By Ernie Palladino
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Hakeem Nicks remains down, Ramses Barden steps up.
Ramses Barden goes down, Rueben Randle steps up.
Kenny Phillips goes down, Stevie Brown steps up.
It goes like that for the Giants. Has gone that way for a while now. They lose a star, a backup comes in and does the job. They lose a backup, and another backup pops up.
This is one of the major factors that differentiates the Giants from their MetLife Stadium co-inhabitants, the ones who wear green and talk a huge game from March through August.
The Giants, under the direction of Tom Coughlin and as constructed by general manager Jerry Reese, seem to overcome losing some of their puzzle pieces. They have found a way in recent years to make it still fit together. Perhaps it ends up less elegantly assembled as they’d prefer, and maybe it only holds long enough to get the big guys back from injury. But the pieces fit, nonetheless.
The Jets? Their puzzle just kind of falls apart.
The first reaction to all this would be to credit Coughlin and criticize Rex Ryan for the teams’ respective situations. But that would only halfway cover the equations. Where it all starts — and the reason the Giants are 3-2 and the Jets could be looking deep into the abyss at 2-3 after tonight’s game against the undefeated Texans — is in the offices where people wear suits, not coaching shirts.
Lay it all on Reese and Mike Tannenbaum, the roster architects. Since taking over from his mentor, Ernie Accorsi, in 2007, Reese has shown a winning craps shooter’s knack for backing up his bets. He may lay a lot on the pass line in his draft picks or picking up those one or two free agents that eat up salary cap space, but he always leaves a little behind it for that extra payoff.
There always seems to be that contingency — a Sean Locklear just in case a David Diehl goes down, a third-year player already cut by four teams in Brown, just in case they have a run on safeties, a second-round wide receiver in Randle just in case an injury bug hits that position for the umpteenth time.
The Jets haven’t seemed to learn the value of depth yet, and that’s a shame because Tannenbaum has had ample time to catch on. Instead, they scramble at right tackle because some irrational belief that Wayne Hunter could actually play football kept Tannenbaum from drafting someone they could at least groom to replace him. So when Hunter finally washes out of the program, they are left with a game but flawed Austin Howard to flank a mediocre run game and below-average pass protection. They fall in love with a rookie receiver in Stephen Hill, whose lack of consistency will certainly glare now that Santonio Holmes is done for the season.
The front office’s failure to put in place a Plan B has left the Jets sinking, with little to look forward to against the undefeated Texans.
Meanwhile, the Giants keep on ticking. Granted, their latest conquest came versus a pitiful Browns team. Next week in San Francisco will be a true test. But for a week, their depth pulled them through a 41-27 win.
Brown, whose major mistake led to Josh Gordon’s 62-yard touchdown catch early in the first quarter Sunday, came back with a 46-yard interception return that led to Ahmad Bradshaw’s game-tying touchdown, and a forced fumble on the ensuing kickoff that set up Victor Cruz’ second of three visits to the end zone. He’s probably not a long-term solution to Phillips’ sprained knee, but he got the Giants to next week.
Locklear has been playing at right tackle for weeks since Diehl sprained his MCL. Sunday, he helped block Bradshaw to 200 yards and a touchdown. And Randle, who took criticism for a shaky work ethic, stepped up in Nicks’ and Barden’s absence to catch six balls for 82 yards.
The Giants’ depth isn’t necessarily glitzy. Their starting quarterback doesn’t get anywhere near the press the Jets’ backup quarterback gets, for crying out loud. But it has been effective when called upon.
That’s a big difference between the teams. Reese backed himself up on the pass line, Tannenbaum didn’t.
So far, the Giants’ dice have come up winners.
Do the Jets need a change at GM? Be heard in the comments below…