Introducing The NFC Champion New York Giants

The SportsNotebook’s Super Bowl preparation today consists of an in-depth look at each team’s starting lineups. Click here to check out the New England Patriots. Below is an analysis of the New York Giants. Each player’s age is in parentheses…

Quarterback: Eli Manning (31)—You already know Eli had the best year of his career, so I won’t waste space by going too much into why. Keep in mind though, that his numbers still came up short of Tom Brady’s (4900 yards to 5200 and a 29-16 TD-INTO ratio to a 39-12), and that’s even with Eli having the better receivers. I’ve been a critic of his throughout his career and maybe old habits die hard, but the question of whether you take Eli or Brady is self-evidently answered by the numbers this season alone, not to mention the career body of work.

Running Backs: Ahmad Bradshaw (25), Brandon Jacobs (29)—A perfect yin and yang combo, with Bradshaw being shifty and Jacobs being a power runner. Throughout the postseason, TheSportsNotebook wasted no shortage of space in pointing out that the Giants’ rush game had the worst per-carry average in the NFC. It was fair enough to point it out, but that seems like so long ago that it’s no longer relevant. It was a tough season for the two backs, health and production-wise, but it looks like they’re hitting on all cylinders right now.

Wide Receivers: Hakeem Nicks (24), Victor Cruz (25), Mario Manningham (25)—What all of these receivers have in common is an ability to make plays after the catch. Cruz moves well in space, while Nicks and Manningham have very good physical strength to break tackles. Manningham is the #3 receiver and likely to play a big role on Sunday, given the lack of Patriot depth in the secondary. Nicks and Cruz are both 1,000 yard receivers.

Tight Ends: Jake Ballard (24), Travis Beckum (25)—The Giants don’t get a lot of production out of this spot and I wouldn’t expect a lot from Ballard. Beckum is the backup and an interesting X-factor. He only caught five passes this year, but he has great speed. Since he’s a former Wisconsin player and that’s who I follow in college I have to give him some props here, and there’s no one in the Patriot linebacking group that could cover him in space, nor could the strong safety. While Beckum hasn’t had the kind of NFL career that fellow Badger TE Owen Daniels has in Houston, this could be a breakout moment.

Offensive Line: David Baas (C, 30), Kevin Boothe (LG, 28), Chris Snee (RG, 30), David Diehl (LT, 30), Kareem McKenzie (32, RT)—This group is both talented and experienced. The only weak link is at left guard with Boothe, but Baas and Snee are both very physical at the point of attack and win high marks from ESPN’s Scouts Inc for their lateral movement and technique. The tackles, Diehl and McKenzie are both tough off the ball and can establish the run. McKenzie, who is on the right side, can be beaten with a quick first step, but if he gets his hands in position first it’s all over.

Defensive Line: Justin Tuck (DE, 28), Jason Pierre-Paul (23, DE), Osi Umenyiora (DE, 30), Linval Joseph (DT, 23), Chris Canty (DT, 29)–The Giants defensive line’s reputation precedes itself and its well-deserved. Tuck, who should have been the MVP of the Super Bowl four years ago was slowed by injuries this year, but he is healthy and very quick on the defensive end. Pierre-Paul was perhaps the best defensive end in the NFL this season, getting 16.5 sacks and is a pure pass-rushing talent. Umenyiora has ankle and knee problems and his effectiveness on Sunday remains to be seen. On the inside, Canty is not a great pass rusher, but he does his job and anchors the middle against the run, and even if he doesn’t collapse the pocket, his 6’7” frame gives him the ability to get his arms up and distract short passes over the middle—the kind the New England offense lives off of.

Linebackers: Mathias Kiwanuka (28, OLB), Chas Blackburn (MLB, 28), Michael Boley (OLB, 29)—This is a unit that’s better in pass coverage than against the run. Boley is fast and both covers and pursues well, but if you can get the first block on him than he’s got problems. Blackburn is another one who needs to beat an offensive lineman to the spot rather than try and shed a block. Kiwanuka is a quick pass rusher, and might rack up big sack numbers if he were on the outside in a 3-4 scheme.

Secondary: Corey Webster (CB, 29), Aaron Ross (CB, 29), Antrel Rolle (FS, 29), Kenny Phillips (SS, 25)—Rolle is the one who’s been doing the talking in the media this week, but I also believe he’s the weak link in another otherwise solid secondary. Rolle defends the run well, but only has two interceptions and can be beaten deep. Webster and Ross are both solid and steady cover man, who each hawk the ball well, combining for ten picks. Webster wins high marks from the scouts for his run support, as does strong safety Kenny Phillips, who can stop the run, intercept passes and run with the tight end, a factor that will be huge against New England. Whether he can wrap up the lumbering Rob Gronkowski is another matter, but he’ll be in the picture.

Special Teams: Lawrence Tynes has hit two overtime kicks in his career to win NFC Championship Games and neither was a chip-shot and neither was in good conditions, so he’s been tested under pressure. He’s numbers suggest some shakiness in the crucial 40s range, but I have a hard time holding that against a kicker in the windy Meadowlands, who’s now coming to a dome. Steve Weatherford does a good job punting, and the coverage team is adequate. Return men Jerrel Jernigan on kickoffs and Will Blackmon on punts have done nothing to distinguish themselves.