In retrospect, maybe we should have seen the run coming. After all, the New York Giants were 6-2 after eight games. The Giants were left for dead after losing four games in a row, but three of those defeats were by a touchdown or less.
But it was after a second loss to Washington dropped New York’s record to 7-7 that something clicked and this team went on one of the more dominant runs seen in awhile. So what happened? And what do the Giants have to do in order to stay on top?
Zoneblitz: You can’t do much better than a Super Bowl championship. But at one point this team was 7-7. What caused the turnaround?
Ed Valentine: I think the Giants got healthy on defense. They also all bought in and played as a unit. That might seem like a small thing, but the “All In” phrase they came up with was a mantra for them.
Zoneblitz: How is this team set up to remain competitive and push for another deep run in 2012 and beyond?
Valentine: This team will remain competitive as long as Eli Manning is healthy and in his prime years, Tom Coughlin is the coach and Jerry Reese is the GM. They aren’t perfect, but the Giants are smart, they know what they want and what they are, they build a team the right way and they will always be in the mix. Can they make another deep run in 2012? Too many variables with injuries and all to be able to predict that with any certainty.
Zoneblitz: Eli Manning really took his game to another level in 2011. Where do you think he ranks among NFL quarterbacks and what do you expect to see from him in 2012?
Valentine: He is top tier, maybe top five or six in my mind. I would expect to see what you always get from Eli — fearless competitiveness, some big plays, some ugly ones, lots of passing yards and another outstanding season.
Zoneblitz: One thing that struck me was the relentless pass rush from about four different defensive ends. There has been some talk that Osi Umenyiora is unhappy. Will all those guys be back next year?
Valentine: It looks that way. It seems like winning has cured a lot of what ails Umenyiora. He could still be traded, but a team will have to pony up a pretty good offer, I think.
Zoneblitz: The run game was inconsistent throughout 2011. Brandon Jacobs has been released and Ahmad Bradshaw has some physical issues? Who will join him in the backfield in 2012?
Valentine: The real question now is whether the Giants will give a full opportunity to Da’Rel Scott, a seventh-round draft choice in 2011, or use a fairly high draft choice on a running back this April.
Zoneblitz: The wide receiver play all season was fantastic. Can Victor Cruz repeat his 2011 performance? And what happens with Mario Manningham?
Valentine: Manningham is out the door. Cruz will be good, but he will also be a marked man. Let’s see how he handles fame, how he handles the offseason, how happy/unhappy he is about his contract when the season starts.
Zoneblitz: I read where the Giants have to make a lot of decisions on free agent defensive backs. How will that shake out?
Valentine: Well, the primary questions revolve around Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas. Ross started this season after Thomas was injured. The expectation is that Ross will be let go and Thomas will be kept, but we will see.
Zoneblitz: The Giants just franchise-tagged a punter. How important was Steve Weatherford in the team’s success and is he worth that commitment?
Valentine: He was incredibly important, and after what the Giants suffered through with Matt Dodge during 2010 he is certainly worth the commitment.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Giants do in free agency and the draft?
Valentine: For me, the Giants need to add some youth to their offensive line. I think they also need a running back, and definitely need to add at least one tight end.