The Giants are 6-2, have won four straight games, and are considered by many to be the top team in the league. But there's still a long way to go before booking a trip to New Orleans in February and at the midway point of the season it's time to look back on what the Giants have done.
Against the ultimate measuring stick, the Giants are doing great. They're scoring 29.2 points per game, best in the NFC and behind only the Patriots. But too many of those points have come from field goals. Lawrence Tynes has already kicked more this year (24) than last year (19). "That's the Achilles heel for us right now," Tom Coughlin said. "Punching the ball in the end zone when we do get into the green zone. We haven't done a very good job of that." The Giants have had 36 possessions inside an opponent's 20, and while they've scored on all but two of them, only 16 were touchdowns.
The offensive line came together well and while the running game is rarely dominant and can disappear for long stretches, it is vastly improved from last year when it finished last in the NFL. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has not been healthy enough to make a big impact, but Victor Cruz has shown that his breakout season in 2011 was no fluke even as defenses have focused more on stopping him. The Giants have shown to have one of the league's deepest offenses as backups such as running back Andre Brown and receivers Ramses Barden and Rueben Randle have been able to step in and succeed. Of course this isn't so much the Giants' offense as it is Eli Manning's offense. We'll get to him in a bit.
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The pass rush was supposed to be the locomotive that pulled the rest of the unit behind it, but for most of the first half they've been struggling. The Cowboys set the blueprint for beating it with quick passes and speed runs on the edge, and the Giants are only now adjusting. Getting Chris Canty back helps a lot. Jason Pierre-Paul is not putting up defensive player of the year stats (5.5 sacks), but he's been disruptive.
The Giants have been surprisingly vulnerable to speed from quarterbacks and running backs such as Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Washington's Robert Griffin III. They have to face both again before this season is over.
Michael Boley has played well and Chase Blackburn has been a surprise at middle linebacker, holding the entire unit together. Antrel Rolle has been much more visible roaming the secondary this year. Stevie Brown leads the team in takeaways with seven (5 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries). Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley have had games in which they looked like budding stars but also games in which they were a bit exposed as inexperienced.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Tynes has been terrific, his only misses on field goals coming on the 54-yarder at the end of the Eagles game that was just beyond his range and a block by the 49ers. Perhaps underappreciated is his work on kickoffs, artfully placing the ball out of harm's way. Steve Weatherford has been equally strong on punts, putting 11 of his 28 inside the 20. Five touchbacks is the only slight disappointment; he had six all of last year.
The real weapon has been rookie David Wilson on kickoff returns. He's had some big ones that have given the Giants incredible field position and an advantage that the team has not had since Rocky Thompson in the 1970s. Still no touchdowns, but just about everyone expects him to be backflipping in the end zone very soon.
Sometimes coaches are graded on the decisions they make. This year, Tom Coughlin and his staff are being measured by the decisions that they had no choice but to make. Injuries forced them to thrust unknown, inexperienced players into critical situations and almost without exception they rose to the occasion. Whether it was either Brown (Andre or Stevie) or Barden or even Sean Locklear, the moves they had to make have worked out.
A few choices have been dubious. Coughlin admitted to mismanaging the end of the Eagles game, and while he didn't admit it, his doghousing of Wilson probably delayed his offensive development.
Overall, though, the staff has managed the expectations, pressures and distractions of being the defending Super Bowl champs. No hangovers here.
They've been, well, rookies. Sometimes they look great, such as when Wilson returns kickoffs, Markus Kuhn steps in to start at defensive tackle, or Randle catches deep passes or fields punt cleanly. Then there are times when they look overmatched, such as when Hosley gets beat in coverage and Wilson fumbles or gets stuffed for a loss. Adrien Robinson and Adewale Ojomo have offered little if nothing. Overall this class of rookies seems rife with potential, if not completely ripe for stardom.
OFFENSIVE MVP: ELI MANNING
Where would the Giants be without him? His calm, steady hand guides the team and is the reason they truly believe no deficit is insurmountable and no time remaining too short. Even when the Giants nearly fell behind the Cowboys with 10 seconds left, there were plenty who likely believed that was plenty of time for another Eli comeback. Although his last two games have not been spectacular, both registered as fourth-quarter comebacks. Manning has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,301 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
DEFENSIVE MVP: STEVIE BROWN
He could be the defensive version of Victor Cruz, a player who comes from deep in the shadows to emerge as a star. So far Brown, who became a starter when Kenny Phillips was hurt in Week 4, has had the most impact plays. Not only has he had a hand in seven turnovers, he's also changed momentum and field position with his 168 return yards. He may not even have a starting job in the second half of the season, but no other defender played his role better or more efficiently in the first half.