Who is Coughlin's most valuable lieutenant?

Paul Schwartz: What a rare treat the bye week brought you and me both. I enjoyed going pumpkin picking with my family; you went gaga after returning to Happy Valley to see your beloved Penn State knock off Ohio State. Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the really significant development to come out of the bye:

Tom Coughlin lifted the cone of silence and allowed his assistant coaches to utter a few sentences to the media. Many of these guys have played key roles in the fast 3-1 start, but if I had to pick a MVC (Most Valuable Coach) from Coughlin's staff it would be Mike Sweatman. You may disagree, but if you do then you aren't paying enough attention to special teams. Sweatman's title is special teams coordinator, and he has successfully brought together a disparate group of players, most of them first- and second-year kids, and turned them into cohesive units. Even someone who has burned up as many brain cells as you can remember back not long ago when the Giants were a laughingstock on special teams. They couldn't return or cover or kick or punt. Other than that, they were fine. Look at them now. Willie Ponder is a force on kickoff returns. Chad Morton is a force on punt returns. David Tyree is the coverage demon that's so rare to find. Young guns like Chase Blackburn and James Butler pursue the ball like homing pigeons. Sweatman, who has a 22-year NFL track record of excellence, has brought order from chaos and changed the outlook and output of the Giants special teams.

Ken Palmer – Hey everybody, there's Paul out on his famous limb again. Of course Sweatman is valuable, but it took the Giants getting the players before they could succeed on special teams. The key coach on this staff is no doubt Mike Pope. The tight ends coach?!? You betcha. Not only is Pope entrusted to handle the key offensive cog in New York – Jeremy Shockey – but he's done an outstanding job of it. You think a guy like Pope, who's been around for years and seen everything, doesn't have his hands in this successful offensive gameplan? He knows more about offensive schemes and play-calling than many offensive coordinators in the league. Players were crediting Pope for his role in the 2000 offensive outburst that was mostly credited to Sean Payton. While Tom Coughlin, John Hufnagel and Kevin Gilbride are all in charge of making the offense – and Eli Manning – go, it's Mike Pope who contributes the most to this team, via his experience, his demeanor and his offensive brilliance.

PS: I'm a longstanding member of the Mike Pope fan club so you'll get no big argument from me, but he is primarily responsible for one position, not an entire unit the way Sweatman is. Here's one we can debate. I know you aren't sold on what the Giants have done and are capable of doing on offense, which shows you haven't been paying attention. What, has the Devils back playing hockey got you all distracted? The NHL in the regular season! What drama! There's no way the Giants will average a league-leading 34 points a game the way they did in their first four games but there's also no way their attack will sink in the mud. Why such skepticism? Amani Toomer is proven. Plaxico Burress is proven. Jeremy Shockey is proven. You think Tiki Barber is a flash in the pan? Eli Manning isn't proven, yet, but given his work habits and serious-minded approach, there's no reason for Manning to falter as the season progresses. Quite the contrary, he should get better and better. You want to quibble about the line? Fine. I like the offensive line. Abuse me if you want but this group is smart, fairly athletic, healthy and cohesive. They enjoy playing together, with Shaun O'Hara the ringleader of a fairly loose and confident group. They'll be fine. This is no mirage here. The Giants offense is for real. Get used to it.

KP: I, too, believe the Giants offense is for real. I like all the aforementioned parts and the entire unit as a whole. But to think they're going to even come close to continuing on this current high-scoring path is absurd. Look at the teams – and pitiful defenses – they've pounded on. They didn't do this against the Redskins or the Eagles, each whom they have two games left against, not to mention one more with the Cowboys. The Giants offense has done what it was supposed to – punish inferior opponents. Now the real tests begin. Eli Manning is well on his way to stardom, superstardom perhaps. But only a fool would think that he's going to be totally fine going forward. Expect a three-INT with one returned for a score game from Manning this season, maybe more. He has certainly beaten the learning curve to this point, but in no way, shape or form is he out of the woods yet. Will the Giants offense be good enough to get this team into the playoffs? No doubt. Will they even closely resemble the unit that tore it up during the first four weeks? I wouldn't hold my breath.

PS: Why so pessimistic? Is it that you just realized Penn State has the ugliest, dullest uniforms in America? Please, get a logo on those white helmets. You've sat through the first segment of the season and watched as anyone with a working right arm has been able to torch the Giants secondary. Now comes word that Will Peterson will be out for at least another month with a lower back injury. Don't even try to convince me this isn't a devastating blow. Peterson, hands down, is the best cornerback on the team and taking him away from a defensive backfield that was giving up passing yards at an alarming rate is bad news. I'm intrigued by the potential wrapped up in Corey Webster but the guy's a rookie. He won't be able to step right in and be as effective at Peterson was. Curtis Deloatch looked better in the summer than he does in the real games. The Giants are fortunate that they have depth at cornerback but even with that depth they were getting roasted and toasted. Without Peterson, there's little hope of clamping down on receivers who now feel it's their birthright to get 100 yards each game. Tim Lewis is going to have to figure out a way to get massive pressure on opposing quarterbacks, that's for sure.

KP: Tim Lewis will do what needs to be done. The Giants secondary was playing lousy with Peterson in there, so what's the big deal if they have to play without him? I know everyone from Scott Barton to Bobby Quirk to Penn State Johnny thinks I'm nuts, but this year is far from over for Will Allen. He's going to step up and fill the playmaking void left behind by Peterson. Insert Webster on the other side, with Deloatch and playmaking Frankie Walker coming off the bench, and you'll see – they'll be just fine. If there's any glaring problem in the secondary, it's that Brent Alexander continues to start ahead of Shaun Williams. Betcha my boy Paul didn't even think of that one. Must be the old Penn State vs. Albany education edge in my favor rearing its ugly head again.

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