- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com
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Antonio Pierce has been watching his old team closely.
And the New York Giants former defensive captain doesn't like what he's been seeing and hearing.
"My problem with the Giants is when things get tough and their backs are up against the wall -- I know before that was the old saying, our backs are against the wall, we come out fighting -- I don't see that same fight," Pierce said.
The slumping Giants are coming off an embarrassing 49-24 loss to the Saints and will try to halt a three-game losing streak against the undefeated Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The Giants (6-5) might have to win four of their last five games -- including beating the Dallas Cowboys twice -- in order to make the playoffs.
"I honestly don't see Green Bay being unbeatable," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I know they're the best team in football, no question about it. But teams have had opportunities to beat them. And I'm very confident that we're gonna go at least 4-1. I really am."
Pierce, now an ESPN analyst, believes several things need to happen in order for the Giants to make the playoffs.
And the more Pierce talked about what's wrong with the Giants, the more he sounded like he was delivering a passionate speech to his old team.
"It's there," Pierce said of the Giants having what it takes to turn their season around. "The guys that are counted on to make plays have to make plays. No need to drop names or say names because everybody knows who they are. They have it in them. They have to make up their minds."
On Wednesday, another former Giants defensive captain, Michael Strahan, visited his old team's d-line meeting room and implored the unit to step up after having just one sack in the past two games.
Pierce believes that's a major ingredient that's missing -- a Strahan-type leader who is going to be vocal and hold players accountable.
"Now the leadership role and the voice, you can't force-feed somebody to be the captain and be the leader on that team," Pierce said. "Here you go, you got the title, you talk, maybe that is not the guy that gets everybody going.
"To me, a leader, you got to have a little fear factor, the guys got to fear you somewhat," Pierce said. "I didn't want Stray coming at me saying, 'Come on A.P., pick it up.' I didn't want him coming near me. You got to have that."
The Giants captains are Eli Manning, Tuck and Zak DeOssie. Manning and Tuck are more lead-by-example captains than rah-rah types, and Pierce understands that. Pierce also knows Tuck, the defensive captain, "is doing his best to fight through injuries," but he believes there are other Giants who have to step up and provide a strong voice as well.
Tuck, who is in his second season as captain, believes the Giants have plenty of veteran leaders such as Manning, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Snee, Chris Canty, Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant and himself, among others.
Tuck is still growing as a captain. He feels he is learning when to pick and choose his spots to talk to teammates, but admits his struggles on the field due to injuries all season have hindered his ability to lead.
"It's been tough," Tuck said. "It has been. I've thought about how to be a captain more mentally this year because the [personal] numbers are not there. When numbers aren't, I think a lot of people can misunderstand [and wonder], 'How can you say something to me?' "
Tuck wants to be the guy who holds teammates accountable the way Pierce and Strahan were. But he finds that difficult to do when he has just two sacks on the season, with only half of a sack coming after Week 2.
"I'm trying to [be that guy]," he said. "But I found myself turning that down a few times this year and kind of relying on other guys when I'm not having the normal year I've had. Obviously that shouldn't matter, but it does to me."
Pierce credits Rolle, the passionate safety, with trying to take on more of a leadership role, but he also feels it's important for the defensive voice to come from a defensive lineman or linebacker.
Boley has become more of a leader, but a hamstring injury has kept the linebacker out since halftime of the San Francisco loss, which started the Giants' losing streak.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who was irate with some of his players for stopping short on plays at times against New Orleans, believes Tuck will lead his defense against Green Bay.
"Sometimes I do talk to Justin about some of the things that he needs to do in order to help lead our football team," Fewell said. "But I think Justin captured it just right. When he leads us by example, that's the best thing that he can do for us. And I'm very confident that he will come out a different player this coming Sunday."
Stars must shine
But Pierce says Tom Coughlin needs "those other guys that are making some good money and got some big names" to keep the coach off the hot seat. He uses Tiki Barber's 234-yard rushing performance against Washington at the end of the 2006 season to clinch a playoff berth as an example. Barber and Coughlin may have butted heads, but the running back delivered when it came time to play.
"The players have to have his back," Pierce said. "If you watch the Giants right now, there are no plays being made beyond the X's and O's. There is nobody [outside of Manning on offense] doing something besides Victor Cruz. The kid makes a play out of anything, it seems like. The stars? The big-name guys? Where are they?"
As for those X's and O's, Pierce says the Giants have become a "finesse" team after losing the power running game and ability to stop the run.
"I heard the talk after the Eagles loss, we got to be the aggressor," Pierce said. "Aggressive is being physical and the only way you can be physical is by running the ball and stopping the run. This is not a physical team. Watch them play defense. Tell me how many times three linebackers are on the field? So the talk doesn't match up to the play."
Pierce wonders how effective the defense can be when it has to play three safeties and two linebackers for most of the game.
"The Giants have a lot of playmakers but you also have to put those playmakers in a position to be successful and, watching them defensively, I don't think they are put in a position to be successful," Pierce said. "They don't look in sync.
"I know they are dealing with a lot of young guys in the linebacker corps, you are playing with a nickel back [at] every position because Deon Grant is calling your plays," Pierce said of what the Giants are doing with Boley out. "That is not a knock on Deon, but you are telling me on every play on first down, you are in nickel because Deon has to be in the game with Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle. So right now you are not dictating to anybody, because we know every play what you are going to come out in, nickel or dime."
While some players angered Fewell by stopping on plays Monday night, Pierce doesn't see a team that has quit on the season or on Coughlin.
The Giants just need to come together -- and they're running out of time to do it.
"I don't think [Coughlin] has lost that locker room," Pierce said. "But I read certain comments from certain players, it doesn't sound like everybody is on [the same page]. They don't sound like a bunch of Coughlin guys. It sounds like a bunch of guys with their own thoughts and philosophies. When I mean a Coughlin guy, everybody has to speak the same language coach Coughlin is speaking."
"Honestly, they can pull it off, man," he added. "[However] you can sit there and talk all you want, but actions are louder than words. And the actions right now are not showing up."
Antonio Pierce is watching his old team. And he doesn't like what he sees.