By Steve Silverman
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You have heard the cliché for years.
Football coaches have talked about the importance of special teams play for generations. They will stand up at the lectern and tell you that special teams are just as important as offense or defense. Coaches like Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs and George Allen have said it, so it must be true.
Of that trio, Allen may have believed those words the most. But the best players on an NFL team don’t often play special teams. If coaches really believed that special teams was just as important when it comes to winning games, the best players would compete on special teams on an every-play basis.
But every once in a while, special teams will decide what happens on the scoreboard. We’re not talking about a kicker who makes a 35-yard field goal at the gun. That play is set up by the offense or defense, and when you snap the ball from the 18-yard line and the holder sets it down at the 25, a professional kicker should be able to hit that kick 19 times out of 20.
Every once in a while you get a game like the Giants did yesterday from rookie David Wilson. The Giants got a huge lift when they needed it most in the first quarter. Eli Manning had just thrown a pick-six to start the scoring against the New Orleans Saints, a team that had eviscerated the G-Men in their two most recent meetings.
The Giants’ mood had turned glum early as a result of Elbert Mack’s 73-yard interception return for a score with 5:22 gone in the first quarter. But Wilson responded with the best counterpunch he could throw when he returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
Wilson has explosive speed and the Giants have needed him to show he could impact a game. That return was the second big play of Wilson’s incredible day.
He also returned the opening kickoff of the game 58 yards and then sprinted 52 yards with a second-quarter kickoff.
Wilson obviously has plenty of ability, but you will find few teams that play as poorly as the Saints did on special teams. Wilson did not have to make a series of complicated moves on his returns. He found the weaknesses up the middle on their coverage teams and he exploited them.
Wilson wasn’t just a special teams demon; he also ran the ball like a solid NFL pro. Wilson had 13 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard run for a touchdown that closed the scoring late in the fourth quarter.
The game was in hand at that point, but Wilson’s last touchdown was an emotional payback statement after a couple of torturous games against the Saints.
The presence of an explosive return man and running back gives the Giants an element that they did not have previously, and one that they may need the rest of the way.
The defense is not performing the way it should. The Giants only sacked Drew Brees once, and the pressure that Giants fans have come to expect from their front four has not been there.
Greater explosiveness from the running game and special teams will help mitigate that deficiency, but it won’t overcome it.
When the Giants play their most important games in the postseason, they must get their pass rush back.
But while head coach Tom Coughlin waits for that part of the game to return, Wilson’s explosive play is a decent alternative.
Giants fans, are you sold on Wilson following yesterday’s performance, or do you have to see more to believe? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…