Silverman: Weak Division Is Giants’ Best Hope For Bounce-Back Season
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By Steve Silverman
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It’s hard for Giants fans to be encouraged by what they have seen in the preseason.
While there was some progress from Eli Manning with his performance against the Jets in the third preseason game (12 of 21 for 139 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions), the offense still has miles to go before Tom Coughlin can feel good about his team.
However, the Giants have one thing they can feel very good about. It’s the division they call home, the NFC East.
For years this division was a juggernaut, one that was filled with teams that punished their opponents on defense and used smart and opportunistic offenses to create havoc. The NFC East is no longer one to be feared. Instead, it has become a division to be jeered.
Right now, the Philadelphia Eagles are a clear and convincing favorite. This is based on the success they had last year under first-year head coach Chip Kelly and the amazing season of Nick Foles, who threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
Foles is certainly going to have a hard time limiting his interceptions to that kind of microscopic number again, but he is a strong-armed, smart and confident leader. Kelly appears to be as good as any coach when it comes to finding opponents’ defensive weaknesses and providing his team with a game plan that exploit those areas.
The Eagles also have LeSean McCoy, who may be the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. He is a game-breaking running back who can dominate as a runner or a receiver.
The Eagles need their offense to be at least as good as last year because there are simply too many questions about the defense. Their 3-4 unit showed some improvement up front last year, but the linebackers and secondary were extremely vulnerable. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is feeling the heat to turn this unit around.
The Giants have to be concerned about Philadelphia’s ability to light up the scoreboard and sustain offensive success, but the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have fallen on hard times.
The Cowboys know what they have in quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, but the team doesn’t know how to win when the game is on the line. Romo simply makes too many fourth-quarter mistakes, either in terms of accuracy or the pace of his throws. While he will throw a catchable ball for three quarters, his tendency to throw the fourth-quarter interception has left the Cowboys heartbroken on too many occasions.
Even if Romo could overcome his inconsistency, the Cowboys’ defense is a disaster. Losing DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in free agency were huge blows, and that was followed by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Sean Lee in the offseason. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is one of the best in the business, but he has almost no hope of keeping this ship afloat.
The Redskins are hoping that new coach Jay Gruden will get them back on track, but the lack of progress shown by Robert Griffin III this summer is troubling.
Very few blamed RGIII for his difficulties last year after attempting to return from knee surgery at the end of the 2012 season. There were severe communication issues with former coach Mike Shanahan, who was coaching to hang on to his job, and he appeared to put his quarterback at risk.
RGIII is healthy now, but he has not shown the progress in his on-field decision-making this summer. He does not seem to understand Gruden’s offense, and that’s troubling. While Alfred Morris is one of the most dependable running backs in the game, it’s simply not enough.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is expecting to unleash a far more aggressive defense this season, but that will only put the secondary at risk if Hatcher and Jarvis Jenkins are not getting to the quarterback.
This team does not appear ready to compete.
The Giants have a reasonable schedule to start the season. Instead of starting the season with the 0-6 getaway they had last year, they have a chance to be 3-2 or 4-1 when they go to Philadelphia in Week 6 for their first huge game of the year.
That’s the key for the Giants this year. They must take advantage of opponents like Detroit, Houston, Washington and Atlanta if they are going to take advantage of the weak division they are in.
If they beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat, they have a shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2011.
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