By Steve Kallas
The Giants and Jets simply aren’t as good as you think. Since everybody is talking about the Jets, we will start with the Giants:
THE NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants fell off a cliff last year after a 5-0 start. Finishing at 8-8 with a defense in shambles, they have a long way to go to return to their prior glory days. And it doesn’t look like they are getting off to a great start.
Was former defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan really the defensive problem? Is Perry Fewell really the answer? Well, neither of these guys hit(s) anybody or made (makes) a tackle. But the Giants are relying a lot on a change of attitude. We’ll see.
Is Kenny Phillips the difference-maker? Antrel Rolle? We’ll see. The Giants don’t seem to be very strong at linebacker. Keith Bulluck was signed to play the middle after ten seasons on the outside in Tennessee. Thankfully, the Giants moved him back outside for the start of real football. At 33 and with a repaired knee, can he do it? We’ll see. This puts young (24) Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker. That’s a tough spot to put a relatively inexperienced guy.
While the Giants seem to be strong up front with pass rushers galore (Kiwanuka, Umenyiora, Tuck and others), it’s essentially the same group as last year. That group didn’t get it done. Will it be different this season?
The Giants start the season with a very unhappy Brandon Jacobs. He simply hasn’t knocked over defenders like he did (at times) earlier in his career. He dances rather than pounds. He’s like the big center who wants to shoot threes. He needs to pound, pound, pound and THEN dance around somebody. With Ahmad Bradshaw the starter, the Giants have turned their running game on its head. Once upon a time, the theory was to have Jacobs pound the other side into submission and then bring Bradshaw (or some other speedy back) in to dance around them. That’s not true this season with Jacobs on the bench when the game starts.
And while the Giant receivers had a good season last year, they still haven’t replaced Plaxico. Who’s going to catch that fade into the end zone to win a big game? Who’s going to catch that jump ball that Eli Manning would throw to Plaxico when he was in a lot of trouble and had to make a play? I don’t know, either.
Has Eli Manning become a very good NFL quarterback? You betcha, but not an elite one.
With no Jeff Feagles, an OK field goal kicker and a coach who will be looking over his shoulder if the Giants get off to a bad start, it says here that the Giants are a 9-win team that will need a lot of help to make the playoffs. They have road games at Indy (week 2), at Houston (week 5) and at Dallas (week 7). That means they’d better win all of their home games in the first seven weeks. And since Carolina (this Sunday’s opponent) crushed the Giants, 41-9, last season in the final game at the old Giants Stadium, the New York Giants have a lot of work to do. We’ll see.
THE NEW YORK JETS
Rex Ryan has dumped a lot of unneeded pressure on a good team with an inexperienced quarterback. The Jets have an excellent defense (with Revis signed), a fair offense and a loss of leadership (no Alan Faneca, no Thomas Jones, no Jay Feely).
Hard Knocks made very few people in the Jets organization look good. But the most interesting statement in the whole series was made by Marty Schottenheimer, former NFL head coach and the father of Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Marty Schottenheimer said, in essence, that if you can keep your rookie quarterback (in year two) at the same level he was at in year one, that’s a good thing (Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco immediately come to mind).
For a team supposedly built to win now, it was a huge mistake to let future Hall of Famer and team leader Faneca go. The Jets are now very weak at left guard and, no matter what you hear about how good the guys around the left guard (Mangold and Ferguson) are, the reality is that an offensive line is only as good as its weakest link. And while Slauson and/or Ducasse might get better, they had their problems in the exhibition season.
The running backs are also an issue. Shonn Greene is very good, but is he Thomas Jones and can he last a whole season? Unlikely. Nobody with a brain really thought that Joe McKnight could replace the versatile, talented Leon Washington. Plus, as highlighted on Hard Knocks, McKnight is a fumbler, the worst label a back can get in the NFL. And while LaDainian Tomlinson (thankfully, Mike Francesa straightened a caller out by telling him that there’s only one LT in New York and he played for the Giants) had a very good exhibition season, we’ll have to see if he’s the answer when the real football starts.
While the Jets have a very good receivers corp, they won’t have Santonio Holmes until week five, long after the Jets have played the Ravens, Patriots and Dolphins. That’s a huge loss.
Which brings us to Mark Sanchez. A terrible 12 TD, 20 interception regular season didn’t give Jet fans much hope. But thanks to some brilliant play-calling by Brian Schottenheimer which allowed Sanchez to make some easy throws for long gains in their great playoff run, Sanchez seemed to have turned a corner. But he wasn’t very good in the exhibition season and, despite everybody on Hard Knocks saying how hard he has worked, Mark Sanchez has a long way to go, even if the goal is to make him Trent Dilfer (the Jets have been compared to the Super Bowl-winning Ravens with their Rex Ryan defense). And, whatever you think of Dilfer, he made some excellent throws in the first half of the Super Bowl when the Ravens killed the Giants. Is Sanchez ready to do that? I don’t think so.
With no Jay Feely (Nick Folk can miss a big field goal every now and again), very little leadership (the Tony Richardson cut and re-sign was a disgrace and some players are still mad about it) and way too much bluster, the Jets have put themselves in a tough spot. They are thrown in the deep water immediately, with tough games against the Ravens and the Patriots (thankfully, for the Jets, at home) and then on the road at Miami for their first three games. If they go 3-0 (a tall order) or even 2-1 (still tough) in these games, they are set for a good regular season.
It says here that the Jets are a 10-win team, which, in a tough division with the Patriots and Dolphins, should get them into the playoffs. But, without major improvement at quarterback, the Jets will be lucky to get back to where they were last year. The offense is a work in progress and it’s hard to believe that this squad can win the Super Bowl, despite the hype.