John Crist: Eli Manning and Rex Grossman have certainly had some similarities in their careers to date, marked by dizzying highs and cavernous lows. Grossman displays better footwork and takes what the defense gives him when he's playing well, but he gets sloppy in the pocket and takes too many chances down the field when he's playing poorly. With regard to Manning, when is he sharp and when does he struggle?
Ken Palmer: Like most QBs, Manning struggles the most when he's pressured. That's when he reverts to poor football techniques, most noticeably throwing off his back foot. This was a problem that plagued him earlier in his career but appeared to have been solved this offseason when the Giants brought in noted QB guru Chris Palmer as quarterbacks coach. However, as the three pick-6s against Minnesota will attest, the problem clearly hasn't been fixed. Nor is Manning's penchant of bird-dogging his receivers and rarely looking off them before throwing the ball.
When he's comfortable in the pocket, he's one of the game's better signal-callers. But when he's not, his play can get real ugly.
JC: Much has been made about Tiki Barber's exit from the Giants, but he seems comfortable with his decision to retire and appears to have a bright future ahead of him as a television analyst. Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and even Reuben Droughns have all enjoyed success at times running the football this season, but is there still an element of this offense that's missing without Barber?
RB Tiki Barber
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KP: There's no question there are a few elements missing now that Barber is calling shots for Dick Ebersol at NBC. Even when Jacobs was healthy and going well, Barber was still sorely missed. It's no great news flash to say that Barber was also a superb receiver out of the backfield, which is an area that Jacobs, Ward and Droughns all have plenty of room in which to improve. Barber's durability was another huge advantage for New York, one in which the injury-riddled Jacobs and Ward could only dream of duplicating. Barber played in his last 80 consecutive games, leading the Giants in rushing in each of those contests.
However, the biggest reason the Giants miss Barber is because he was so adept in the blocking game. His ability to pick up and pick off blitzing defenders was second to none.
JC: Plaxico Burress got off to a tremendous start this season but has seen his production slip because of nagging injuries. Amani Toomer was missed greatly last season and is still quite reliable as a secondary target. Jeremy Shockey is one of the most talented tight ends in the league yet always seems to be banged up to some degree. If you had to pick one, who is the most indispensable member of the receiving corps and why?
KP: Believe it or not, I'm going with Toomer. Shockey is a perennial Pro Bowler, and Burress was on a record-setting pace before aggravating his right ankle sprain. But Toomer is Manning's security blanket, and his route-running is a thing of beauty. Much of last season's second-half nosedive could be attributed to Toomer's absence. The offense fell apart, and Manning appeared to lose much of his confidence after Toomer went down.
While Shockey and Burress make all the highlight-film plays, Toomer just plays his game – about as professionally and dependably as anyone could ask.
JC: The G-Men lead the NFL this season with 38 sacks, including an incredible 12-sack effort against Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in Week 4. Everybody knows how good Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are at the defensive end positions, but what other factors have been noticeable in this team's constant pressure on enemy signal-callers?
DE Justin Tuck
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KP: Justin Tuck could be starting for a lot of teams in this league. There's no doubt about that. He's been superb as a sub DE and also as a DT in pass-rushing situations. No one has graded out better this season along the D-line on a play-to-play basis than Tuck. The emergence of Mathias Kiwanuka as an all-around pass-rushing threat helped the unit out, as well. But the Giants lost him to a broken fibula in Detroit two weeks back. His loss will continue to be felt.
And while it's not as aggressive and hell-bent as we all expected, the philosophy of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has still showed up in countless blitzes from the secondary. Safety Gibril Wilson and rookie corner Aaron Ross are especially successful in this department.
JC: Head coach Tom Coughlin has a reputation as an old-school disciplinarian in this league, but apparently he's softened up to some degree in 2007. What changes have you detected in him, and is his long-term future in New York any more secure than it was at the beginning of the season?
KP: Coughlin caught everyone's attention when he installed a 10-man veteran leadership group before the season. It showed everyone, both inside the organization and out, that he was serious about connecting better with his players. He's also become much more patient and understanding, for him at least, in his dealings with the media. As a result, those players and media members supposedly "out to get him" have backed off plenty.
As for his long-range future in New York, it all depends on the postseason. It's no secret that the Giants are headed to the playoffs, but if they suffer a third consecutive first-round elimination, I'd be shocked if he's retained.
Be on the lookout for Part III of Behind Enemy Lines on Saturday. To go back and read Part I, when John answered five questions from Ken, Click Here.