The Giants lost starting strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka for the season and are now looking at how to best shuffle the lineup to account for his multiple roles against the Minnesota Vikings.
It's not like things don't happen to other teams, but when the Giants lose a starter it seems as though it's done in a major league style.
The 7-3 Giants, closing in on a wild-card playoff spot (at worst), lost strong-side linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka in their 16-10 victory over Detroit last Sunday and now must do some patching and filling to get the defense up to its usual complicated shape by this Sunday, when they return home to play the Minnesota Vikings
. Kiwanuka suffered a fractured left fibula on the third play of the game against the Lions.
The most logical plan, and the one head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are almost certainly going to put in motion, is to elevate Reggie Torbor
from the bench and make him the starter. That would allow only one "new face" in the starting lineup, as opposed to the other idea of moving Kawika Mitchell
from the weak side to the strong side and replacing him with Gerris Wilkinson
, another reserve.
Also, there was an unfounded rumor circulating for a day or two that the Giants might have considered exploring the possibility of re-signing the retired LaVar Arrington, who was left unsigned when the 2006 season ended. He had been with the Giants when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon and hasn't played again after a previous Pro Bowl career with the Washington Redskins
The loss of Kiwanuka, who didn't exactly play the normal strong-side position as defined by other defenses, will be costly. He was, at times, a defensive end, at other times a defensive tackle, and when he did play the strong-side position he did it with various assignments and in multiple coverage roles.
"Mathias is going to have surgery to stabilize the fibula and the ankle," Coughlin said. "Mathias had many situational defensive positions that he played well, and we will have to work out just how we are going to deal with that."
The team's continued assault on a playoff position will depend on finding the right answers.
QB Eli Manning, despite all the criticism he has taken as the Giants' starter, has one statistic to fall back on: He has now played through 48 starts, and his 26-22 record is exactly the same his older brother Peyton recorded in his first 48 starts in the NFL.
RB Brandon Jacobs will be lost for at least this coming game with a strained hamstring, and complicating the problem is that his backup, Derrick Ward (ankle, groin), may not be available either. Ward has missed the last three games. In that case, Reuben Droughns will start with rookie Ahmad Bradshaw coming in for occasional touches.
TE Jeremy Shockey leads the team with 48 receptions for 528 yards. He has caught 17 passes the last two games, an indication that the Giants are more confident in their pass protection and have not kept him back quite as often for "max" protection.
WR Plaxico Burress, who continues to sit out all week during practice and play on game day, had four receptions vs. Detroit for 47 yards, but he hasn't caught a touchdown pass in four weeks and still has eight for the season.
WR Sinorice Moss, in his second season but his first healthy one, is slowly working his way into the offense. He had four receptions for 46 yards last Sunday, and although he lost one on a fumble, he continued to play — rather a departure for head coach Tom Coughlin, who normally punishes fumbles with extended bench time.
Rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw is an example of Coughlin's edict that "fumbles will get you seated." But lately he has been a flashy KO return man and the loss of Jacobs, coupled with the possible continued absence of Ward, might thrust him into the lineup. "He's quick and he has great moves," said Coughlin. "At this point, he would be looked on as the second guy to go (into the game)."
Former Vikings DT Fred Robbins is a possible candidate to move into some of SLB Mathias Kiwanuka's "special circumstance" pass coverage responsibilities, perhaps as a fourth linebacker. "Fred will likely have a bigger role in the passing-down package," said Coughlin. "There will be some maneuvering, for sure."
FS Gibril Wilson, who was successfully switched from SS in training camp, has four interceptions to lead the team. He had two all of last season. "I like the new position and responsibilities," he said. "I have more room to take chances. I'm like the centerfielder."