Giants 2011-12 final report card
Big Blue's latest crew went from mediocrity to world champions
Entering Christmas Eve, the New York Giants had just lost for a second time to the Redskins, were 7-7 and were about to play the Jets with the strong possibility of missing the playoffs.
Jobs were potentially on the line, and Tom Coughlin might've been on thin ice had the Giants lost to Rex Ryan's Jets and sat out the playoffs for a third straight year.
But the Giants proceeded to go on a magical run that ended with their fourth Super Bowl title.
Coughlin went from hot seat to a seat on a parade float; Eli Manning went from a 25-interception quarterback in 2010 to two-time Super Bowl MVP; and the Giants went from mediocrity to world champions.
Here's the 2011-12 report card for the Super Bowl champion Giants.
Giants position-by-position report card
Eli Manning started a hectic post-lockout training camp losing two of his longtime offensive linemen (Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert) and having to adjust to a new center (David Baas) while seeing two of his most trusted targets (Steve Smith and Kevin Boss) leave in free agency. He responded with his best season ever. He helped develop Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard and posted a career-high 4,933 yards, completed 61 percent of his passes and had 29 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, all without a strong running game. He was the most clutch quarterback in the NFL and remains the toughest quarterback as evidenced by his consecutive games started streak and his gutsy performance in the NFC Championship Game. If anyone still had any doubts as to whether he is elite, Manning answered with his second Super Bowl MVP performance.
The Giants' running game struggled for most of the season and finished last in the NFL in rushing. The running game did come to life toward the end of the season with four 100-yard rushing efforts in the last five regular-season games. But individually, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for a total of just two 100-yard rushing games this season. Bradshaw missed four games with a fractured foot and played through the final nine games on it. Short-yardage situations often remained a problem, but Bradshaw did have nine rushing touchdowns and Jacobs added seven in the regular season.
The Giants arguably had the best trio of receivers in the game with Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. The Giants became a big-play team, as those three combined for a total of 15 touchdowns of 41 yards or longer in the regular season. Cruz emerged as a star with five touchdowns of 68 yards or longer and shattered the franchise record for 1,536 yards in a season with 82 receptions. Nicks also was a 1,000-yard receiver and was huge in the playoffs with four touchdowns, including a Hail Mary against Green Bay, and a 10-reception effort in the Super Bowl. Manningham became the third receiver behind Cruz but may have played his way into a free-agent payday with his Super Bowl performance. Ramses Barden showed some glimpses of promise in limited playing time.
The Giants had a gaping hole at tight end after Boss left. But Ballard stepped up and had 38 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns before being slowed by a knee injury toward the end of the regular season. Ballard made some clutch catches early in the season and became one of Manning's preferred targets in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the Super Bowl and likely will miss most of next season. The versatile Bear Pascoe blocked, caught passes and played some fullback for the Giants. Travis Beckum did not take the big leap forward some expected but he showed what he is capable of doing when utilized, with a 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Green Bay in the regular season before tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl. The Giants like Christian Hopkins, a tight end on the practice squad.
The Giants' offensive line underwent serious changes in training camp when the team let O'Hara and Seubert go while signing center Baas and promoting Will Beatty to left tackle. The O-line struggled to establish the run until late in the season, as the Giants finished last in the run in the NFL. But they had to deal with injuries to Baas and Beatty. The versatile Kevin Boothe became a starter at left guard. David Diehl slid back to his old starting spot at left tackle when Beatty's season ended because of eye surgery. Chris Snee remains the best lineman. Kareem McKenzie is a free agent. Mitch Petrus showed he can be a starting guard.
In just his second season, Jason Pierre-Paul emerged as a superstar defensive end in the making with 16.5 sacks. He practically carried the defense on a couple of occasions during the season. Justin Tuck battled through injuries all season long and Osi Umenyiora was in and out with injuries as well. But when the Giants needed their two star defensive ends to support JPP, they came through during the Giants' six-game winning streak to win it all. Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard were solid inside, and Dave Tollefson and Mathias Kiwanuka rounded out perhaps the best pass rush in the NFL.
Considered to be the defense's Achilles' heel entering the season, the linebackers proved to be good enough to win a Super Bowl. After losing Jon Goff before the season opener to an ACL injury, Michael Boley became one of the most valuable components on Perry Fewell's defense. When he missed two games because of injury, the defense struggled badly. Kiwanuka grew more comfortable with his hybrid linebacker/defensive end role, and speedy rookie Jacquian Williams showed promise. The Giants might not have won the Super Bowl without the late addition of Chase Blackburn. And they have future potential with rookies Greg Jones, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger.
The secondary survived a brutal preseason that saw Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon all suffer season-ending knee injuries. First-round pick Prince Amukamara broke his foot in camp and was out for half the season. But Corey Webster and Aaron Ross combined for 10 interceptions. Fewell relied heavily on his three-safety package of Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant. While the Giants had several breakdowns in coverage during the season, they cleaned it up just in time and were able to slow down some of the best tight ends in the game. Rolle became the team's nickelback, covering slot receivers. Phillips had four interceptions as he got closer to where he was before knee surgery. Grant provided invaluable leadership. Amukamara showed early glimpses of his potential but needs a full offseason and training camp.
The special teams was the most improved unit from a season ago. Punter Steve Weatherford was one of the best moves the team made, as he provided clutch, consistent and accurate punting all season long. Kicker Lawrence Tynes made 19 of 24 field goals and sent the Giants to the Super Bowl with a game-winning, overtime field goal in San Francisco. He also had 34 touchbacks on kickoffs in the regular season. Pierre-Paul provided a season-saving field goal block in Dallas. The team's coverage on kickoffs and punts was outstanding after struggling a season ago. Rookies such as Tyler Sash, Jones, Williams -- who had the strip on a San Francisco punt return that helped send the Giants to the Super Bowl in overtime -- and Herzlich improved the coverage unit. The Giants need to upgrade their kickoff and punt return game.
Yes, the Giants had their typical ups and downs, starting with a 6-2 start only to be followed by a four-game losing streak. At 7-7, though, Tom Coughlin pushed all the right buttons and got his team to rally and develop an "All In" mentality. He showed he can still connect with his players and he gave them the freedom to express their confidence, something that can't be underestimated during a playoff run. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride oversaw Manning's finest season despite not having much of a running game for most of the season. Defensive coordinator Fewell had a rough start with all the injuries and a brutal schedule full of offensive juggernauts. But once the team cleaned up all the communication problems, the defense was terrific during the Giants' six-game Super Bowl run.
Jerry Reese took a ton of heat from fans and critics when he released O'Hara and Seubert and let Boss and Smith leave for bigger paydays in free agency. While the Eagles were stockpiling stars, Reese was criticized for only signing the likes of Baas, Weatherford, Grant, Tollefson and Boothe. But all those moves, along with the late-season signing of Blackburn, ended with a Super Bowl in which all those players made contributions. Reese told fans that the Giants had unproven talent ready to emerge in Cruz and Ballard. And while Reese's first two picks in the draft got hurt right away, his sixth-round selections of Williams, Jones and Sash became valuable special-teams contributors.
Giants postseason awards
Offensive MVP: QB Eli Manning. Clutch, tough, elite and now a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Defensive MVP: DE Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP did it all, sacking QBs and even blocking a field goal.
Special-teams MVP: P Steve Weatherford. The punting game went from a weakness to a weapon.
Most improved: WR Victor Cruz. Went from an unknown to a record-breaking receiver.
Least improved: RB Brandon Jacobs. He was supposed to get more carries but the running game struggled.
Biggest surprise: Cruz and LB Chase Blackburn. Blackburn went from his couch to notching a Super Bowl INT.
Biggest disappointment: TE Travis Beckum. Underused Beckum received few targets even with Kevin Boss gone.
Best rookie: LB Jacquian Williams. He impressed with his speed and had a big forced fumble in San Francisco.
Best offseason acquisition: Weatherford/OL Kevin Boothe. Boothe started at C and LG.
Worst offseason acquisition: TE Ben Patrick. He left the team shortly after being signed to help replace Boss.
Best-kept secret: TE Christian Hopkins. Jerry Reese raved about this practice squad player as the next unknown to potentially emerge.
Best coaching move: Perry Fewell cleaning up communication breakdowns and playing Blackburn.
Biggest concern: The salary cap. The Giants have 21 free agents and players who want raises such as Cruz and Osi Umenyiora.
Key to the offseason: The Giants have to fortify their offensive line, their running game and their return game.
Player ready to emerge next season: Linval Joseph. Joseph had a solid first year as a starter with room to improve.
Least likely to return next season: Mario Manningham. Not because the Giants don't want him but they might not be able to afford him after the Super Bowl.
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