SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Why are the New York Giants Better This Year?

I was listening on my drive to pick up lunch to WFAN, and I heard the Giants' O-lineman Shaun O'Hara being interviewed. The Giants are 6-2, playing well, have a defense that is very strong after a rough couple of weeks at the season's outset and have a more confident Eli Manning.

I have two main theories:

1. The defense needed an attitude adjustment and face lift after last season, and they got it with Steve Spagnuolo, their new defensive coordinator who learned from the master, Jim Johnson, in Philadelphia. Spagnuolo implemented an aggressive scheme, and, after some adjustment, the Giants' defense has been awesome.

2. The absence of Tiki Barber and the relative silence of the Giants after Antonio Pierce's unfortunate ruckus earlier in the season. No players are creating media controversies or saying anything silly about teammates to the press. Tiki seemed to talk way too much and then out of school in the recent past, and my guess is that most Giants are very happy that the Hollywood-oriented Barber is gone. Sure, some might have worried that they'd miss his presence on the field (but his replacements are doing quite nicely and the offensive line is playing well), but I doubt they thought they'd miss him in the locker room. Also, and very importantly, I think that Tiki's personality -- intentionally or unintentionally, but it doesn't matter -- eclipsed Eli Manning's and blocked the QB from asserting his role as a primary leader of the offense. With Tiki gone, there is no overwhelming presence in the locker room on the offensive side of the ball, or (given that Jeremy Shockey can be controversial), a presence that eclipse's the quarterback's authority. That absence has to have enabled Eli Manning to relax more and play better.

The big issue for the Giants now is to sustain their momentum for the rest of the season. They've had great starts before and faded badly late in the season. I think that this season will be different, but the Giants will have to prove it to themselves and their fans.