Straight Talk with Jim Sabo

As we arrive at the midway point in the season, what is your assessment of where the team stands with Tom Coughlin's coaching style? It's easy to get excited after the two great wins against Denver and Washington. Winning does cure a lot of ills and masks some others. While it certainly is an exciting time, there is an old saying in the NFL: A team is never as good as it looks while winning and never as bad as it looks while losing.

That seems to be true here. Prior Giants' teams, specifically during the Jim Fassel years, could not deal with prosperity. We'll see how they do dealing with the high of two big wins. Going to San Francisco was a classic trap. Playing a bad team after two emotional wins can be trouble. The old Giants would have laid an egg in a game like this.

In our opinion, there are two very important questions that need to be answered whenever there is a new coaching staff and now that this staff is halfway through their second year it's a good time to answer these questions.

Question 1: Is the team buying into the plan? The answer is yes. At least on the surface they appear to be. The coach has some rigid rules that were unpopular in the beginning, but now do not appear to be points of contention. It looks like the team has accepted the rules as a condition of working for the Giants. It's not hard to do; it goes with the territory. We all know what it is like in the workplace. We all have rules set by our bosses and if we want to continue to be employed, we follow them. Of equal importance is that the team is buying into the offensive, defensive and special teams plans the coaches are presenting. They have to believe in what their coaches are selling. The only grumbling we've heard so far, and it has been minor, was that earlier in the season Tiki felt he wasn't getting the ball enough. Another part of buying into the system is playing smart. We have seen evidence of that so far and we believe that is growing, especially on defense.

Question 2: Are they playing hard? Again the answer is yes. The Fassel Giants lost a lot of games they should have won. This team is building something and we will know a lot more about them based on the outcome of the next couple weeks. A team that plays hard does not have letdowns against poor teams. They get the job done. They could not have played any harder than they did against the Redskins. That game should serve as an effort example for them in the future. Hopefully, that game will set a standard they can use as a rallying point as the season moves on. The mark of a really good team is that they can gut games out, so from that standpoint the Denver game meant even more. Many teams can play well when they are ahead. Going wire to wire in a game is not always a true test. It's the other games when a team has to find a way to win that matter and is the true test of a team's fortitude. None of this can be accomplished without playing hard. That means not taking plays off like a certain WR number 17 does from time to time. It means that other players will police that when the effort is not there. That's when we will know when this team has arrived.

If, as you say, the Giants are to become a legitimate contender, which players need to step it up?

The first and most important player who needs to take his game up a notch is Eli Manning. It is not because of lack of trying or lack of preparation. He just needs more experience and every time he prepares for a game and hits the field, he takes another step. It's important that he starts winning on the road. In the shelf life of an NFL quarterback he is still a baby. He's still learning. There have been several very encouraging signs like how he has rallied the team late in games. His comfort level in the pocket is growing each week. He is sensing the pass rush and has the ability to move in the pocket as well as scramble and still make a play. He is also doing much better with recognition. He looks far more in control at the line. He looks well prepared. He still needs to improve his accuracy and be less of a scatter-arm. That will come with time, as he gets more comfortable with his receivers.

Then of course there is Will Allen. He's become almost everyone's favorite target. He has played better of late. He still can't catch the ball or even knock it down without it going through his hands, but he has covered well of late. He has been physical and he has done well in run support. They need him to continue to do a good job. Actually, he needs to continue to do a good job for himself if he expects a good contract in free agency.

Osi Umenyiora showed us what he could do with a spectacular game against the Redskins. He needs to do more of it. Hopefully that was his breakthrough game. The secondary needs all the help they can get and when Osi and Strahan are pressuring the QB it helps them tremendously. The DBs looked great when the heat was on the QB. When Umenyiora is flying around, it's not as easy to double-team Strahan. The health and well being of the secondary will be riding on his performance.

Reggie Torbor needs to step it up. Again, like Manning it's not from lack of effort. With Carlos Emmons in and out of the lineup due to injuries, this is Torbor's time to shine. It's also a golden opportunity for him to win a starting job like Nick Greisen did. When Greisen finally got the opportunity, he capitalized; Torbor needs to do that. His emergence will make the defense better. He still needs work in coverage, but he can be a major contributor with physical play and the ability to get after the passer. The lack of consistency is the big thing with him.

Tim Carter needs to continue to be healthy and he needs to gain Manning's trust. He has passed David Tyree as the third WR and that is a good thing. He has the tools to be a major contributor. Just like Manning did with Amani Toomer, Carter needs to get on the same page. The more they work together, the better the receiving corps, as a whole, will be. It's a matter of timing and confidence. Just as it is with Will Allen, this is the last year of Carter's contract. It behooves him as well to play for his next contract, whether it is here or elsewhere. If it works out, Burress, Toomer and Carter at his best will be an awesome threesome. We're keeping our fingers crossed he can stay on the field.

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