- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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First things first. I think the New York Giants will repeat as NFL champions. They will beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl 24-17. The Giants should be better than they were in 1986 unless, of course, injuries remove some key people. Injuries are always the ultimate determinant, the stuff of catastrophe when you are operating in the stratosphere of the NFL.
The doom-criers wag their fingers. No team can repeat in this era, they say. Especially not this team. Too many evil temptations for the young and the wealthy, particularly in the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Hackensack Meadowlands. Too many books written—the biggest evil of them all, because writers do not make strong blockers or sure tacklers. Too many distractions. Why, even coach Bill Parcells distracted the club with a brief postseason flirtation with Atlanta. What kind of example was that for his players?
This is what the naysayers are saying. It is silly stuff. A player won't miss a block or drop a pass because the coach was wooed by the Falcons or the guy in the next locker wrote a book, even a book as publicized as Lawrence Taylor's. LT's off-season retreat into nastiness and flawed logic earned him some well-deserved rips in the press, and everyone waited to see how all that would affect him on the field. Well, not at all. In the first exhibition game he made tackles all over the field and pursued like a madman. What's interesting about Taylor is that at the end of last season he was more a speed linebacker than a power operator. That put him in coverage more. His body was beaten up. Down the stretch Carl Banks, who played opposite LT, became the best outside linebacker in football.
This will all be duly included in the Giants' game plan this year, because Parcells knows his linebackers. Coaching that position is his forte, and New York has a sensational collection. Noseguard Jim Burt didn't get his due last year, but he forced at least three teams—Washington, San Francisco and New England—to change their thinking about defense. The Patriots traded for Houston's center. Jim Romano, after Burt made five tackles against them in the first quarter of the opening exhibition game. Burt is as technically perfect a noseguard as any man in the game, and he's backed up by a big, active second-year pro, Erik Howard.
Phil Simms is coming off a 22-for-25 passing day in the Super Bowl, and he hasn't let off-season endorsements interfere with his workout schedule. The running corps is deeper with the return of George Adams. The draft produced two terrific wideouts, Mark Ingram and Stephen Baker. So much for Dallas's outdated contention that the top teams draft too late to improve themselves significantly. The secondary is fortified by the return of Terry Kinard, who went down with a knee injury on Dec. 7. The club is bursting with talent, and in my rather simplistic view of the NFL, that's why I like the Giants to repeat.
The Washington Redskins' season is keyed toward the Giants. Burt caused them to replace center Jeff Bostic with All-Pro left guard Russ Grimm, a 275-pounder. In three games against the Giants, the Skins could manage only 145 yards rushing, and to coach Joe Gibbs's way of thinking, a situation like that can't be overcome by any quarterback—not even an action guy like Pro-Bowler Jay Schroeder. Washington needs that big bump in the middle.
In their three games against the Giants last year, the Skins got steadily weaker. First game: 410 yards of offense, seven-point loss. Second game: 349 yards, 10-point loss. NFC title game: 190 yards, 17-point loss. Even worse was the claim in a few books by Giant players that they had finally caught on to Washington's one-back offense.
Not much will change in the Redskin offense. The Skins finished fifth in the league last season and worried everybody except the Giants. Rookie Ed Simmons, another big bumper at 310 pounds, might find a spot in the line. Schroeder will wear a knee brace and throw to a set of Pro Bowl receivers, Art Monk and Gary Clark. Once again George Rogers will be at tailback on first down, with Kelvin Bryant in on third if his knee holds up (he missed six games last season). Who plays on second down will depend on the yardage.
The defense suffered a jolt in camp when both right end Dexter Manley and middle linebaker Neal Olkewicz went down with knee injuries. Manley is coming off a career-best season. Charles Mann, the other end, had 10 sacks. The defensive backs are better and deeper than ever with the addition of rookie cornerback Brian Davis. The Redskins were good enough to come from behind to beat the Bears in the playoffs, but they couldn't put a dent in the Giants in three tries. That, obviously, is the problem.
With limited funds available, Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan stood outside the bookshop window and pondered his decision. Should he buy groceries to feed the family, or would the money go for that rare first edition, in perfect condition with full morocco binding and gilt edges? It was no decision at all. Ryan is a collector, and a man like that doesn't blink at the idea of a few missed meals when a true rarity is waiting to be snapped up.