in the face.

New York's other team these days, the Giants are being talked about in the past tense. They are far from being the flavor of the month. And although they're quick to tell anyone, "We don't care about any of that, we were 10-6 last season, not 6-10, and we believe we're a good team," blah, blah, blah -- as Giants GM Jerry Reese articulated to ESPN New York before Week 1 -- none of that disguises the fact that the little something extra is missing from this team.

If we didn't see it when Manning hooked up with Hakeem Nicks for a 68-yard pass in the first quarter on Sunday, we definitely saw it during the second half. We saw it with a running game that registered just 12 yards on seven carries in the last 30 minutes. We saw it with Manning's passing in the same span.

The fact that Redskins QB Rex Grossman was allowed to impersonate Doug Williams or Joe Theismann was nauseating enough. But that's easier to stomach after recognizing that the Giants, playing without injured linebackers Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim, were forced to revert to zone coverage, which gave Redskins receiver Santana Moss more cushion than a sofa.

How else would anyone expect to see the Redskins -- and Grossman, in particular -- converting a fourth-and-5 in the first quarter to set up their first touchdown?

"In the past, we've been a man team," safety Kenny Phillips told reporters. "I think we're still trying to figure out who can do what. [Defensive coordinator] Perry [Fewell] is still trying to figure out the personnel."

In other words, the Giants will be OK.

They'll be OK because Coughlin isn't an excuse-maker, which is admirable. And because Reese is of the same ilk. So it's not a big deal that the Giants are one of 16 teams who lost in Week 1.

Except it is a big deal. Not because of where the Giants are, but because of where they appear to be going.

Having missed the playoffs the past two seasons, how will the sparkless Giants feel if they lose to the St. Louis Rams on Monday night? With Sam Bradford coming at them instead of Grossman? With Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on the horizon a week later -- and the Jets increasing in stature in the midst of Big Blue's troubles?

It's just a question!

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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