After arguably the worst defensive season the Giants ever compiled, headlines that were reserved for the Giants this offseason were generally dedicated to the defense.
After all, the Giants offense was by far the biggest bright spot for the team last year. They ranked eighth in the league in points per game, as opposed to their defense that was ranked 30th.
As is the general tendency of the media today, the focus was on the flaws of the defense, not the progression of the offense.
Manning finished the season with career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage. The wide receiver corps boasted an array of talent. And while the production in the running game was not present, the pedigree and reputation of both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw remained.
This confidence in the offense prompted the Giants brass to aggressively pursue talent in all phases of the defense. They added defensive line depth with their first and second-round picks. They signed a former Pro Bowl linebacker a week before training camp broke. And they alleviated the issues at the position that caused the most detriment in 2009: safety.
While the Jets made no bones regarding their excitement to show off their new offensive toys, the Giants felt the same way on defense. And like the Jets, the Giants had a mixed bag to show for it.
Mark Sanchez's first pass of the game was to a contested area, which in itself was a stark improvement from last season for the Giants. The tight coverage gave Sanchez little room for error, which ultimately allowed the ball to land in the playmaking Antrel Rolle's hands.
After that, Sanchez calmed down and methodically drove the Jets down the field en route to a touchdown, coming on a play in which the Giants defense had a communication breakdown.
This drive was reminiscent of last year's defense. Albeit, the defensive line wasn't manhandled and the wide receivers weren't roaming free 20 yards deep into the secondary.
Meanwhile, the Giants offense struggled out of the gate. They opened their first three drives with carries that went for minimal yardage—of course one of which started at the one-yard line. These short carries put Manning and a Giants offensive line missing 40 percent of its starters into blitzing situations.
While Manning was protected relatively well, he had to rush a few passes. On one third down, Mario Manningham slipped when he was on an island with Antonio Cromartie. Had he stayed up, there was a possibility that he could have planted his foot after the catch and exploded for a long play. Instead, Matt Dodge was called on to punt.
It became painfully clear that the Giants' lack of a tight end really hurt their ability to work on offense. The middle of the field was essentially unusable, which allowed the Jets the opportunity to anticipate passes thrown outside the hash marks.
Also, this hindered the Giants' ability to run. In addition to missing both starting guards, the lack of a blocking presence at tight end limited the Giants' overall ability to generate a push. The Giants' best run of the night—a 13-yard scamper from Jacobs—was called back for holding.
The inconsistency of the Giants first-string offense culminated in a full-fledged disaster. On third and one, Brandon Jacobs bumped into Manning, who appeared to be poised to lob a pass up to his 6'6" target Ramses Barden. But Jacobs dislodged the ball from Manning, and as Eli reached up to retrieve it, he was crushed by an unblocked Calvin Pace.
From the other side came safety Jim Leonhard, who had Manning lined up until he saw the ball flutter away. Mercifully, Leonhard changed direction and only "scraped" Manning's forehead, leaving the Giants star quarterback with a three-inch laceration. Manning said after the game that all things considered, he was fine.
On the defensive side of the ball, the backups held down the fort well for the most part. In the middle of the second quarter, the Jets left their starters in while Tom Coughlin pulled most of his starters. The Jets were able to drive down the field with relative ease, but were held to a field goal in the redzone.
On the next series, Sanchez was sacked by Jason Pierre-Paul, who had been struggling with right tackle Damien Woody up to that point. But on this particular play, Pierre-Paul showed the explosiveness off the edge that had Giants scouts drooling.
Ultimately, it was Victor Cruz that stole the show. The Patterson, New Jersey native showed the type of athleticism that had Coughlin joking that, "What do we need anybody else for? We've got Victor Cruz!" Maybe he wasn't joking.
The Cruz Show began with a one-handed snare of a first-down pass from Jim Sorgi in which the undrafted rookie then sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown. He caught three touchdowns in all, also showing the ability to adjust to the ball in the air and catching it at its highest point.
I'll have more on the Giants' 31-16 victory over the week.
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