Palladino: Where Are The Giants’ Leaders?
‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
What the 7-7 Giants need now is not some safety yammering endlessly on the radio.
They need a leader. Someone to show them out of the darkness of five losses in six games to the light of two season-ending wins, starting with Saturday’s game against the Jets.
Let’s face it. The loser of this rivalry will most likely go home after Jan. 1 to watch the playoffs on their Hi-Def TVs. While both teams can mathematically still make it depending on the outcome of other games, they would each need a post-Christmas miracle to do it.
For the Giants, that means Dallas losing to Philadelphia this week, the Giants beating Dallas next week, and the Eagles losing to Washington to get the division title at 8-8.
But there’s still hope, even for an offense that fell flat against the Redskins last week and a defense that hasn’t stopped anybody over the course of this season.
But somebody has to step up. Somebody has to be a leader.
The only one who’s doing that right now is Eli Manning. Successful or not, his calm and steadying influence is a plus in the locker room.
But he’s not enough. The Giants need more leaders — on the offensive front, in the linebackers’ corps, in the secondary. They just don’t have them.
Even Tom Coughlin acknowledged that.
“I think there’s peer pressure,” Coughlin said. “I wish there was more.”
And please, let’s not mistake Antrel Rolle as a leader. He says a lot, especially during his weekly spot with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on WFAN, but hardly backs it up on the field.
Justin Tuck is still in there pitching and trying, but his lack of productivity because of his varied injuries leaves him ineffective in the leadership department. Remember, true leaders produce on the field as well as the locker room.
There’s absolutely nobody among the linebackers because of the instability there. Michael Boley has too much new baggage in his personal life to worry about pushing rookies like Jacquian Williams and Greg Jones to greater heights. Chase Blackburn really isn’t in a position to lead, having just been re-signed a couple of games ago. And Mathias Kiwanuka bounces around too much.
The secondary is devoid of leadership. You get the feeling nobody listens to Rolle. In fact, Tuck told Mike Francesa on WFAN that he was thinking about advising the safety to just shut up and play. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have always been more followers than leaders, and there’s no sense in even talking about rookie Prince Amukamara, whose own struggles in just learning the defense precludes him from educating anyone else.
The closest thing the defense has to a leader right now is Jason Pierre-Paul, whose fire and production have both been outstanding. But he’s still only a second-year guy.
“All he can do is the very best he can,“ Coughlin said. “The best gift you can give other people is a great example, and he does that. He plays hard. You would hope that our entire team would rally to that type of desire and enjoyment and love of playing, his enthusiasm of the game.”
Coughlin is right, but the fact that Pierre-Paul had 16 tackles last week while no one else did anything of note indicates that he is currently operating as a one-man gang. A leader’s enthusiasm becomes infectious, but that hasn’t happened yet with JPP. Not his fault. It’s a function of youth. Vets just tend not to listen to kids.
The offensive line has been too unstable for any leaders to arise. Even the generally rock-solid Chris Snee has had too many mishaps this year to be an effective voice up front.
The Giants are basically a rudderless team right now. But it’s not too late for somebody to step up and will the defense, or help Manning will the offense, to a couple of wins down the stretch.
It’s what the Giants need more than anything else. If they don’t get it, they’ll probably miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
There will be a steep price for that.
Will somebody step up for the Giants before it’s too late? Sound off below…