TGI has dissected exactly what's helped Big Blue reach the postseason and identified the 10 things they must do to stay there.
Win the turnover battle. The Giants – and Tom Coughlin-coached teams specifically – have won when they hold the advantage in turnover margin, and this year's club is no exception. New York enters the playoffs plus-12 in the turnover department. With 37 forced turnovers, the Giants defense knows that they can continue to extend New York's season by forcing the opponent to cough up the ball. The Giants had scored more than 100 points off turnovers this season. On the flip side, if Eli Manning can revert his recent trend and keep New York's TOs to a minimum, the Giants should be in good shape. It's an age-old adage and it still rings true: Those who win the turnover battle usually win the game.
Ball control. With a short passing, run-oriented game plan, the onus is on the Giants offense to control the ball and control the game. Tiki Barber has proven to be one of the most clutch players in Giants history – and the playoffs are the perfect time to showcase him as Big Blue's primary offensive weapon. Barber set an all-time career high in rushing yards this season – and there's no reason for the Giants not to continue to ride their horse. Controlling the ball and the clock in the playoffs is paramount – and the Giants have one of the game's best to do so. They must rely on Barber, and heavily.
Sack attack. Another huge area for success for Big Blue this season has been the combination of pressuring and sacking opposing QBs while keeping Manning on his feet. In a recent issue, TGI showed how important sack differential is to success. Heading into the postseason, New York boasted a plus-13 edge in that department. Osi Umenyiora led the troops with 14.5, and was followed by Michael Strahan and his 11.5 sacks. Conversely, New York's offensive line has done a great job of protecting Manning, who was sacked only 28 times a year after New York's OL surrendered 52 sacks.
Red-zone success. One area the Giants could certainly stand to improve some as the second season commences is their red-zone offense and defense. Heading into the season finale, the Giants offense was only able to cross the goal line on 46 percent of their trips into Coughlin's so-called green zone. However, opponents have taken much more advantage of New York's defense in similar situations. In more than half of their games this season, Big Blue's defense has allowed the opposing offense to score a TD at least half the time. All told before the Raiders game, the Giants defense had allowed TDs 55 percent of the times its opponents have reached the red zone. That has to change.
Punch it in. Even more important than red-zone success is making sure seven points get on the board once you've reached the other club's 10-yard line. The Giants offense has done a great job in that department, getting seven instead of three on almost 80 percent of their goal-to-go situations. They need to reestablish Brandon Jacobs as the go-to guy in these situations. Big Blue's defense has also done a very good job of keeping opposing offenses from the goal line when they've knocked on the door. Close to 40 percent of the time an opponent has had a goal-to-go situation, the Giants defense has been able to keep them out of the end zone.
Third-down success. The Giants have basically broken even on third downs, converting on just about 40 percent of their tries, while allowing conversions on nearly 40 percent as well. This is an area Big Blue really needs to capitalize on. There's no reason an offense with the downfield weapons New York possesses should be moving the sticks less than half the time. By the same token, New York's defense should be doing a better job of getting off the field when they have the chance. They have gotten better at this lately, but need to really step it up once the postseason starts. Even one third down stopped as opposed to allowed could be the key to victory – or defeat.
Special teams. The Giants have been buoyed by solid special teams play since Coughlin and special teams coordinator Mike Sweatman came aboard. They need to continue to exploit their advantages in these areas and win the battle of field position while also getting a big play or two from their returners. Having Jeff Feagles to pin punts deep in opposing territory is a huge advantage for Big Blue in the postseason and as long as Jay Feely has rebounded from his tough late-season stretch, which it appears he has, the Giants – with flawless snapper Ryan Kuehl – should be fine in the kicking game. They have to make sure that they're the team making the key plays on specials – not the other guys.
Stay healthy. Big Blue was fortunate for most of the season, injury-wise. However, that all came crashing down on them late in the year, when they've gone through a tough stretch where they've lost basically their entire linebacking corps after being forced to play without their top cover corner all year. With all due respect to Kevin Lewis and Alonzo Jackson, the Giants can ill afford to start the second season with Kevin Lewis and Alonzo Jackson as starting LBs. The OL has survived some ailments due to its excellent depth. The Giants desperately need to avoid any further stars being injured, while regaining the services of such key players as Antonio Pierce and Jeremy Shockey, both of whom missed the season finale and whose status was uncertain heading into the postseason.
Go deep to Plax. Early in the season, the Giants routinely took chances down the field and spread the defense effectively. For whatever reason that aspect of their offensive arsenal has disappeared – and with it, their most dangerous receiver, Plaxico Burress. While he's done a decent job of biting his tongue, Burress is understandably unhappy with how he's being used in the offense lately. That has to change. Defenses are going to continue to stuff the box against the run and cheat on New York's receivers routes unless the Giants throw in a deep ball every once in a while. Whether it works or not is not as important as the fact that the opposing defense has to worry about it.
Step up the pass D. One problem that has plagued the Giants defense almost all season long is pass defense. The Giants have been ranked near the bottom of the entire NFL in pass defense almost all year long. Considering they've done a pretty good job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks, that doesn't speak well for their defensive backs. Will Allen has played well enough to get by, but hasn't made the big plays when called upon. The Giants need more from their number one corner. With Will Peterson's bad back sabotaging his entire season, the second corner situations has been a mess all year long. Someone, someway, somehow must step up in the playoffs. Our guess? Rookie Corey Webster.