Eli Manning’s 1–6 record last year matched the 1–6 record his brother Peyton had in his first seven NFL starts in 1998. And while Eli’s rating (55.2) and completion percentage (48.9) were worse than Peyton’s (63.4, 54.5), Peyton was actually more interception-prone in his first seven starts.
Don’t be surprised if second-round pick Corey Webster makes an impact. The Giants have five former second-rounders in their starting lineup, including their single-season sack king (defensive end Michael Strahan), their all-time leading rusher (Tiki Barber), and their all-time leading receiver (Amani Toomer).
In the long run
Barber, who broke the Giants’ single-season rushing record (1,518) on the last play of last season, has three of the top five rushing seasons in team history. All have come in the last three years.
The Giants open and close their season against the two quarterbacks Eli Manning forced out of town -- Kurt Warner (Arizona at Giants, Sept. 11) and Kerry Collins (Giants at Oakland, Dec. 31). They also play at the San Diego Chargers (Sept. 25), the team Manning spurned prior to last year’s draft.
The Prophecy: “(New head coach Tom) Coughlin thinks he can teach (Tiki) Barber a few things in technique that might help (Barber’s fumble problem).”
The Lie: "There’s finally some stability to the Giants’ special teams."
— Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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One word Tom Coughlin would never use to describe his first season with the Giants is "smooth." He watched nearly a dozen of his players file complaints against him with their union. He endured an eight-game losing streak, a quarterback controversy, and he had to place a ridiculous 18 players on injured reserve.
Out of all that misery, though, came the word he thinks will be the key to his second season: "Hope." He saw hope in the way his undermanned team and overwhelmed quarterback played the final three games last year. And when they beat the Dallas Cowboys on the last play of their season finale, he believes his players saw it, too.
"I think when you look at the word 'hope' a couple of things come to mind," Coughlin says. "One is you're angry that you didn't do better - and that anger is a motivating factor, without a doubt. The other is you look around you and you're excited and you have enthusiasm."
That's something the Giants haven't had much of the last two years.
Coughlin says the experience Eli Manning went through last season was "painful, but priceless." He got the "painful" part right. Manning went 1-6 after taking over for Kurt Warner and looked dazed and confused at times, especially during his first four starts.
But at least he went through it. His growing pains, theoretically, are over. The trick now is for Manning to take the next step. He played well in the last three games - the chief reason for Coughlin's "hope" - but he still has yet to throw for more than 201 yards in a game and completed a dismal 48.2 percent of his passes for the season. Those numbers simply won't do.
Still, for better or worse, it's Manning's team. Warner is gone to Arizona and journeyman Jim Miller was brought in to be Manning's backup. Miller, though, underwent hip surgery in late April and will be out for some or all of training camp. Tim Hasselbeck, released by the Redskins, was signed in case Miller is slow to heal.
It's still hard to believe that Tiki Barber was once thought to be a third-down specialist, too small and fragile to be an every-down back. Now he's the Giants' all-time leading rusher, the best player on their team, and the one player they absolutely can't afford to lose.
Why? Because he is the Giants' offense. Last year, his franchise-record of 2,096 total yards (including a franchise-record 1,518 rushing) was 44.3 percent of the team's offensive total. He also scored 15 of the team's 34 touchdowns and was their second-leading receiver (52 catches, 578 yards). Those numbers may dip as Manning gets better, but not by much.
If Barber ever got injured - he hasn't missed a game since Oct. 2001 - things could get ugly. Mike Cloud is the only experienced back behind him. The better option might be rookie Brandon Jacobs, a 6-foot-4, 256-pounder they took in the fourth round.
It seems ridiculous and impossible, but it's true. The Giants' starting receivers didn't have a single touchdown catch last season. In fact, Ike Hilliard (who has since been released) and Amani Toomer combined for just 1,184 yards receiving, which would've ranked them 14th in the NFL if they were one man.
All that should change with the addition of Plaxico Burress, the big-play receiver the Giants so desperately needed. He'll take pressure off Toomer, who returns from a partially torn hamstring. They also have high hopes for the speedy Tim Carter, who has missed 26 games with half a dozen injuries in his first three years.
While Burress provides the flash, the soul of the passing game is still tight end Jeremy Shockey. Once thought to be the new prototype for his position, Shockey has had a problem with drops, and he never seemed to connect with Manning after the rookie quarterback took over last season. Still, he had good numbers (61-666, 6 TDs) in an off-year.
Joe Theismann's favorite whipping boys -- he called them the worst in the league last preseason -- didn't turn out to be so bad. Yes, they gave up 52 sacks, but 24 came in a four-game stretch blocking for Warner, who was frustrating them by holding the ball too long. Manning, with his younger legs and quicker release, was only sacked 12 times in seven starts.
This year, the line should be even better. The Giants added huge (6-foot-6, 327) right tackle Kareem McKenzie, one of the top tackles on the market on either side. His arrival will take pressure off left tackle Luke Petitgout and allow last year's right tackle, David Diehl, to switch back to his more natural guard position.
Diehl, second-year guard Chris Snee and center Shaun O'Hara will provide a solid middle. And there's outstanding depth with guards Jason Whittle and Rich Seubert (still recovering from a broken leg).
Michael Strahan hadn't missed a game for nine years when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle last November. No one doubts that he'll come back this season, but at age 33 can he ever be the same?
Considering the questions on the rest of the line, the Giants certainly hope so. The only other lineman the Giants have with any appreciable experience is tackle Fred Robbins, who played well last year next to the enormous Norman Hand. But Hand was released and will be replaced by either former Steeler Kendrick Clancy or William Joseph, the Giants' first-round pick in 2003 who has thus far been a bust.
They have much higher hopes for their 2003 second-rounder, Osi Umenyiora, who has shown flashes of brilliance as a pass rusher and takes over for the retired Keith Washington at the other end. But he still has to show he's strong enough to stop the run.
Remember the days of Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson? The Giants do, and they've been trying to fill those shoes for about 15 years. In recent years, the Giants' linebackers have been average at best. But this year they have a unit they think actually could be good.
Last year they brought in Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green for the outside spots, but they were both limited by injuries. If they stay healthy this year they'll be the fastest outside tandem the team has had in years. And the signing of the speedy Antonio Pierce gives them their best middle linebacker since Mike Barrow at a position where Kevin Lewis didn't have much of an impact last year.
No one questions the coverage ability and potential of cornerbacks Will Allen and Will Peterson. The only thing questionable has been their hands. The Giants' paltry 14 interceptions last season were the team's highest total since they had 15 in 2001. No wonder their first pick in the draft was cornerback Corey Webster, an interception machine from LSU.
Webster won't push Allen and Peterson yet, but he should find an important niche as the nickel back. And the Giants hope he'll be part of their new, good-hands team, joining free safety Gibril Wilson, who had three interceptions in eight games before a shoulder/neck injury ended his rookie year. Strong safety Shaun Williams is coming back from a knee injury for the second straight year.
Another year, another kicker. In the last six seasons, the Giants have had eight different placekickers. The newest edition is 29-year-old Jay Feely, who replaces 37-year-old Steve Christie. Feely's got a strong leg, which will help on kickoffs, and actually has better numbers outdoors (78 percent) than indoors (76.7 percent) despite playing four years at home in a dome.
Meanwhile, punter Jeff Feagles - the best in history at pinning punts inside the 20 - is still going strong at 39. And the Giants also may finally have found a return game with kickoff returners Willie Ponder and Derrick Ward, each of whom averaged more than 26 yards and scored a touchdown last year.
There is no doubt the Giants re-stocked and filled every obvious need on their roster. But all their hopes still hinge on one thing: the performance of Manning.
If he's the quarterback he was during the last three games of last season, the Giants will compete for the playoffs. If he's the quarterback he was during his first four starts, they're in trouble. If he's somewhere in between - the most likely scenario - the Giants will be the picture of mediocrity, clinging to the fringe of the playoff race. But even then it should be obvious that this franchise is on its way back up.