Giants defense searching for answers

The Giants have had a hard time replacing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, now the Rams' head coach. Spagnuolo was their off-field director, and then their on-field leader, Antonio Pierce, was lost to injury. Those two losses have brought forth a lot of struggles for New York's defense.

When Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was interviewing for his job last year with head coach Tom Coughlin, his key selling points were his competence and his ability to put the players in the best positions for success.

Unfortunately, the results from his first year on the job don't reflect either of those ideas. The Giants defense has been gouged for 40-plus points four times this season. They are the league's fifth worst in terms of points allowed. They also have surrendered 4,711 yards this season, an average of 314.1 per game. Finally, they have just 32 sacks, 10 fewer than their 2008 regular-season total.

When asked what was missing from the defense, Sheridan said, "We really don't want to talk about injuries, but you're talking about some voids that were left by guys who were in leadership like Antonio Pierce. That's a big void that we never filled just from a leadership-on-the-field perspective. That's an obvious one to point out."

However, there also have been reports of Sheridan not fully connecting with his players the way his predecessor, Steve Spagnuolo, did. Several times during the season, members of the defense suggested that there were some communication problems that resulted in poor showings.

"Anytime you have a new guy like Bill come in, I think given the success of the previous guy, obviously the expectations are going to be high," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I'm not making any excuses about anything, but we haven't had a full roster that we thought we were going to have all year based on injury and so forth. So I think that's a tough role to blame one guy."

Still, when asked if he thought Sheridan might be made the scapegoat for the Giants' defensive woes, Tuck deferred a bit: "Somebody's going to be a scapegoat. That could be a lot of people. I don't think it's necessarily going to be all on Bill because we all are accountable."

If Sheridan does somehow avoid the axe at the end of the year, he said he's determined to figure out what went wrong and get it fixed.

"We'll spend the majority of our energy analyzing whether it's scheme," said Sheridan. "Personnel is a whole separate issue. Yes, we've had a bit of an injury bug this year, but in the offseason we evaluate what people are doing against us and how we defended it."


  • RB Brandon Jacobs (knee) was placed on the injured reserve list. Jacobs, who had been declared out of the game on Wednesday by head coach Tom Coughlin, will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery next week for a partially torn meniscus. His spot was filled by QB Rhett Bomar, a 2009 Giants draft pick (fifth round), who has spent this season on their practice squad.

  • CB Aaron Ross (hamstring) was placed on the injured reserve list. Ross missed the first nine games of the season with multiple hamstring injuries, returned to play four games, including one in which he started at safety, and missed the last two games with the same injury. His spot was filled by S Sha'reff Rashad, also activated from the Giants' practice squad.

  • DT Chris Canty (knee) has been declared out for Sunday's season finale against Minnesota. Canty was injured toward the end of the Wednesday practice when a teammate rolled into his knee. Despite Canty's struggles with the injury bug this season and with learning a new scheme, head coach Tom Coughlin sees a bright future for him at defensive tackle. "He is a force inside, and we are continuing to try to develop him to the point where he is even more of a force," Coughlin said.

  • DE Justin Tuck needs one sack to reach 30 for his career. If he managed to get at least a half sack this weekend against Minnesota, it will be his third straight game with at least a half sack. Tuck did not practice on Thursday because of a swollen knee but said he was optimistic he will be able to play on Sunday.

  • RB D.J. Ware will have an opportunity to be active in this week's game after spending the last two weeks inactive. Head coach Tom Coughlin indicated that Ware's demotion the last two weeks was because of a drop-off in his performance on special teams. "We are trying to make him understand a lot of things about consistency and about what our expectation levels are, no matter what spot we are in," Coughlin said of Ware. "Hopefully he is going to learn that."
    WR Ramses Barden, who hasn't been active since Week 3, is probably not going to be active again this week when the Giants wrap up their regular season against Minnesota. However, despite his lack of activity, that doesn't mean that Barden doesn't have a future role with the Giants.

    "We are looking forward, believe me, to spending a lot of time with Barden," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "I think he has shown us, in the scout squad, as much as Mario (Manningham) did a year ago, that there is a lot to work with there. Whether or not he has to play in the game to show us more — yes, it would be nice. But we have seen plenty on the practice field."

  • The Giants filled their two vacant practice squad spots with OL Rueben Riley and WR Bruce Francis.

    Riley, a 6-4, 326-pounder from the University of Michigan, spent the 2007 season on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad. He was briefly with the Miami Dolphins in the summer of 2008, was re-signed and then cut by the Panthers and was on the Washington Redskins' practice squad for the final month of the 2008 season. Riley was waived by the Redskins last Sept. 5. He had a tryout with the Giants a couple of weeks ago.

    Francis, 5-11, 170 pounds, is a product of Temple University. He was with the Giants for a few practices during their rookie mini-camp last May.

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