The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
NEW YORK GIANTS
2012 Record: 9-7. Missed the playoffs.
Which player is under the most pressure?
Justin Tuck took over the reins as the team’s defensive captain when Michael Strahan retired, but hasn’t produced in nearly the same capacity. The Giants will be without Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty, who totaled a combined nine sacks last season, and while that number doesn’t sound very high at first glance, those nine sacks accounted for 25 percent of the overall sack production. Tuck only registered four sacks in 14 starts last season, down from five sacks in just 11 starts in 2011. Tuck and Umenyiora disappeared in games last year and that is unacceptable for a team that relies so much on its pass rush. There are no excuses either. Giants’ opponents obviously slid protections to Jason Pierre-Paul’s side, so Tuck basically was on an island with the opposing offensive line’s second-best pass-protector.
If Tuck disappears in games this season like he did in 2011, you can safely assume that his national advertising campaign for Subway will disappear, too.
What is the position battle to watch?
The linebackers have been the weak spot of this defense for multiple seasons in a row and the Giants lost their best one in Chase Blackburn during the offseason. Blackburn always outplayed his average skillset, but he was still a valuable asset in both run and pass defense. To replace him, the Giants signed Dan Connor away from Dallas and he will compete with Mark Herzlich for the starting role. Connor has started double-digit games just once in his five-year career and has a season-high of just 54 tackles. His career average is a lowly 29 tackles per season, so he is hardly a proven commodity for an already shaky unit. Herzlich is full of passion and will fight until the end of every single play, but after his battle with cancer, he just isn’t the same player he once was. He is intelligent and reads his keys well, but just simply can’t perform athletically the way he once could.
The Giants strayed away from the linebacker position altogether in April’s draft, so maybe they know something we all don’t. It’s not like they haven’t been successful with a below average linebacker corps in the past, but it is starting to catch up with them and if they don’t find a diamond in the rough in the next five weeks, it could come back to haunt them.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
When entering the rookie evaluation period in February, there wasn’t a hotter name out there than Damontre Moore. He was widely considered to be the best pass-rusher in all of college football. He had played multiple positions and accumulated sacks from all over the field at Texas A&M as he played both as a down lineman as well as the "joker" position that Von Miller vacated the season before. All the experts had him going in the top three in every mock draft that was published. Then the combine happened. He showed up and barely broke 5.0 in the 40-yard dash and only put up 12 reps in the bench press. And for comparison purposes, the average of the 49 defensive backs that completed the bench press at the combine was 15.2.
But just like you can’t fall in love with a guy because of his workout numbers, you can’t fall out love with one either. Moore has great football instincts and can always improve on his upper body strength. The fact that the Giants were able to steal a guy with this much football talent in the third round is significant. Moore could very well be this year’s Vontaze Burfict — a player who tested poorly at the combine and dropped out of the NFL Draft altogether after being projected as a first-rounder the majority of his collegiate career.
Burfict went on to start 14 games as an undrafted rookie and led the Bengals in tackles with 127.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Green Bay Packers’ pass rush hasn’t been the same since releasing Cullen Jenkins and he may provide the Giants what they need to get back to their dominating ways that led them to two Super Bowl championships. Jenkins can provide a push from the middle of the line and collapse the pocket in a way that the Giants haven’t really had since losing Barry Cofield.
Where do you predict the team will finish in the division?
The NFC East is one of the more competitive divisions from top to bottom in all of football, but that isn’t to say they are going to be heavily competitive outside of the division. The Giants have as good of a chance as anyone to win the division and when teams are that closely matched, it usually comes down to the play of the quarterback. Eli Manning has proven that he can carry this team when he has to.