Giants on spot after missing last 2 postseasons

With all the drama surrounding Osi Umenyiora’s contract dispute

and general manager Jerry Reese’s failures in the free agency

market, it’s easy to overlook the big issue for the New York

Giants.

This is a team that had chances to make the playoffs the past

two seasons and fell apart down the stretch.

Two years ago, they dropped eight of the last 11 after opening

5-0. They had the NFC East title in their hands last year in

December until they blew a 31-10 lead against Philadelphia. The

bottom fell out a couple of weeks later when they were crushed by

the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay with a playoff berth on

the line.

So this is a make-or-break season for coach Tom Coughlin, Reese

and the Giants, who seemingly were on the rise after winning the

Super Bowl in February 2008. Miss the playoffs a third straight

year and there are going to be changes, especially with the Jets

currently being the in-team in town.

”It is a sense of urgency every year,” defensive captain

Justin Tuck said. ”It was a sense of urgency after we won the

Super Bowl. Our goal every year is to win the Super Bowl and there

is no hiding that fact. You are right, we haven’t made (the

playoffs) in two years but it gives us the opportunity to do it

this year. That’s the way we are approaching it.”

The Giants have the talent to get back to the show. Second-year

defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has transformed his unit into an

aggressive group that forces turnovers. Plus, Eli Manning and the

offense can put up points, especially if receivers Hakeem Nicks and

Mario Manningham stay healthy and the new line jells just enough to

get a running game going.

However, if the Giants want to challenge the Eagles in the

division, there are some problems to address.

Start with turnovers. New York coughed up the ball 42 times last

season with Manning throwing a career-worst 25 interceptions.

Granted about half were deflections off the hands of his receivers,

but that has to improve.

The concern, of course, is that Manning is going to be without

some of his favorite targets.

Steve Smith, who caught a team-record 107 passes in 2009, signed

with the Eagles, who were more willing to take a chance on his knee

after major surgery than were the Giants.

New York also lost tight end Kevin Boss to Oakland, and really

doesn’t have anyone who combines Boss’ ability to block and catch

the ball.

Manning has thrown at least 20 TDs and passed for at least 3,200

yards in each of the past six seasons. Nicks and Manningham

combined for 20 TDs last season despite some injuries. Domenik

Hixon is a proven third receiver and rookie Jerrel Jernigan has the

speed to provide a deep threat.

Ahmad Bradshaw, who chose to stay with the Giants, and Brandon

Jacobs, provide a lightning-thunder option in the backfield. But

the offensive line is in question with the team’s decision to

release veterans Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert.

Former 49ers center David Baas was signed to replace O’Hara, and

the Giants moved veteran David Diehl inside to guard to replace

Seubert, giving the all-important left tackle spot to third-year

pro Will Beatty, who has looked good in preseason.

”It’s too early to make a prediction, but I like the guys we

have,” guard Chris Snee said. ”If we had cut down the turnovers

last year we would have made the playoffs. Our goal is always to

control the ball, pound the ball and keep our defense off the

field.”

The defense is the bright light for the Giants, even with

Umenyiora expected to miss the start of the season after

arthroscopic knee surgery. The group had 46 sacks in Fewell’s first

season as coordinator and they are going to have quarterbacks

scrambling again this year, especially with linebacker Mathias

Kiwanuka providing pressure on passing downs.

Tuck and second-year pro Jason Pierre-Paul are outstanding ends

and the inside of the line should not miss a beat despite losing

tackle Barry Cofield to Washington. Chris Canty is back, and along

with second-year pro Linval Joseph should be stout in the middle.

But second-round pick Marvin Austin tore a chest muscle and will

miss the season; he sat out all of 2010 at North Carolina, too.

Losing starting CB Terrell Thomas to a torn-up knee is a big

blow. That is compounded by top draft pick Prince Amukamara being

out for the start of the season with a broken foot. Remaining in

the secondary are cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, and

safeties Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant.

The linebackers are adequate.

Special teams have been a problem the past two seasons. Matt

Dodge, who failed to punt the ball out of bounds on DeSean

Jackson’s game-winning punt return on the final play of the Eagles

game in the December meltdown, is battling veteran Steve

Weatherford for the punting job. Lawrence Tynes has been solid as

the kicker.

”This team has the talent to do everything that we want to

do,” Canty said. ”It’s just a matter of coming together as a

team. We can’t do it as individuals. That’s not how we do this

around here.”