It’s only the preseason, so it’s still early enough for New York Giant fans to believe in their team’s chances when the 2010 NFL season counts for real.
Then again, with the starters’ work now completed after the final preseason dress rehearsal, the performance of the Giants’ defense over the first three weeks of the preseason might give Giants’ fans cause to worry now rather than later.
While the Giants have been severely bitten by the injury bug –- especially on defense — ever since their 2010 training camp began, there have been enough chances for Giant defensive starters and other key pieces to demonstrate that a revival of a sound, tough Big Blue defense that was absent after Week 5 last year might be on the horizon this season.
With the departure of last year’s defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, for whom many players on the Giants’ defense inexcusably laid down last year, things were supposed to be vastly different under the direction of the Giants’ fiery new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
And, they may yet be different. Thus far, however, it’s looked like 2009 all over again.
The Giants’ offense, also hurt by injuries this preseason, has likewise been less than impressive, but that unit figures to able to get healthy and back in sync soon, with the same weapons that performed well last year.
New York’s 2010 success then appears to depend more on a defense that despite its own injury problems, has shown many of the same red flags this season from a disappointing 3-8 finish to last season.
Though the Giants won their 2010 preseason opener against the New York Jets, the first-string Jets were able to move the ball well both through the air and on the ground against those who were healthy enough to be on the field among the Giants’ defensive starters.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to do the same in defeating the Giants the last week.
And, Saturday night in Baltimore, the Ravens became the third straight team to give Giants’ fans awful reminders of last season during Baltimore’s 24-10 victory over New York.
Most glaring, were two areas that plagued the Giants most a season ago –- a lack of pressure up front and leaving receivers to roam untouched over the middle of the field.
Those two areas were on display the most with the connections of Ravens’ starting quarterback Joe Flacco and his two-time pro bowl tight end Todd Heap, who caught a game-high six passes for 69 yards.
The Giants, as they did a year ago, were outmuscled in the trenches slow to react beyond the line, while repeatedly allowing Flacco to comfortably stand in the pocket and complete 21 of 34 passes for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Just as alarming, Flacco completed 6 of 7 passes on the Ravens’ fourth possession of the game, with half of those completions going to Heap for double-digit yardage. On the drive, Heap caught a 21-yard pass over the middle for a first down, an 11-yard pass for a first down on fourth-and-2, and finished the 10-play, 77-yard drive with a brilliant, lunging 13-yard grab over the middle for a touchdown.
Bad indications, for sure, but it’s too soon to panic. After all, the Giants’ defense looked as bad as can be in the beginning under former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, in 2007. The Giants allowed 80 points in their first two regular season games that year before later using a relentless pressuring defense to shut down one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history to win Super Bowl XLII.
So, with some of Fewell’s system still being new to the Giants; with new pieces such as linebacker Keith Bulluck, safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant, and rookies Linval Joseph, and Jason Pierre-Paul being added to the mix; and with the likes of defensive tackle Chris Canty, cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas, safety Michael Johnson, and spirited linebacker Chase Blackburn all missing Saturday’s game with injuries, Giant fans can point to Spagnuolo’s 2007 turnaround and have some patience with Fewell’s defense this year.
Still, until Giant fans actually see some significant improvement from the defensive debacle they witnessed last year, the big night for Flacco and Heap was a 2010 preseason continuation that is for now, causing a heap of concern among Big Blue nation.