No longer Super, Giants ‘a team in transition’

Going into last season, the New York Giants looked like the team to beat in the NFC. They had boosted an already strong front seven and seemed set to have their typical disruptive defense.

Instead, in a surprising turn, the team that produced the most sacks in the league during its Super Bowl season in 2007 (53), finished in a tie for an 18th last year with 32. The Giants’ notable offensive strength, the running game, plummeted from first in 2008 into a tie for 17th.

Jason Pierre-Paul was brought in to help give a boost to a flagging defensive line.
Jason Pierre-Paul was brought in to help give a boost to a flagging defensive line.

Even more shocking was the fact they started last season 5-0. Hopes for a second championship in three years, however, faded fast after a blowout loss at eventual Super Bowl winner New Orleans in Week 6 led to a four-game skid.

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, now CBS’ lead NFL analyst, also was high on them a year ago. He says their defense was thrown off by the lack of effectiveness up front.

"They played like they still had the pass rush when they won the Super Bowl, and they got absolutely destroyed," Simms said.

The lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks sent aftershocks everywhere:

• The Giants produced just 13 interceptions while allowing 31 touchdown passes. Only the Lions had a bigger difference.

• In addition to getting ripped by the Saints, 48-27, the Giants also gave up 40-plus points four other times, including twice to division rival Philadelphia. 

• As the Giants trailed in more games, their run defense also slipped. And because they often were forced into shootouts, it led to the subsequent drop in rushing attempts and production on the offensive side of the ball.

It was clear that the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who became the Rams’ head coach last offseason, was a big deal. And the Giants made his replacement, Bill Sheridan, the scapegoat.

Enter new coordinator Perry Fewell, charged with lighting a fire under the defense, to restore the intensity that once went with its aggressiveness. Along with hiring Fewell, the Giants drafted yet another pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, in the first round.

Those changes are a start, but it also will require a "restart" from the incumbent players, such as end Osi Umenyiora, to help the front four regroup and again become a dominant force.

"Last season, they were still in that window to win two or three Super Bowls," Simms said. "They’re now a team in transition, and we’ll see how it goes."

The Giants can’t afford to slide any further. Dallas and Philadelphia already trumped them last season, and Washington looks ready for a surge.

The Cowboys have confidence after ending their playoff win drought. The Redskins are rearmed with familiar foe Donovan McNabb at quarterback. McNabb’s old team, the Eagles, have a promising youth movement in full effect.

Knowing the intensity that comes in division play, you can bet none of those teams is about to take the sleeping Giants lightly.

"You can never count them out," Cowboys All-Pro nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "They will still give you four tough quarters every time."

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

Going into last season, the New York Giants looked like the team to beat in the NFC. They had boosted an already strong front seven and seemed set to have their typical disruptive defense.

Instead, in a surprising turn, the team that produced the most sacks in the league during its Super Bowl season in 2007 (53), finished in a tie for an 18th last year with 32. The Giants’ notable offensive strength, the running game, plummeted from first in 2008 into a tie for 17th.

Jason Pierre-Paul was brought in to help give a boost to a flagging defensive line.
Jason Pierre-Paul was brought in to help give a boost to a flagging defensive line.

Even more shocking was the fact they started last season 5-0. Hopes for a second championship in three years, however, faded fast after a blowout loss at eventual Super Bowl winner New Orleans in Week 6 led to a four-game skid.

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, now CBS’ lead NFL analyst, also was high on them a year ago. He says their defense was thrown off by the lack of effectiveness up front.

"They played like they still had the pass rush when they won the Super Bowl, and they got absolutely destroyed," Simms said.

The lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks sent aftershocks everywhere:

• The Giants produced just 13 interceptions while allowing 31 touchdown passes. Only the Lions had a bigger difference.

• In addition to getting ripped by the Saints, 48-27, the Giants also gave up 40-plus points four other times, including twice to division rival Philadelphia. 

• As the Giants trailed in more games, their run defense also slipped. And because they often were forced into shootouts, it led to the subsequent drop in rushing attempts and production on the offensive side of the ball.

It was clear that the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who became the Rams’ head coach last offseason, was a big deal. And the Giants made his replacement, Bill Sheridan, the scapegoat.

Enter new coordinator Perry Fewell, charged with lighting a fire under the defense, to restore the intensity that once went with its aggressiveness. Along with hiring Fewell, the Giants drafted yet another pass rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, in the first round.

Those changes are a start, but it also will require a "restart" from the incumbent players, such as end Osi Umenyiora, to help the front four regroup and again become a dominant force.

"Last season, they were still in that window to win two or three Super Bowls," Simms said. "They’re now a team in transition, and we’ll see how it goes."

The Giants can’t afford to slide any further. Dallas and Philadelphia already trumped them last season, and Washington looks ready for a surge.

The Cowboys have confidence after ending their playoff win drought. The Redskins are rearmed with familiar foe Donovan McNabb at quarterback. McNabb’s old team, the Eagles, have a promising youth movement in full effect.

Knowing the intensity that comes in division play, you can bet none of those teams is about to take the sleeping Giants lightly.

"You can never count them out," Cowboys All-Pro nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "They will still give you four tough quarters every time."

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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