3 New York Giants

It's a make-or-break year for the coach and quarterback, and the team's alltime best runner is gone. No pressure, though
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> Although hehas guided the Giants to the playoffs for the past two seasons, Tom Coughlin isdoing his best to shed the Dead Coach Walking tag, importing Chris Palmer asquarterbacks coach and Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Palmer, alongtime NFL assistant and the first coach of the reborn Browns, will assumethe task of molding Eli Manning into a dependable QB, which is more necessarythan ever after the retirement of Tiki Barber, the team's rushing leader inevery game over the past five seasons. Coughlin hired Spagnuolo, fresh offeight seasons under Eagles defensive mastermind Jim Johnson, to injectaggression into a feckless unit that ranked 25th in the league and producedjust 2.0 sacks and 1.7 turnovers per game.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> In campPalmer frequently ran his charges through a drill new to the Giants. After thequarterbacks took their drops he'd bark out a color corresponding to one of sixnets positioned 20 to 25 yards away; they instantly had to set their feet andfire at the appropriate target. "It requires you to be able not only tofocus but to get your body in the right position to deliver the ball," saysCoughlin. "We've already seen progress."

While JaredLorenzen, Tim Hasselbeck and Anthony Wright presumably benefited, there's nodoubt for whom the drill was meant. Manning had a career-high completionpercentage of 57.7% in 2006, his second full season as the starter, but thatranked him one spot ahead of--gasp!--Joey Harrington. Manning began on a roll,connecting on 66.4% of his throws and achieving a 95.5 passer rating inthree September games; in four games in November, however, he completed just52.7% and struggled to a miserable 52.9 rating. The low point was a shockingNov. 26 loss at Tennessee, in which Manning threw a pair of uglyfourth-quarter interceptions to Pacman Jones that helped the Titans score 24unanswered points and win by a field goal.

Still, by somemeasures Manning has been one of the league's top quarterbacks over the lasttwo years. He ranks sixth in completions (595) and passing yards (7,006), fifthin touchdown passes (48) and, perhaps most impressive, tied for fifth in wins(19). "It's not like he hasn't done a thing," says new general managerJerry Reese. "If he wasn't the New York Giants' quarterback and if hewasn't a Manning, everybody would be telling me how good this kid is."

Manning's 2006season didn't really start to crumble until Amani Toomer went out with a tornACL after the eighth game. No other receiver--particularly not Tim Carter, whocaught only 11 balls in six games as Toomer's replacement--established himselfas a third downfield threat behind wideout Plaxico Burress and tight end JeremyShockey, both of whom regularly drew double teams. Even if Toomer doesn'tcompletely recover, a healthy Sinorice Moss, who played just six games as arookie because of a quadriceps injury, or the sure-handed Steve Smith, asecond-round pick from USC, should fill the void.

Of course, NewYork's top offensive option this millennium has gone from being Manning'ssidekick to Matt Lauer's. The Giants will try to fill the very big hole left byBarber with a very big man in Brandon Jacobs. The 6' 4", 264-pound Jacobshas proved his mettle as a short-yardage back, with 16 touchdowns in the lasttwo years--only 10 players, all of whom have had at least twice Jacobs'stouches, rushed for more--but in 135 career attempts he has just one run ofmore than 20 yards. "I've only done what my team has asked me to do,"says Jacobs. "Now I'm looking to show people that I'm a running back, allaround." Reese says that Jacobs, despite his bulk, has the speed to be agamebreaker: "If he and Tiki Barber raced in a 40-yard dash, I thinkBrandon could beat Tiki."

The Giants alsoplan to feature a Jacobs-sized strongside linebacker in 6' 5", 265-poundMathias Kiwanuka. In addition to getting the 2006 first-round pick from BostonCollege more snaps--he spent much of '06 backing up defensive ends MichaelStrahan and Osi Umenyiora--New York needs to strengthen a linebacking corpsshort on experience and talent beyond veteran Antonio Pierce. Kiwanuka shouldhelp the 'backers improve on their paltry six sacks in '06, and he has quicklygrasped the other demands of his new position. "Our focus as linebackers isgoing to be attack-style football," says Kiwanuka. "We're just goingafter it. We're going to go get the ball."

In reference tothe endless gossip and speculation that many Giants believe derailed their 2006season, players and staff began wearing T-shirts emblazoned with talk is cheap.play the game. Then Strahan's contract dispute marred camp, and the talkinstantly resumed. But chatter will be the least of Coughlin's worries ifManning fails to improve significantly or the defense doesn't develop a fierynew identity. Finding a new job will top that list.--B.R.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH TOMCOUGHLIN (93-83 in NFL), fourth season with Giants

OFFENSE

PLAXICOBURRESS

POS WR

REC 63

YARDS 988

TD 10

BRANDONJACOBS

POS RB

ATT 96

YARDS 423

AVG 4.4

REC 11

YARDS 149

AVG 13.5

TD 9

ELI MANNING

POS QB

ATT 522

COMP 301

PCT 57.7

YARDS 3,244

TD 24

INT 18

RATING 77.0

ROBERT DOUGLAS(R)*

POS FB

ATT 14

YARDS 62

AVG 4.4

REC 7

YARDS 113

AVG 16.1

TD 4

AMANI TOOMER

POS WR

REC 32

YARDS 360

TD 3

KAREEMMCKENZIE

POS RT

HT 6' 6"

WT 327

G 15

CHRIS SNEE

POS RG

HT 6' 3"

WT 317

G 16

SHAUN O'HARA

POS C

HT 6' 3"

WT 303

G 15

RICH SEUBERT

POS LG

HT 6' 3"

WT 310

G 14

DAVID DIEHL

POS LT

HT 6' 5"

WT 319

G 16

JEREMYSHOCKEY

POS TE

REC 66

YARDS 623

TD 7

LAWRENCE TYNES(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS K

FG 24-31

POINTS 107


DEFENSE

KAWIKA MITCHELL(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS WLB

TACKLES 104

SACKS 1 1/2

INT 1

MICHAELSTRAHAN

POS LE

TACKLES 38

SACKS 3

BARRY COFIELD

POS LT

TACKLES 44

SACKS 1 1/2

FRED ROBBINS

POS RT

TACKLES 45

SACKS 5 1/2

OSI UMENYIORA

POS RE

TACKLES 31

SACKS 6

MATHIASKIWANUKA

POS SLB

TACKLES 53

SACKS 4

INT 2

R.W.MCQUARTERS

POS CB

TACKLES 56

INT 2

GIBRIL WILSON

POS FS

TACKLES 100

SACKS 0

INT 2

ANTONIOPIERCE

POS MLB

TACKLES 137

SACKS 1

INT 1

JAMES BUTLER

POS SS

TACKLES 26

SACKS 0

INT 0

SAM MADISON

POS CB

TACKLES 39

SACKS 0

INT 2

JEFF FEAGLES

POS P

PUNTS 77

AVG 40.2

NEW ACQUISITION(R) Rookie (college statistics) *2004 Stats

> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 7/19/14 DEFENSE 14/28/25

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

9 at Dallas

16 GREEN BAY

23 at Washington

30 PHILADELPHIA

OCTOBER

7 N.Y. JETS

15 at Atlanta (M)

21 SAN FRANCISCO

28 vs. Miami

(London)

NOVEMBER

4 Bye

11 DALLAS

18 at Detroit

25 MINNESOTA

DECEMBER

2 at Chicago

9 at Philadelphia

16 WASHINGTON

23 at Buffalo

29 NEW ENGLAND (S)

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank ... T21

Opponents' 2006 winning percentage ... .496

Games against playoff teams ... 7

(M) Monday (S) Saturday

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PHOTOBOB DONNAN/US PRESSWIRE IN THEZONE Jacobs, who proved himself as a goal line back, now gets the No. 1call. PHOTOEVAN PINKUS/WIREIMAGE.COM ILLUSTRATION
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)