2 New York Giants The offense is potent, and the special teams are revamped, but can the defense hold its own?

August 31, 2003

Even with a fractured toe, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan
can be relentless. His rookie defensive linemate Osi Umenyiora
discovered that during a practice session in early August, when
Strahan ran through a laundry list of pass-rushing dos (always
shed a blocker's hands) and don'ts (never rush the same way two
times in a row), pushing and pulling the rookie throughout. At
times the 11th-year All-Pro playfully ragged his charge,
eliciting chuckles from veteran defensive end Keith Washington,
who was standing nearby.

The scene was telling because, for the Giants, the good times
will not continue unless they address their glaring need for
defensive-line depth. New York's traditionally stalwart defense
looked increasingly mortal last season as the shortage of quality
replacements resulted in an overworked front four. Those players'
exhaustion meant a diminished pass rush--New York had only 37
sacks and forced just 11 interceptions--and the Giants ended up
allowing 130 fourth-quarter points, tied for second most in the
league.

Never was the problem more evident than last Jan. 5 when, holding
a 38-14 lead over San Francisco late in the third quarter of a
wild-card playoff game, the Giants gave up 25 consecutive points
in a shocking 39-38 loss. Because the game ended on a botched New
York field goal attempt, much was made of the Giants' myriad
special teams needs, but make no mistake--at the root of the
Giants' problems was an ineffective defense.

"We didn't have the luxury of being tired last year," says
Strahan, whose sack total fell to 11 last year after an
NFL-record 22 1/2 in 2001. "We need quality guys who would let us
grab a breather and be up for the fourth quarter. Our kids are
good, but they need to be ready now, not two years from now."

The new cavalry members are an upgrade over last year's bunch,
particularly rookies William Joseph, drafted 25th overall out of
Miami, and Umenyiora, a quick 278-pounder from Troy State who was
a second-round selection. With 32-year-old starting tackle Keith
Hamilton returning from a right Achilles tear that ended his
season in Week 6 (assuming he avoids league suspension after
being charged in May with possession of cocaine), and fourth-year
tackle Cornelius Griffin on the decline, Joseph must contribute
immediately. Umenyiora might spell Strahan occasionally and will
rotate series with starting right end Kenny Holmes, who is no
longer an every-down player. "We just need to get off the field,"
Strahan says, "because with our offense, we can stay off for a
while."

Indeed, the offense is no longer New York's redheaded stepchild.
Over the final nine games of '02, the Giants morphed into a
scoring leviathan, averaging 25.7 points behind the underrated
captaincy of quarterback Kerry Collins and the fiery passion of
rookie tight end-lightning rod Jeremy Shockey. After a preseason
homophobic rant, however--his second in two seasons--Shockey's
mouth remains an issue for the team. Tailback Tiki Barber (1,387
rushing yards, 69 passes) and wideout Amani Toomer (82 catches,
1,343 yards) provide Collins with multiple big-play threats.

On special teams a season's worth of gaffes brought a new kicker
(Mike Hollis), punter-holder (Jeff Feagles), long snapper (Ryan
Kuehl) and returner (NFL alltime return-yardage leader Brian
Mitchell), who were welcomed like favorite uncles to training
camp. "I feel very lucky to have gotten them all," says coach Jim
Fassel. "Replacing special teams isn't like replacing a lineman,
where you hope the group comes together. On their own, those guys
are all difference-makers. And you know what? I think they came
here because each one looked at us and thought, Hey, those guys
have a chance to win it all."

Asked what could be drawn from last year's playoff ignominy,
Strahan laughs. "At least it wasn't the biggest comeback in
playoff history," he says. "Hopefully, we won't have to worry
about it again." As long as the new dogs learn enough of
Strahan's old tricks, they won't. --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER TEAMWORK If Strahan (92) gets more help and a few more breathers, the Giants may have what it takes to go the distance. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS TOOMER COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

Playing for four years in Cleveland's harsh climes, RYAN KUEHL
had just one bad snap. Of course the Giants know just how costly
one snap can be. After a bad snap botched a game-winning field
goal attempt in last season's 39-38 playoff loss to the 49ers,
coach Jim Fassel signed free agent Kuehl to a five-year, $3.62
million deal.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"Amani Toomer is underrated. He's faster than you think, he can
run after the catch, and he makes every big play. Now the Giants
just need Ike Hilliard to stay healthy and take pressure off
Toomer and Jeremy Shockey.... In addition to bringing excitement
and production to the offense, Shockey is a much better blocker
than he gets credit for. But he has to keep his focus and cut
down on his drops.... Tiki Barber is a great back, but he has to
do it for an entire year. Even though he came on strong late last
season, he also had some very average games.... The O-line could
be the Giants' downfall, especially on the right side. Ian Allen
is awful. I can't believe he might start. With that line Kerry
Collins will be running for his life. He isn't mobile and isn't a
very good athlete.... The defensive line and linebackers are
solid. Kenny Holmes has to do more, but the rookie tackles will
help.... Letting [cornerback] Jason Sehorn go [to the Rams by way
of free agency] was a wise move.... The special teams upgrades
were right on, especially adding Brian Mitchell as the return
man.... They'll challenge Philly right to the end."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 ST. LOUIS
15 DALLAS (MON.)
21 at Washington
28 Open date

Oct. 5 MIAMI
12 at New England
19 PHILADELPHIA
26 at Minnesota

Nov. 2 at N.Y. Jets
9 ATLANTA
16 at Philadelphia
24 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)
30 BUFFALO

Dec. 7 WASHINGTON
14 at New Orleans
21 at Dallas
28 CAROLINA

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 12
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .521
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 10-6
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 14/6/6
DEFENSE 16/9/9

COACH: Jim Fassel; seventh season with New York (54-41-1 in NFL)

TIKI BARBER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 11 304 1,387 4.6

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
69 597 8.7 11

KERRY COLLINS

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 59 545 335 61.5

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
4,073 19 14 85.4

JIM FINN[1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 317 5 8 1.6

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
6 31 5.2 0

AMANI TOOMER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 38 82 1,343 8

JEREMY SHOCKEY

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 74 74 894 2

LUKE PETITGOUT

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'6" 310 lbs. 16 16

RICH SEUBERT

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'5" 305 lbs 16 16

CHRIS BOBER

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'5" 310 lbs. 15 15

DAVID DIEHL (R)[1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 310 lbs. 12 12

IAN ALLEN

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'4" 320 lbs. 3 0

IKE HILLIARD

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 148 27 386 2

DEFENSE

RE KENNY HOLMES 47 tackles 8 sacks
RT KEITH HAMILTON 14 tackles 0 sacks
LT CORNELIUS GRIFFIN 49 tackles 4 sacks
LE MICHAEL STRAHAN 71 tackles 11 sacks
OLB BRANDON SHORT 87 tackles 3 sacks
MLB MIKE BARROW 110 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
OLB DHANI JONES 82 tackles 0 sacks
CB WILL PETERSON 40 tackles 2 int.
SS SHAUN WILLIAMS 90 tackles 2 int.
FS OMAR STOUTMIRE 81 tackles 0 int.
CB WILL ALLEN 55 tackles 1 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K MIKE HOLLIS[1] 207 40/40 XPS 25/33 FGS 115 PTS.
PR BRIAN MITCHELL[1] 290 46 RET. 12.3 AVG. 1 TD
KR BRIAN MITCHELL[1] 290 43 RET. 27.0 AVG. 0 TDS
P JEFF FEAGLES[1] 61 PUNTS 41.7 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"The O-line could be their downfall, especially on the right
side. Allen is awful."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)