TGI's 5 Giant steps to second-half success

There are still significant causes for concern entering the second half of the Giants' 2005 season, despite their impressive first half. Their pass defense remains shaky, as Giants defensive backs have typically provided huge cushions for opposing receivers. They're leaving too many points on the field, too, despite that Eli Manning and Co. have evolved into one of the most high-powered offensive units in the league. And they still haven't defeated a playoff-caliber team on the road.

But the Giants have made dramatic improvements in numerous areas, progress that should make their fans much more optimistic about this team than they were when the 2004 Giants started with the same record, before completely imploding after their seventh game.

Listed below is The Giant Insider's five-step improvement program the team has followed toward gaining league-wide respect after finishing 6-10 last year.

1. The players, perhaps begrudgingly, have all accepted Tom Coughlin's coaching methods. They were all saying that they understood and accepted Coughlin's rules and overall approach to coaching at this point last season. Several players, most notably Michael Strahan and Barrett Green, were fined for being late to a team meeting (Strahan), a practice (Green) or both (Green). Green had difficulty hiding his displeasure, but most Giants made politically correct statements regarding their head coach and made it seem as though things were fine inside the Giants' locker room. As the losses mounted, though, players began grumbling. Before their next-to-last game at Cincinnati, several players anonymously told one newspaper reporter that Coughlin needed to be fired because his coaching style wouldn't work with this group of players. But less and less has been made this season about Coughlin's coaching tact, which might mean the players have truly embraced the differences between the stern Coughlin and the more player-friendly Jim Fassel. Coughlin has reportedly been a little less rigid with players this season, too, which has helped. The subtraction of that distraction has enabled the team to focus more on football and less on something that they ultimately couldn't control.

2. They have stabilized their quarterback situation. Even when they were winning early last season, every Giant realized it was only a matter of time before the team made the switch from Kurt Warner to Eli Manning. Thus the Giants were bracing themselves for that inevitable learning curve that accompanies playing with a new, inexperienced quarterback. They have no such worries entering the second half of this season, and are therefore much more confident as an offensive unit. The fact that they all now know what to expect from Manning following his heroics in games against Denver and Dallas this season has helped as well. While his accuracy must improve, he has an air about him and doesn't play like a second-year quarterback (see Dave Brown for contrast).

3. They have a much more reliable kicker. Steve Christie was entirely too inconsistent for Coughlin's taste, but Jay Feely has been the complete opposite, a model of reliability. The free-agent acquisition from Atlanta connected on his first 13 field-goal attempts of the season, which has altered the Giants' approach offensively. They're attempting longer field goals than they did through the first half of last season (four of 50 or more yards) and don't need to take as many chances in opposing territory to get just a little bit closer, as they did last season when they lacked confidence in Christie. Coughlin couldn't trust Christie at this point last season, especially after he missed those three extremely makeable field goals in a Week 4 game against Green Bay, one they managed to win in spite of Christie's complete meltdown. The Giants only tried four field goals from 50 yards and beyond all of last season with Christie. He made three of them, as Feely did during the Giants' first seven games. But Christie missed two attempts from between 30 and 39 yards and three from between 40 and 49. Feely hadn't missed from those distances entering the Giants' game against San Francisco Sunday.

4. They are much more effective in third-down situations. They're converting at a rate about 15 percentage points higher than they did last season, when only two teams were worse than the Giants (29.5 percent). Plaxico Burress has been especially effective in third-down situations, as has Brandon Jacobs, who has proven to be a tremendous improvement over Ron Dayne, despite his costly fumble in Dallas. Sustaining drives hasn't just created more scoring opportunities for the offense, it has also helped keep their defensive players fresh for longer periods of time. This will be especially important in the second half of the season, as the daily grind of the NFL season and nagging injuries wear them down.

5. They are more diverse in the red zone. The arrival of Burress has added an immeasurable dimension to their offense inside the 20-yard line, or the "green zone," according to Coughlin's language. Opposing defenses have to guess a lot more when facing this gifted group than foes did during the 2004 season. Being able to just toss the ball up in the corner of the end zone toward a 6-5 wide receiver, who is usually at least five inches taller than the defensive backs attempting to cover him, makes Manning's job a lot easier. But Burress, tailbacks Tiki Barber and Jacobs, tight end Jeremy Shockey and wide receiver Amani Toomer have all already scored more than one touchdown this season on plays that started inside an opponent's 20. Only Barber and Shockey had done that at this point in 2004, when neither of the Giants' starting receivers (Toomer and Ike Hilliard) caught a touchdown pass from any distance all season.

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