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Giants final report card

Eli and special teams doomed the Giants this season. The grades are in:

Quarterback -- Eli Manning managed to keep both the Giants and their opponents in games throughout the season – particularly down the stretch when the wideout injuries mounted. Although the seven-year vet posted stellar numbers in some categories [4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns], he killed many more Big Blue drives with costly turnovers [league-high 25 interceptions and a team-high seven fumbles, including five lost]. Manning’s total giveaways [30] led the league. Quarterbacks are judged by wins and losses and he did lead the Giants to 10 wins – two better than last season. But Manning’s 2010 legacy will remembered for his turnovers and the fact he didn’t lead the Giants to the post-season for the second consecutive season. It also doesn’t help his image when he’s being paid [$97.5 million] on the level of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning – both of whom had similar ‘skill position’ woes, yet managed to qualify for the playoffs.


Running Backs – Ahmad Bradshaw was surprisingly named the starter during training camp – much to Brandon Jacobs’s dismay. Then again, when is Jacobs ever not dismayed? Bradshaw, though, made good on head coach Tom Coughlin’s trust with a stellar campaign, as he had a team-high 1,235 yards rushing, 4.5 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns. What ultimately doomed Bradshaw – and sent him to the bench – was his penchant for fumbling [team-high seven, six lost]. When Jacobs [823 yards, nine touchdowns, and 5.6 yards per carry] was re-installed into the starting lineup prior to Week 12, the Giants’ rushing attack really took off, as the contrast in running styles bewildered opponents. Bradshaw, who will be a free agent this summer, runs with a reckless abandonment and speed that only Adrian Peterson can match, while Jacobs was the hammer on short yardage and goaline opportunities. The Giants possessed the best rushing tandem in the league [2,058] but what keeps them from a solid ‘A’ grade are the fumbles and penchant for disappearing in big games [see: both Eagles game and the Packers game].


Receivers – It’s almost impossible to fairly grade this rag-tag group, as injuries caught up to them, beginning with Steve Smith’s pectoral injury in Week 10. But if the O-Line could continue to run along seamlessly despite injuries, then the wideouts should’ve been able to step it up as well. Alas, this unit disappointed throughout due to the injuries – starting with Domenik Hixon’s torn anterior cruciate ligament in August. It was a revolving door at wideout this year, as seven different wideouts were inserted into the lineup this season. They were led by Hakeem Nicks who had 79 receptions for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nicks also missed significant time due to injuries, derailing what was on-pace to be a Pro Bowl season. The only other Big Blue wideout of significance was Mario Manningham, who had 60 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns but Manningham often struggled in learning new assignments on the fly. It’s not a banner year for the wideouts when Bradshaw is your fourth-most productive receiver.


O-line – Heading into the season, this was one of the most cohesive units in all of football, as the same starting five once made 38 consecutive starts. Foot and ankle injuries plagued usual starting center Shaun O’Hara all season but his absence was softened by the outstanding play of customary left guard Rich Seubert, who made the seamless transition to center. O’Hara, who was shockingly voted to the Pro Bowl, would even vouch that Seubert should go in his place. That’s how great a job Seubert did in filling the void. Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese said that Seubert was “the MVP of the team” and was visibly bummed when Seubert dislocated his right kneecap in the first quarter of the finale in Washington. Seubert underwent surgery yesterday and faces an arduous rehab. But when Seubert was in the lineup, the rushing attack was prominent and Manning was kept clean. Seubert, who was the third option at center once backup Adam Koets tore his ACL in Week 9, wasn’t the only O-Lineman to step up, as his replacement at left guard was customary left tackle David Diehl, while Diehl’s fill-in would be a mixture of Shawn Andrews, Will Beatty, and Kevin Boothe. It was a testament to the players and O-Line coach Pat Flaherty that Big Blue didn’t skip a beat along the line.

D-line – This was the strength of a defense that tallied a league-high 45 sacks, led by 11.5 apiece from Osi Umenyiora and Pro Bowler Justin Tuck. The defensive line was able to simply rush four, allowing the suspect pass defense to have extra defenders in the secondary and masking an average linebacking corps. The defensive front was solid that even the forgotten Mathias Kiwanuka, who suffered a season-ending neck injury after Week 3 tallied four sacks in the first three games. First round pick Jason Pierre-Paul also had 4.5 sacks after being virtually invisible his first 10 weeks of his rookie campaign. The front four was a terror all season, as it forced nine of the team’s 22 fumbles and was responsible for six quarterback knockouts, including two in the same game when sacked the Chicago Bears’ quarterbacks 10 times in Week 4.


Linebackers – Even Reese used pedestrian words like “okay” and “steady” when discussing this unit. Those aren’t ringing endorsements by any means. Although middle linebacker Jonathan Goff [75 tackles, sack, forced fumble] played well, Big Blue failed to field a fiery leader and demonstrative presence like the retired Antonio Pierce. Michael Boley led all linebackers with 81 tackles and a sack. The linebackers certainly played in the shadows of the beloved and gregarious D-Line and even played second fiddle to the three-headed monster at safety, and played most of the season as the forgotten stepchild. This unit will need an upgrade if it’s to make Giant fans fondly hearken back to the days when being a Giant linebacker was the most high-profile position on the team.


Secondary – They showed flashes of brilliance, particularly the safety trio of Kenny Phillips [77 tackles, interception, three forced fumbles], Pro Bowler Antrel Rolle [87 tackles, .5 sacks, interception, two forced fumbles], and Deon Grant [59 tackles, sack, three picks, three forced fumbles], but this was a unit that underachieved at times. Cornerback Terrell Thomas [sack, five picks, forced fumble] led all defenders with 101 tackles but was also victimized at times by all-stars like Peyton Manning to also-rans like Jon Kitna.


Special Teams
– DeSean Jackson. That’s all that needs to be said when discussing Big Blue’s special teams. Rookie punter Matt Dodge didn’t have a terrible maiden campaign [44.8 net] but all Giants fans will remember is the Jackson walk-off punt return in Week 15 that crippled their playoff hopes. Kicker Lawrence Tynes connected on 83 percent of his field goal attempts but it was otherwise a non-descript season for the veteran. What really hindered the Giants was how poor their return teams were. DJ Ware had an average of 20.6 per kick return, while Darius Reynaud, who was brought over in a trade to specifically fill the shoes of Hixon, had a pedestrian 18.4 yards per return. Will Blackmon, who was brought in late to replace Reynaud did slightly the same [18.3] but got injured and was later waived. Punt returns were even more of a mess, as both Reynaud [5.7 yards per return] and Blackmon [6.7] disappointed mightily.


Coaching – Coughlin didn’t lead them back to the playoffs and oversaw yet another late fade but he acquitted himself nicely to management and that’s pretty much all he needs to impress. Yes, the Giants played horrible in must-win games at home to the Eagles and the following week in Green Bay, but Coughlin passes with flying colors because he appropriately handled numerous situations that would’ve folded lesser coaches. Coughlin managed to soothe Jacobs’s temperamental ego, finagled an injury-riddled O-Line into believing they were still amongst the best, and squeezed every ounce of talent out of a receiving corps that wasn’t very good this season. Blame can’t be laid at Coughlin’s feet for Dodge’s errant punt or Manning’s interceptions, or wideouts not adjusting on the fly. Fickle Giants fans may want Coughlin out but co-owners Steve Tisch and John Mara think otherwise.


Overall – They were a skittish team from the start, as they could’ve finished 10-6 or 6-10 and there would’ve been reasons backing up either record. They did win two more games than last season and dealt with a plethora of issues – mostly injuries – so they can’t be killed too much. Missing the playoffs at 10-6 is an anomaly only because the lowly Seattle Seahawks [7-9] won a division no one wanted to win. Had it been any other season, this Giants team would’ve entered the playoffs as the team no one wanted to face. Yet, their schizoid play at times is also a reason why they’re home for the playoffs for the second consecutive season. 10 wins is a good year by any measure in a league built on parody but Big Blue would certainly trade that in for a 7-9 mark and a trip to the playoffs.


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