EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Bridge.
Coming into the season, Tom Coughlin has asked his to bridge the six-game run that carried them to their second Super Bowl win in five seasons into the 2012 season that kicks off Wednesday against Dallas.
Coughlin knows the Giants can’t afford another 9-7 regular season if they want to become the ninth team — the Steelers did it twice — to win consecutive titles. Make no mistake though, this team can join the club.
The last time New York had a chance to repeat was during the 2008 season. The Giants got out to an ultra-hot start, but then came the infamous Plaxico Burress self-shooting incident in late November.
They’d ultimately lose in the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I think when you miss an opportunity, or what you feel is an opportunity to win a championship, that’s always going to haunt you,” Justin Tuck told the New York Daily News. “If I had seven rings, I’m going to think about that missing one. So this year we’re just hoping we can redeem ourselves in a way.”
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning is coming off a career-best season and is improving. The defensive line can make life miserable for any opponent with All-Pro end Jason Pierre-Paul, Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. What many don’t realize is the Giants might have even more weapons this year.
The running game, which was the worst in the NFL in 2011, has a chance to run over people if first-round draft choice David Wilson lives up to the hype. He impressed everyone in minicamp with his quickness, speed and power, then was even better in the preseason. The Virginia Tech product got a start against the Bears last week because Ahmad Bradshaw had a bruised right hand. All he did was run for 49 yards on five carries. The highlight: three consecutive plays where he had runs of 20 and 15 yards, and then went 29 yards with a short pass from Manning.
“He is exciting,” veteran tackle David Diehl said.
Even more exciting is the prospect of a balanced offense, where the Giants don’t have to rely on Manning to throw 589 times for 4,933 yards because there is no running game. Wilson gives the Giants an ability to get to the outside on the ground. Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who packed the 1-2 punch in recent seasons, were similar because they did their best work between the tackles. Bradshaw occasionally bounced outside, but Wilson can do it any time he touches the ball.
If Manning can pick and choose when he throws instead of being forced to the air, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks might take the passing game to another level.
“It could be scary,” said Cruz, who set a franchise record with 1,536 yards receiving last season.
Wilson knows going into the season he will be the No. 2 back behind Bradshaw. The Giants, however, play two backs every game.
“I was surprised by the whole experience,” Wilson said of his start. “I didn’t know what to expect. To go in there and be productive, that is what I wanted to do.”
Wilson isn’t the only newcomer on an offense that scored 394 points in 2011. Rueben Randle, the second-round draft choice, has looked very good in camp and should join Domenik Hixon in making up for the loss of Mario Manningham, who like Jacobs signed with the 49ers as a free agent.
The biggest loss on the offense was tight end Jake Ballard. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee the Super Bowl and was waived-injured, then signed by New England. Former Dallas Cowboy Martellus Bennett was signed as a free agent. He has shown flashes in training camp and the preseason, but he has to prove he can be a force when games count.
Four of five starters return on the offensive line, with the big question at left tackle. Will Beatty was supposed to star, but has a back injury. Veteran Sean Locklear has replaced him in preseason games. David Diehl has moved to right tackle because Kareem McKenzie was not re-signed.
The defense took almost a full season to find itself in 2011, but once it did, it was outstanding, yielding 56 points in four postseason games. The guys up front led the way.
New York had 48 sacks last season, with Pierre-Paul getting 16 1/2 in earning All Pro honors in just his second season.
“I am about 50 (percent),” Pierre-Paul said in assessing his development. “I am still learning. That is the good thing about it. I want to come out here and learn and keep on improving.”
Tackle Chris Canty, who started all 16 games last season, will miss at least six games while on the physically unable to perform list. He had knee surgery and it has been slow to heal. Weak side linebacker Michael Boley also may not be ready for Dallas because of a hamstring injury. Keith Rivers, acquired in a trade with Cincinnati, has filled in well and adds speed.
With cornerback Corey Webster and safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips back, the secondary is solid. Cornerback Aaron Ross signed with Jacksonville and the other job belongs to Michael Coe following injuries to Terrell Thomas, Prince Amukamara and rookie Jayron Hosley.
Despite all the injuries, the first team has stood out in the preseason; New York led at halftime in its first three games.
“We should play with confidence, we are the world champions,” said placekicker Lawrence Tynes, a member of both championship teams. “We just have to go out and prove it again. I don’t know if we can play a whole season like we did the last six weeks of last year. You know it can be done because we did it. To be able to sustain that for 16 weeks would be nice.”
Giants fans, can you smell a repeat? Be heard in the comments below!
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