NFC East preview (cont.)
What the Giants do best: Go deep on the defensive line.
The Giants believe very strongly that the most important position group on a team, outside of the quarterback, is the defensive line. As usual, they have continued to fortify the ranks in this regard.
In April they added first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul and second-rounder Linval Joseph to a rotation that was already considered among the deepest in the NFL. The idea is to keep those linemen fresh throughout the game and healthy over the season so they can return New York to its 2007 dominance down the stretch and in the postseason. With questions marks behind it, this unit needs to be as good as advertised if the G-Men hope to make it back to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
What the Giants need to improve: Running the football.
Once thought to be the strength of the team, the running game was not nearly as effective in 2009 as in the previous two seasons. Whether it was the running style of Brandon Jacobs or the signs of age showing on the offensive line, the bottom line was that the unit underperformed. It won't be easy to get off on the right foot this season as starting linemen Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee, Kareem McKenzie and Rich Seubert have all missed time this preseason. This unit needs to get healthy in a hurry and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride needs to find a way to get the ball in the hands of running back Ahmad Bradshaw as much as possible because of his speed and elusiveness.
Which Giant needs to step up: Linebacker Michael Boley.
With serious question marks at the other two linebacker positions next to him, Boley needs to become the elite playmaker he can be. He possesses truly unique speed and athleticism for the position and could become one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL if he can stay healthy and focused. As the only known commodity at the second level of the defense for Big Blue, he'll need to do exactly that.
Predicted record: 9-7.
The Giants have too much talent and prideful personalities in their locker room not to bounce back from last season's disastrous finish and have a winning season. Their problem is that they reside in the toughest division in football and already seem to be losing the battle of attrition. If their injured veterans can return to action and stay healthy for a full 16 games, they could squeeze into the playoff picture, but that's a big if.
What the Eagles do best: Skill positions.
Seemingly overnight the Eagles have compiled the best stable of young skill position players in the league. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have big-play ability while Jason Avant is exactly what the Eagles are looking for in a slot receiver. Tight end Brent Celek established himself a year ago and has the ability to stretch the middle of the field. Running back LeSean McCoy appears ready to handle everything asked of him after serving a one-year apprenticeship under Brian Westbrook. Simply put, the Eagles are loaded at the skill positions and just need new starting quarterback Kevin Kolb to get them the ball in space and let them create.
What the Eagles need to improve: Intimidation factor.
The defense took a step back last year under first-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and must get back to being the intimidating crew that the late Jim Johnson created during his tenure in Philly. The Eagles got a number of reinforcements this offseason after trading for linebacker Ernie Sims from the Detroit Lions and using their first two draft choices on defensive end Brandon Graham from Michigan and safety Nate Allen from South Florida. All three are expected to start from day one. The defense also returns rock-solid middle linebacker Stewart Bradley after he missed all of the 2009 campaign with a torn ACL.
Which Eagle needs to step up: Quarterback Kevin Kolb.
The Eagles handed the keys to the franchise to the fourth-year player out of Houston on Easter Sunday and don't anticipate him to have a steep learning curve after being in the system the past three seasons. Philadelphia has a division championship-caliber squad at every position and it is up to Kolb to show that includes the quarterback position as well. No matter how much potential he has shown, he is still a first-year starter in a rabid NFL market that won't have much patience this season. How he responds to those lumps will determine the fate of this season in Philadelphia.
Predicted record: 9-7.
Just like every other team in this division, the Eagles simply have too much talent and are too good not to be in the mix come Week 17. Unlike every other team in this division, the Birds enter this season with a question mark at quarterback. No matter how high they are internally on Kolb, he still has to prove he can get it done week after week when the pressure is on. Doing that is his first year at the helm is asking a lot.