Reality Check - glass half empty
The competitionTrue, Giants are on a 2 game winning streak. But let's be clear: the Vikings and Eagles are not good football teams. Giants still have not beaten a team with a competent starting QB. Josh Freeman has a strong arm and is physically gifted, but his accuracy is awful. He was so wild with his throws that he made former Giant QB great Dave Brown look like an all pro. Michael Vick, while also physically gifted, we must admit is an awful QB. He makes some plays that make you marvel at his physical ability, and he steals some games with that talent that he has no business winning. While he throws a nice deep ball, he is a terrible decision maker, has no touch on the ball for the medium routes and is not a good team leader. On top of that he had a bad hammy and could not use his best quality - speed. So even though the Giants defense played better in these two games, they weren't exactly facing Joe Montana.
Offensive DisappointmentGiants came into the season thinking that they had a boat load of offensive weapons with Wilson and Brown at RB; Randle, Nicks and Cruz at WR. If they could block for the QB, Giants would be a high powered offense and score lots of points. But the harsh reality is that the OL could not block and was much worse than anyone anticipated. On top of that, the best OL-man Snee was hurt as was C Baas. Boothe at the other G seems to have slipped from the mediocre level he was at last year, Beatty had a few bad games and Pugh had some rookie problems. The OL has been worse than Giants needed it to be, but the offensive weapons have been degraded also. Wilson and Brown have been hurt and contributed nothing, except for a bunch of fumbles and missed assignments which cost the team the Cowboys game. More worrisome to me is the WR corps, where Randle's routes seem to be as predictable as a random number generator, leading to 6 of Eli's 15 interceptions. Nicks, who was supposed to be the deep threat, the straw that stirs the drink of the Giants passing attack, has been very mediocre. He just doesn't have the burst he showed in previous years, rarely gets separation deep and has been uncharacteristically dropping balls with his greatest strength, his hands. Every pass he catches requires a perfect, pinpoint throw from Eli and that is a recipe for a high risk offense. Nicks looks more like he did last year when he was injured than he did in 2011 when he was an absolute beast and was my MVP of the playoffs, right after Eli. The deep passing attack that Giants use is particularly vulnerable to bad OL play because the QB has to hold the ball longer.
Defense under parDefense has been tentative and has been getting beat late in games, especially. They have had very good run defense all year, with the inflow of quality DTs, but the pass rush has been invisible and the LBs have been mediocre. The coverage and tackling in the DB-field has been good, but the safe, completely predictable, keep-everything-in-front-of-you zone that Fewell plays is just too easy for opposing offenses to scheme against.
A glimmer of optimism - glass half full
Personnel upgradesGiants have won the last two games not only because the same old players played better and not only because they were playing two crappy teams. They have made a few key personnel changes which have really changed things up and may provide some hope. Specifically: Beason has been a real find at LB, shoring up a mediocre LB unit. He has been particularly good in the middle against the pass and has made plays in the running game also. On offense, everyone wants to look at the addition of Hillis as a benefit and he has been fine, I agree. But the real addition has been Conners at FB. You can't get a running game without blocking at the point of attack and that often is led by the TE and the FB. Using Pascoe at FB after Hynoski got hurt was just not going to power the Giants running game. Pascoe is just not physical and athletic enough. Conners has been great at FB in the running game and is an excellent pass blocker also. With a weak OL, the FB is not going to transform it into a power running team, but it helps. The addition of Will Hill at S has been a real plus. He could become an all pro S some day and is an enormous upgrade over Ryan Mundy who is not fast enough to give the defense any help in pass coverage. In addition to these new players, there have been a few players that have settled into their roles since the beginning of the season and are improving. Specifically, Terrell Thomas looks like he has really regained his form and is running smoothly and tackling well. He had a great game against the Eagles Sunday. Cordle is improving at C. He was shaky at the beginning when he replaced Baas and has been steady recently. Pugh is also getting better every game at RT, not surprising that a rookie would struggle early. Diehl and Boothe seem to be the weak points in the OL and they are tough to hide.
Coaching philosophy changesI give crap on this blog to the coordinators all the time and it's time to 'fess up and give them their props when they do something good. On offense, Gilbride is fond of the long passing game and it is a reasonable strategy with a strong armed, capable QB. But when the OL can't block, you can't ask Eli to hold the ball for 4-5 seconds and take 5-7 step drops all the time. Gilbride in the last 2 games has completely changed the offense and has gone to a mostly short, safe passing game. The ball comes out of Eli' hand in 2-3 seconds instead of having to hold it for 4-5 seconds. The offense was average against the Vikings, but was better against the Eagles. When you have that short passing game, it's tougher to get in the end zone, but there were no turnovers by the offense and 5 scoring drives. If 2 of the 5 had been TDs, the game would have looked a lot better. In fact, some of the drives were stopped by procedure penalties and delay of game, rather than weakness in the offense.
On defense, the players and the DC made a lot out of the new approach since half time of the Bears game. The players approached Fewell and told him that the reads and the keys on defense were too complicated, slowing the players down and not allowing them to play fast and loose. To his credit, he simplified the defense and the Giants have not given up an offensive TD since half time of that bears game, a span of 10 quarters.
The hope - the realityThe hope has to be that the interior of the OL plays a little better, that Nicks finds his burst after he takes a bye week off, that the defense continues to improve and the Giants get back in the race. Giants are 2-6 but only 2 games behind Dallas. If they had not turned the ball over 5 times opening night and had won that game, they would actually be tied for first with them now at 3-5.
The worry has to be that the tough part of the schedule is in front of the Giants with games against Green Bay, Seattle and Dallas. For them to win a few games and have a decent close to the season is a reasonable expectations. To hope / expect them to actually win the division is probably too much to ask for.