The NFL is a brutal, unforgiving league that does not give credence to past accomplishments; nor does it allow players to skate by on personal accolades. When players step onto the field, it no longer matters how many Super Bowl's they have won, how many MVP trophies they have collected, or even how many words of encouragement they have received from their coaches. On Sunday, the only thing that can help a player get his team a victory is his ability to perform at a high level at that specific moment in time.
The 2011 New York Giants' improbable Super Bowl run was due in large part to their ability to play with a ferocious intensity against elite competition. They did not care if they were playing the 15-1 defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on the road, or the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots. Big Blue did not ever flinch at their opponent, and this attitude was a major factor in their Super Bowl victory.
However, last year the NFL saw a perennial contender in the Indianapolis Colts become the worst team in the league seemingly overnight, and the San Francisco 49ers go from 6-10 in 2010 to the NFC Championship Game in 2011. Every year there are teams that either under perform or outperform their expectations, and being the previous year's Super Bowl champion does not exempt a team from this precedent.
The 1986 New York Giants went from 14-2 Super Bowl champions to a 6-9 record in 1987. In fact, since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, only six teams have defended their respective titles. There are no guarantees in this league and every team will be gunning to throw the Giants off their championship pedestal; however, the 2012 New York Giants have all the pieces to make a run at another Super Bowl victory. Below, we will examine what needs to happen for Big Blue to hoist another Lombardi Trophy in 2012.
Key Players Must Stay Healthy - This is a fairly obvious statement; however, this sentiment can not be overstated. Several teams have gone into a season with lofty expectations, only to see their dreams derailed by injury. For example, last season we saw the Houston Texans put together a great team, only to have their first and second string quarterbacks get injured in consecutive weeks, effectively ending any serious Super Bowl aspirations they may have had. For the Giants to have any chance at a repeat this year, it is imperative that the key contributors can stay relatively healthy and be available for big games. Hakeem Nicks has already gone down with a broken bone in his right foot, but hopefully the rest of the Giants core can avoid the injury bug for the 2012 season.
Must Survive a Tenacious Schedule – Speaking of big games, the 2012 New York Giants will have plenty of them. On top of playing their annual divisional bouts, Big Blue will face seven playoff teams from 2011. Although the schedule seems daunting, it does not have to be viewed as a bad thing. Last year, the Giants played their best football against the better teams on their schedule. If they can find their way into the playoffs, the Giants will be more battle tested than every team they face.
Running Game Must Improve – Tom Coughlin and the rest of the Giants' coaching staff are going to ask a lot from rookie first round pick David Wilson and last year's third string running back D.J. Ware. With Brandon Jacobs gone and Ahmad Bradshaw's chronic foot issues, it is likely that one of these two running backs will be the starter for the Giants in one or more games this season. For the Giants to defend their title in 2012, not only does Ahmad Bradshaw have to stay healthy, but Wilson, Ware, and even Da'Rel Scott will have to be ready to produce in a big way.
Pass Rush Must Be Explosive – The emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul provided a needed boost to the Giants pass rush last season. At times, the pass rush became stagnant, which allowed opponents to carve up the Giants secondary. With such a tough schedule, the Giants can not afford to have games where the pass rush does not show up and produce. The Giants defense is only as good as its pass rush allows it to be, so look for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to keep getting after the quarterback in 2012.
Eli Manning Must Keep Getting Better - In 2009, Eli Manning had a better quarterback rating (93.1), a better completion percentage (62.3), and less interceptions (14) than he did in 2011(92.9/61.0/16 respectively); however, he followed up his 2009 season with fairly inconsistent play in 2010. Although 2011 was clearly Eli Manning's best season, it is not inconceivable that he does takes a small step back this year. Eli needs to build off last season and get better for the Giants to have a chance at winning a fifth Lombardi Trophy in 2011.
The New York Giants have a core of young players that are capable of making them a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Furthermore, they have one of the best (maybe even the best) coaches in the league in Tom Coughlin. With that being said, Big Blue, just like every other team, has a lot of work to do and several issues to solve if they want to win a title in 2012.
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