New-look Giants look to perform under pressure

The New York Giants have become an all-or-nothing team, and

nothings have been the norm lately.

Despite winning the Super Bowl twice in the last six seasons,

the Giants also have missed the playoffs three of the last four

seasons.

It’s a trend that the hierarchy is not happy about, and the

pressure is on for Tom Coughlin’s team to get back to the

postseason, especially with the Super Bowl being played in its

backyard, MetLife Stadium.

The Giants (9-7) have been active.

Dynamic wide receiver Victor Cruz was signed to a multi-year

contract. Second-year pro David Wilson was handed the job at

running back. The No. 31 ranked defense signed a couple of free

agents, led by defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins.

The constant remains Eli Manning.

”I see things that I like and I see things that I don’t like,”

Coughlin said Tuesday. ”I see things that have to happen and have

to move along and get us to a point where we think our production

is. It’s a work in progress, there is no question about it. It will

be a work in progress when we get ready to play our first game.

It’s been one of those falls. Trying to get 11 guys to work

together has not been easy.”

Coughlin has seen flashes from his team, and he has a good core

from two years ago to step up and lead.

Cruz, the Giants leading receiver the past two seasons, is a

little more certain despite seeing the offense struggle in the

preseason.

”I know what type of talent we have,” he said. ”I am looking

forward to lining up our best 11 on each side of the ball –

offense, defense, special teams – and then see what we can do. My

money is on my team.”

Here are five things to look for as the Giants prepare for the

start of the season:

EVERYDAY ELI: Entering his 10th season, Manning is getting

better with age. The Giants’ all-time leader in completions and

touchdown passes, Easy Eli has averaged 4,226 yards and 28

touchdowns over the past four seasons. He makes all the adjustments

at the line of scrimmage to spark the running game and is the guy

who makes Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks threats on any given play.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP also is impossible to get out of the

lineup. He has made 135 consecutive starts, the longest streak

among active quarterbacks.

The D LINE: Whether the Giants get back to the playoffs depends

on how this unit plays. When the Giants won the Super Bowl two

seasons ago, the line created pressure on opposing quarterbacks and

made an average secondary look like Pro Bowl players. That was

missing last season and it hasn’t been around in the preseason.

With defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul coming off

subpar years and Osi Umenyiora in Atlanta, Mathias Kiwanuka was

moved back to the line from linebacker. The versatile Jenkins

should beef up the run defense and rookie Damontre Moore should

make plays if his shoulder gets healthy.

RUNNING FREE: The Giants staked the future of the running game

on Wilson when they decided to release Ahmad Bradshaw in a salary

cap move. It was somewhat of a gamble, but the 2012 first-round

draft pick has shown he can turn a small crack into a long

touchdown run in a split second. New York has not had that

capability out of the backfield in a long time and it will give the

offense an added dimension. If there is a concern, it is his

ability to pick up the blitz and to protect Manning. Bradshaw was

outstanding in that area. Andrew Brown was solid as the backup to

Bradshaw last season and he is back.

THE UNEXPECTED HELP: Not many people gave Terrell Thomas much

chance of playing after tearing the ACL in his right knee for third

time overall, and second in as many years, during training camp

last season. It seemed like three strikes and your career is over.

Thomas didn’t feel the same way, though, and has been one of the

biggest surprises in camp. The six-year veteran, who was on the

verge of elite status two years ago, is a smart cornerback who can

play in the slot in the nickel defense. He is going to help this

defense more than anyone suspects.

CRUZ CONTROL: Despite suffering a foot injury in the preseason,

expect another big year from Cruz, who had 168 receptions for 2,628

yards and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons. His numbers have

the potential to skyrocket if Hakeem Nicks (knee, foot) stays

healthy and offers another outside threat, and new tight end

Brandon Myers makes plays down the middle.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org