Giants' 2012 midseason report card
With the champs off to another strong start, we hand out our midterm grades
The New York Giants' title defense has gotten off to a strong, and perhaps fortunate, start.
They are 6-2 at the halfway point and are riding a four-game winning streak. They have dominated at times, such as in their wins over Carolina and San Francisco.
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They've needed dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks against Washington and Dallas. They've had controversy, such as the kneel-down episode with Tampa Bay, and they also laid an egg in their season opener.
The Giants look like a team that can win it all again, but they are definitely a team capable of lackluster starts and head-scratching losses.
In other words, the Giants are where they usually are at this point in the season.
The Giants believe they are a better team than what they've shown thus far. They'll certainly get a chance to prove just how good they can be with games remaining against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
By the time the toughest schedule in the NFL is complete, we'll know just how good the Giants really are.
"We've still got a long way to go," co-owner John Mara said. "And you earn your money in the second half of the season."
Giants' position-by-position report card
Eli Manning remains the king of the fourth-quarter comeback. He threw for 510 yards in a comeback against Tampa Bay and found a way to overcome sluggish games and make winning plays against Washington and Dallas in the past two wins.
His greatest strength is perhaps his ability to adapt and make moving parts work. Manning lost Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, has had to deal with injuries to his offensive line, backfield and receivers, and he still keeps moving along. David Carr provides veteran experience if needed.
Without Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw has gained 570 yards and is halfway to a 1,000-yard season despite missing nearly two games with a neck injury. He is dealing with pain in his surgically repaired foot, which could be troublesome as the season progresses.
But Andre Brown has shown he is a more than capable starter, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns combined against Tampa Bay and Carolina. David Wilson hasn't had much of a chance to show what he can do, but his speed and playmaking ability could be big later this season. Fullback Henry Hynoski has been an unsung asset, providing excellent blocking for Bradshaw and Brown.
This grade would be higher if not for Hakeem Nicks' injuries. Nicks has been banged up with pain in his surgically repaired foot and swelling in his knee, which cost him three games. Once Nicks regains his burst and separation, the Giants' passing game will be deadly.
Victor Cruz has shown he is certainly no one-hit wonder. He already has 52 catches for 650 yards and seven touchdowns and is one of the league's elite playmakers. Dallas, though, found a way to contain both Nicks and Cruz twice.
Martellus Bennett has shown flashes that he can do everything the Giants envisioned when they made him a priority in free agency. He is a big target for Manning and can block. Manning and Bennett still aren't completely on the same page, and they are learning one another and can only get better.
The line has been terrific in pass protection, allowing Manning to be sacked just six times -- only three coming in the past seven weeks. Sean Locklear and Will Beatty have exceeded expectations at tackle. David Diehl, who was a starter this season until suffering an MCL injury in the second game, provides the line with an experienced extra blocker and starter ready to fill in if there's an injury.
David Baas has battled through injuries and is playing better than last season. Chris Snee is the leader of the line, and Kevin Boothe has been steady. The run game has had its moments, but it can become more of a consistent factor in the offense.
The Giants have 21 sacks, but the big three of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have combined for just 9.5 of those sacks against increased attention. JPP, though, has two sacks, a forced fumble and a pick-six in his past two games.
Linval Joseph is quietly having a strong season with four sacks. Rocky Bernard was playing very well before suffering a quad injury. Chris Canty is only getting better two games after coming off the PUP list, and seventh-round pick Markus Kuhn has contributed more than anticipated. Marvin Austin is still learning and progressing after so much time off.
The pass rush hasn't hit on all cylinders yet but proved it can put it together when the Giants need it most. Stopping the run has been difficult at times for the defense.
Michael Boley has been steady again and has three interceptions. Chase Blackburn is an extension of Perry Fewell on the field and has had big moments, such as forcing two fumbles against the Redskins.
Keith Rivers' and Jacquian Williams' speed is big for the defense, but staying healthy has been an issue. Kiwanuka is a good joker option to have in Fewell's arsenal, and Tracy can play a hybrid role as well.
The defense can do a better job of stopping the run, but the linebackers have been steady this season.
The secondary has surrendered seven touchdowns of 26 yards or longer this season. Corey Webster has surprisingly given up some big passing plays this season and had to deal with a broken bone in his hand and a hamstring issue. He has two picks but is playing better now that he is healthy.
Prince Amukamara has done a good job overall starting for Terrell Thomas, who was supposed to be the starter until a knee injury derailed his season in camp. But he still can be targeted by quarterbacks, as Tony Romo did with Miles Austin.
Third-round pick Jayron Hosley has become the nickel corner covering slot receivers and also should only get better as the season progresses. Depth is a concern in the secondary with Michael Coe and Justin Tryon serving as the only backups.
Safety Antrel Rolle has battled through injuries and is the heart of the secondary. Kenny Phillips was having a solid season until he suffered an MCL injury and missed the past four games. Stevie Brown has effectively replaced Deon Grant. Brown leads the NFL in takeaways with five picks and two fumble recoveries.
Lawrence Tynes has been outstanding, making 24 of 26 field goal attempts, with one of them blocked by San Francisco and his other miss coming from 54 yards out at the end of the Philadelphia game. The Giants' offense has stalled many times in the red zone but Tynes has been money.
Steve Weatherford remains solid and is heating up. David Wilson has been electric as a kickoff returner and has come close to breaking one several times. Rueben Randle has been steady as a punt returner but hasn't had much room to return.
The coverage units have been terrific. The Giants have not allowed a touchdown and have been opportunistic at times, creating a few fumbles as well.
Tom Coughlin is off to a 6-2 start yet again. He has found a way to overcome injuries, having lost the likes of Nicks, Terrell Thomas, Diehl, Phillips, Bradshaw, Canty and Prince Amukamara to injuries this season.
The Giants started the season slow with a lackluster loss to the Cowboys in the opener and have had some difficulties at home. But they've found ways to pull out wins in the fourth quarter and pushed all the right buttons in a big win at San Francisco. Coughlin did take the blame for the Eagles loss when he decided to kick a 54-yard field goal for the win instead of running one more play with 15 seconds remaining and no timeouts on third down. But he knows how to get his team to respond in big games.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell have had terrific game plans. The Carolina and San Francisco games are two examples. But there are times when the Giants can stick with the run more often or do a better job of stopping the run and preventing big plays.
Special teams has been solid under Tom Quinn.
Jerry Reese continues to make the right moves. He lost Jacobs, Manningham and Ross in free agency but had no problems replacing them.
His top three draft picks are contributors, as is his seventh-round pick. No matter what injuries the Giants suffer, another player seems to always step up. And he finds guys like Brown and Locklear -- veterans who aren't big names but big contributors thus far. Depth at cornerback and offensive line could be tested if there are injuries later this season.
Giants' midseason awards
Offensive MVP: Manning. Even when he struggles, the league's most clutch quarterback can deliver a 77-yard game-winning bomb at any point.
Defensive MVP: Pierre-Paul. Something tells us he is just starting to get warmed up.
Special-teams MVP: Tynes. He has nailed four or more field goals in a game four times already, and his only misses are a blocked field goal and a 54-yarder.
Most improved: Andre Brown. He has five touchdowns and has shown he can handle the load if Bradshaw gets hurt.
Least improved: Jernigan. Failed to capitalize on opportunity in camp and might have to wait for a chance next season unless there are injuries.
Biggest surprise: Stevie Brown. Former seventh-round pick of the Raiders leads NFL in takeaways.
Biggest disappointment: Rivers. When healthy, has shown glimpses of potential and athleticism.
Best rookie: Wilson. Electrifying on kickoff returns, and we still want to see more of what he can do on offense.
Best offseason acquisition: Locklear. From backup to full-time starter.
Worst offseason acquisition: Adderall. This banned performance-enhancing substance has claimed two safeties and nearly Andre Brown, too.
Best-kept secret: Joseph and Hynoski. Unsung yet key cogs.
Biggest concern: Health. The Giants can't afford too many more injuries to the secondary.
Key to the second half: If there is another annual midseason swoon, the Giants must contain it and not let it spiral out of hand.
Best coaching move: Motivational tactics aside (remember nobody giving them a chance to win in SF?), Coughlin's preparing Locklear to play both right and left tackle in camp has been essential.
Worst coaching move: Even Coughlin confessed he should've run one more play in Philadelphia to get a closer crack at potential game-winning FG.
Game to watch: All eyes will be on their game against Atlanta, but something tells us there will be plenty on the line in the season finale against Philadelphia with the Cowboys and Redskins also playing each other that day.
Giants will win the division if: They win four to five more games and beat the Eagles at home.
Only way they miss the playoffs is: If the Giants suffer a serious injury or a second-half meltdown, they could fall behind in the ultracompetitive NFC. Dallas, Washington or Philadelphia could get hot as well.
Player ready to emerge: Canty. Ready to provide the defensive front with much-needed muscle and size.
Player least likely to return in 2013: Umenyiora. Not because the Giants wouldn't want him back, but because the defensive end will be looking for one final payday.
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