Hixon looks like he will be a good player, but Burress, despite somewhat limited production this year, is a star and one of the top WR's in the game. Hixon is inexperienced and, truthfully, we just don't know how good he will be. There's always a huge difference between a player that plays every play, every down, every game and achieves a consistent level of performance versus one that plays occasionally as a substitute and shows flashes of brilliance in his limited opportunities. It is true in every sport but particularly true in football when the stress and drain of the game wears on the players, where the challenge to play against different types of defenses, in different weather conditions and under pressure conditions distinguish the flash-in-the-pan or the one-time-wonder looking to capitalize on a few good plays from the star who has a record of excellent performance in all circumstances.
We clearly have not seen enough from Hixon to be confident that he will be able to replace Burress without the Giants suffering a drop off in the productivity of their offense. Burress was a unique kind of player. He was not the fastest WR in the league, but he was fast enough to get deep and his incredible size and ability to catch the ball in traffic meant that he did not need to beat his man by 3 yards. Eli could throw it up high for him and he would come down with it in traffic. Burress ran great routes and was a real student of the game. He was strong and could occasionally overpower a defender once he had the ball in his hands. No matter how well Hixon plays, the Giants offense will be reduced by the Burress absence. The Giants had no choice but to separate him from the team - it's not their fault. But his absence will hurt.
Even this year when his productivity was not impressive, he demanded double teams all the time and changed the balance of the passing game by his mere presence on the field. Going back a few years, when LT was playing for the Giants in the late '80s and early '90s, opposing offenses had to game plan for him, had to worry where he was going to line up and had 2 or 3 blockers paying attention to him. During one stretch, LT had an ankle injury and missed a few games and the dominant Giants defense took a big hit. LT did not make every tackle when he was out there - but when he was gone, suddenly the Giants defense was playing 11 against 11 instead of 10 against 8. When LT was out there, the opposing offense had 2 or 3 guys blocking him so the other 10 on the defense had 8 guys that they had to defend against and worry about. It is somewhat analogous with Burress - he was double teamed much of the time opening up passing lanes and running lanes for the rest of the offense. We'll see now how effective Boss can be, how effective Smith will be, whether Toomer can still make some plays when the opposing safeties and defense can play straight up.
Fortunately, I think that Eli has progressed so much as a qb in the area of making the right reads, making the right decisions, making accurate throws and executing great ball placement on his throws, that I don't think the defense will crash. If guys get open, he will still be able to find them. In fact, Eli is the perfect qb to handle this situation. The offense won't disintegrate, but it certainly will decline.
I think the offense has to change its tone a little bit and become more aggressive with deeper throws in the passing game to regain the respect or the fear of defenses and compensate for the loss of Burress. Giants have not thrown a lot of deep balls in this middle part of the season. They relied on the fact that the running game was very effective, they moved the chains with their passing game and threw medium and deep passes just enough to keep the defenses honest and to make it easier to score. Now, with Burress out, you can guarantee that the Giants will see lots of 8 man fronts from opposing defenses and Giants have to take what the defense gives them. If they take away the run, Giants have to pass. Throwing 5 yard hitches and hooks will not get the defense worried and move them off the line of scrimmage. Giants should use Moss more effectively, on deep routes, because he is the fastest of the Giants WR's after Hixon. Giants have to be a little less predictable because the dominant position of their offensive personnel is somewhat diminished. They have to change their style subtly to regain the balance on their offense.