PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The Giants had a dilemma in training camp. Head coach Tom Coughlin was going to have to pick the veteran QB Kurt Warner, signed as a free agent when he was released by St. Louis, or the first pick in the NFL draft, Eli Manning. <BR><BR>

He never said exactly, but the indications are that he never doubted that he would pick Warner, and so he did. Through five games, Warner's experience and leadership abilities have been unquestioned, and he has motivated many of the offensive players, who were on cruise control last season, to step up and play harder.

He has elicited improvement from the WRs, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. He has cajoled TE Jeremy Shockey through a change in responsibilities (he is now more of an H-back), and the added blocking chores didn't sit well at first. Shockey wanted to catch the ball, and lately he has -- some think because of Warner's intercession with the coaches.

Of potentially critical importance is the loss for the season of the third WR, Tim Carter, who suffered a fractured hip socket in the victory over Dallas immediately before the bye. If rookie Jamaar Taylor can't fill in adequately, there could be a serious problem.

The O-line has played far better than it expected, and Warner's ability to "move in a phone booth" has played a large part. He isn't fast and he isn't a Vick-like scrambler, but he has a sixth sense about pressure and onrushing danger and can take a half-step to one side or another to buy time. Through the five games, he has thrown just one interception in 147 attempts, gaining 1,125 yards. His QB rating is 91.8, and he has completed 64.7 percent of his passes.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Grand Experiment with Ron Dayne appears to have gone sour, but the starting RB, Tiki Barber, has performed well above any expectations. He has gained 577 yards in 96 attempts, added 19 receptions for 240 yards, scored four TDs (one more than all of last season) and his 817 yards from scrimmage leads the NFL in that category.

The O-line has been opening all the holes he needs. "I am getting great blocking," he says. "I didn't get anything like this last year."

Rookie RG Chris Snee has been a pleasant surprise (and as husband to Coughlin's daughter, Katie, he is part of the household). David Diehl, who started at RG as a rookie last year, has moved to RT and is doing better than expected. Shaun O'Hara was signed as an UFA from Cleveland and has claimed the job from Day 1. The veteran Luke Petitgout stayed at LT with Jason Whittle, re-acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, filling the one remaining trouble spot. But the running game is flawed because there is no dependable backup. Dayne has been an enormous disappointment, and the recently signed FA Mike Cloud might get a chance when the team returns from its bye week.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The front seven has exactly one of the starters from last year, LDE Michael Strahan. All the others are new and not one of them is a rookie. Keith Washington is the RDE, Norman Hand and Fred Robbins the DTs and the three LBs are strong-side Carlos Emmons, weak-side Barrett Green and five-year reserve Keith Lewis.

The conceptual changes in the defense, courtesy of new coordinator Tim Lewis, turned the unit from a read-and-react study into an aggressive, go-for-the-ball unit. Some bad breaks were weathered, such as the loss of SS Shaun Williams (out for the season, knee) and the loss of FS Omar Stoutmire (also for the season, knee). UFA Brent Alexander replaced Stoutmire with rookie Gibril Wilson (fifth round) stepping in for Williams. Both are playing exceptionally well.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The defense's objective now is to stuff the run up the middle, which is why UFAs Fred Robbins and Norman Hand were signed. The concept brings help into the middle, too, in the form of a safety or a LB.

The defense has shown a bend-but-don't-break spirit, with Hand and Robbins being incredibly competent and an indication that teams are now attempting to avoid the stone wall in the middle. Strahan is still the leader of the pack, and has played far better than in the recent past (which was still outstanding). He is clearly one of the two or three top DEs in the league, and the new defense often has him moving from spot to spot and even dropping back into pass coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- There still hasn't been a breakout return, and Coughlin is still searching for an electrifying return specialist. But overall, coverage has been better and opposing teams are starting from deeper in their own territory, as compared to the soft underbelly of the special teams that often provided outstanding field position to the enemy. New defensive coordinator Mike Sweatman, in his second tour of duty with the Giants, has effected major improvement but not the kind that shows itself in statistics.

Punter Jeff Feagles has been remarkable with his accuracy on position punting and his distance when told to kick away. PK Steve Christie survived a horrible game vs. Green Bay (zero for three, including FG attempts from 30 and 33) with a 4-for-4 day in Dallas, including one of 51 and another of 47.

Mark Jones, obtained on waivers after the season started, is now the full-time punt returner, while another FA, Mike Cloud, appears to have replaced Willie Ponder as the kickoff-return man. Neither has been superlative.

COACHING: B -- Coughlin has brought order out of chaos, discipline out of country club and focus out of too many off-the-field appearances. His taciturn demeanor has turned off many players, not to mention the media that covers the team (no access to assistant coaches, no viewing of practices, shorter interview times with the head coach). But it's working, and as the players will now admit, winning solves a battery of problems.

His choice of assistants has so far proved to be accurate. Tim Lewis is controlling the defense with an equally heavy hand, but the players have come to rally around him. John Hufnagel, the offensive coordinator, has worked hard to put the passing game back into the offense and yet keep the running game the first priority.

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