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Tag:Antonio Pierce
Posted on: March 8, 2009 9:28 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2009 10:03 am
 

NYG: Is Antonio Pierce one of Reese's Pieces?

 Should this man be worried?

Wheelin' on defense may fuel dealin' for offense. I say Antonio's odd man out.


It's been quite an active couple of weeks on the defensive side of the ball for General Manager Jerry Reese; at least newly hired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will have his fair share of lineman and linebackers to rotate in and out of the lineup. But even with the number of Giants defenders jumping into the free agency pool, you can't help but wonder if signing these three relatively young players - all which appear to have tremendous upside - isn't greasing the skids for a big trade for one of the few big-name recievers still out there as rumored to be on the block.

At the end of February, a number of players declared free agency; among them were two defensive ends, Renaldo Wynn and Jerome McDougal. McDougal was a stop-gap measure following the season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora last year against the Jets (yet another devistating loss in another meaningless pre-season game against the Jets. The Giants should seriously look into changing this annual pre-season matchup because it's beyond creepy the sheer coincidence that someone always seems to go down for the count in this game). He was inactive for 12 games, and did very little in the four games he suited up for (1 tackle, 1 assist). Wynn had been signed in the off-season as a backup to Justin Tuck, who was annointed the starting job upon the retirement of Micael Strahan.

Assuming that Umenyiora and Tuck are back at full strength for the upcoming season, it would be understandable to move on and replace Wynn and McDougal with younger, healthier talent . The other key defensive names on the free agent - R.W. McQuarters and James Butler - are not going to make or break the team this season. Even though James Butler had some solid outings in 2008, there's no way he's going to beat out Kenny Phillips or Michael Johnson for a starting job at safety, especially since Johnson was able to shift to the SS position with great success when Butler missed a couple of games. Reese also recognized the sounds of Father Time's chimes and cut elder statesmen Sam Madison and Sammy Knight. Zzzzz.... no loss that can't be recovered. 

So then comes the obvious but essential question: Why Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty and Michael Boley?

 Chris Canty        Michael Boley         Rocky Bernard

Boley had a great campaign in 2007 that should have resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance, but hit the skids a bit last season under the Atlanta Falcon's new coaching staff. Chris Canty is another player that has had a productive career that struggled a bit last season due to some nagging injuries and a few undoubtedly annoying distractions in Dallas. Both are entering their 5th season, while Bernard is heading into his 8th. But Bernard (defensive tackle), Boley (an outside linebacker) and Canty (a defensive end) appear to create a strange situation... Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson and rookie Bryan Kehl all covered the weakside LB position last year, and the duo of Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield are already entrenched between the aformentioned Tuck and Umenyiora up on the line.

Jerry Reese has to be thinking about the way the pass rush and tackling performance declined week after week as the season progressed. Great ideas and innovative blitzing packages that can't be executed due to exhaustion and injuries remain... well, they just remain great ideas. There's no question that the gauntlet of teams the Giants faced mid-season (Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles, Ravens, Redskins, Panthers) took it's toll on them physically and mentally - more so than the Plaxico Burress circus did.  Fred Robbins is 32 and entering his 10th season; without a doubt he lost steam by the time the Giants hit the playoffs. The same goes for Justin Tuck, who played through alot of pain during the last few weeks.

It's quite possible that Bernard could compete for - and win - the starting job from Robbins. Worst case scenario, whoever lands on the losing end of that spot becomes an experienced, motivated situational player that can provide a lot of rest and recuperation time to the starters. Throw in Canty as a compliment to Justin and Osi, and this makes an already formidable unit more talented, more flexible and - most importantly - deeper and healthier.

Or, Reese pulls the trigger on a deal for Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin.

The buzz around town has been a trade to the Browns involving Mathias Kiwanuka. According to New York Daily news writer Ralph Vacchiano, "That is definitely not happening, according to several sources. I think that rumor just grew out of fans (and media) trying to figure out what the Giants are going to do with their surplus on the D-line". Besides, Kiwanuka was doing a solid job at the outside linebacker position until asked to move (once again) to DE following (once again) the Umenyiora injury. The Giants Organization has had a crush on Kiwanuka since the day they drafted him, and I don't suspect they'd be looking to end the relationship - even for a stud reciever who can "give them what they need".  

As a Giants fan, I have to believe that Jerry Reese is actively pursuing a deal with one of these two teams, for one of these two receivers. And the only way he can swing a deal without completely dismantling his drafts over the next two years is two include a viable defensive player or two. But it's not going to be Kiwanuka, Tuck or Umenyiora. Fred Robbins is getting up there in age and has weight issues, on top of the injuries he's suffered the past two seasons. The secondary is strong, but not very deep right now... eeny... meeny... miney...


And now,  my thoughts on Antonio Pierce.

Call me crazy. I've always been someone who thinks ahead to stay ahead. Sometimes that leaves quite an omelett on my face, and in the interest of saving time I always wind up missing some sort of "landmine" right in front me. There's also the possibility - and this is pure speculation on my part -  that Antonio Pierce could be a moving part in all this. 

Look at the situation for what it is. First of all, Pierce will be 31 years old in October. To date, the Giants haven't opened themselves up to discuss a contract extension with Pierce, who's $26-million deal expires at the end of the 2010 season. Pierce has been vocal about how ticked-off he is regarding the situation. Back in August, Pierce spoke outside of the Giants locker room, "I've been here four years and I sense that sometimes here. And it has nothing to do with financial stuff. I'm just talking about strictly as a football player, as a teammate, as an employee of the Giants. I don't know. I just get that sense. It's just the way people approach me. Obviously there are some comments, like 'Are you one of the guys? Or are you just a guy?'.

Pierce continued, "It's not about wanting to redo your contract, it's about wanting to end your career somewhere... I don't plan on playing just three more years. That doesn't mean you want to make $7 million or $8 million or some crazy pay raise. You want the security that you're going to be here. I don't want to play for no other team. And it ain't about 50 cents or a million dollars. It's about appreciation. It's not always about 'X' amount of dollars. It's about letting you know that I'm your guy."

To this day, The Giants have not told Pierce whether or not he's their "Guy". And to me, that means something. Keep in mind, Pierce said this in August - before the season began. Before he was getting beaten regularly on coverage, before he looked slow defending the pass over the middle. He was burned by Brian Westbrook, and he was burned by DeAngelo Williams. He was always banged up in some way shape or form, and yet still found the time to be out at 2 O'Clock in the morning partying with Plaxico Burress and Ahmad Bradshaw the night before the team was heading to Washington to face the Redskins. 

Not enough trouble to grab headlines or get suspended, but enough disappointment to change an Organization's view of you as a leader.

Yes, Pierce seems to be the emotional leader of the defense, but 2008 may have pushed Giants brass over to a more concrete position known as "let's wait and see" when it comes to Antonio's future with the Giants. In my book, the "let's wait and see" approach usually means you should get your resume together. And anyone who watched the Giants consistently last year can attest to the fact that Chase Blackburn wasn't much of a dropoff at middle linebacker. At least if they were being honest they could.

Can Blackburn, Boley and Kiwanuka hold the fort? Maybe they can. Maybe the Giants are hoping that Arizona or Cleveland will look at Pierce as an emotional leader that has two years left on a contract that is relatively inexpensive to what a free agent would cost. Perhaps you keep Fred Robbins... and throw in a young, promising tackle like Jay Alford as part of a deal as well? Add a first round draft pick and perhaps a 4th round pick, and you just might have something a general manager for Cleveland or Arizona would lose sleep over.  

The "denuemont"...

Today I cleaned out my refrigerator and found an unopened tub of cream cheese way in the back, on the bottom shelf. I'm estimating that I bought it sometime in early January, and it just so happened that today was the expiration date. For some reason, I popped the top, peeled back the protective plastic cover and took a whiff. It smelled perfectly fine... so I threw it right in the trash can. Not because it went bad, but because I realized I must not have wanted it all that much - even though I'd spent the money for it. I had pretty much decided to throw it out the moment I saw the expiration date, but I still wanted to check to see if it was still viable. I have no idea why.

Coaches and general managers make statements every day, and most of them have extremely short shelf life. Jerry Reese has said that the Giants would be just fine if they started the season with Steve Smith, Domenick Hixon and Mario Manningham; Amani Toomer is on the market and the senior circuit of the secondary is out looking for work. After signing Rocky Bernard and beefing up both the defensive end and linebacker positions, there's only one starting spot left on Big Blue's depth chart with an expiration date that the front office needs to be concerned about. It may be expendable, and yet at the same time viable.

 

 

References: NY Daily News - Ralph Vacchiano article from Saturday, August 30th 2008  /  "The Blue Screen: Live Chat from March 5th 2009.

  

 

 

 

Posted on: January 20, 2009 11:13 am
Edited on: January 20, 2009 1:35 pm
 

Spags to Riches; Sheridan hired to replace Steve

Giants will enter '09 season with the loss of another defensive leader, with the conviction that his replacement will carry on continuity. 

                                                                                                                      Steve Spagnuolo is introduced as the New Head Coach of the St. Louis Rams on Monday 1/19/09

Michael Strahan's retirement after the Super Bowl and Osi Umenyiora's season ending injury left many Giants fans bracing for the impact it would have on the 2008 season... the performances of Mathias Kiwanuka & Justin Tuck during the 2008 season left many Giants fans wondering why they were so concerned in the first place, yet feeling a bit cheated in knowing that the mere presence of a Umenyiora or Strahan on the field could have been the extra push needed to get over the hump.

Here we go again.

Everyone knew this day would come. I'm sure that Giants fans - myself included - held out hope that the plethora of head coaching job openings would fill up quickly and leave Steve Spagnuolo in their wake, forcing him to wait it out just one more year. It wasn't to be, and Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom has secured himself a talented football mind and solid human being. To be perfectly honest, Spags deserves this; I wish him the best of everything in his new role (except of course when he faces the Giants).

St. Louis' gain is the Giants loss, but Spagnuolo leaves a very special gift behind as he leaves New York. His influence on this team will reap benefits for years to come, and what his presence in this organization has meant to players like Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Kiwanuka and Umenyiora cannot be overstated. In 2006, the Giants were the 26th ranked defense in the league under coordinator Tim Lewis. In just two short years, Spagnuolo instilled his system and work ethic in the fabric of each and every member of the Giants defense, and he's responsible for returning them to the ranks of NFL prominence as one of the most cohesive and successful units in the league.  

Now we look ahead to 2009. Tom Coughlin has named Bill Sheridan as Spagnuolo's successor. It's been reported that Dom Capers - Coughlin's former defensive coordinator in Jacksonville - was among his considerations, but that Sheridan was always number one on the list of candidates (Capers has since taken that same post with the Green Bay Packers). To understand what Coughlin sees in Bill Sheridan, look no further that the fact that Spagnuolo would have hired Sheridan to be his defensive coordinator in St. Louis had the Giants granted Sheridan permission to even discuss it with Spags. Sheridan was asked to wait until the Giants were able to solidify their own coaching staff needs.

A Detroit native, Sheridan (49) played linebacker at De La Salle High School and Grand Valley State University. He has a pretty healthy resume, mostly on the collegiate level dating back to the mid 1980's. Over a 12-year span between 1992 and 2004, he coached at Army, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Michigan. Sheridan was primarily a linebackers and defensive line coach in that time, but also served as a special teams and defensive backs coach. He also gained in-depth knowledge of the recruiting process at the University of Michigan as the school's recruitment coordinator for two years, where his classes were rated among the top 10 in the nation.

As the Giants linebackers coach since 2005, Sheridan has grown adept at coping with injuries and working with players that had to shift positions.  Carlos Emmons, Reggie Torbor, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, Roman Phifer - all former Giants linebackers that rotated in and out of the lineup over the last three years with injury problems. Even with all of those issues on the table, Sheridan managed to work closely with former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Kawika Mitchell to integrate him into pass rushing schemes, resulting in Mitchell's highest single season sack totals last year. Sheridan also played a major role in the development of  Antonio Pierce, who's performance had been inconsistent prior to signing with New York as a free agent in 2005.

Pierce was an undrafted free agent signed by the Washington Redskins in 2001, where he spent four seasons in and out of the starting lineup. His best season came in 2004, when Pierce started in all 16 games replacing the injured Micheal Barrow - he signed on with the Giants the following season, and was one of the few injury-free players Sheridan could rely on over the last three years. Sheridan was also a key factor in helping Kiwanuka transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker for the 2007 season, where Kiwanuka registered 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles in 9 games before breaking his leg in week 11 against the Lions when - oddly enough - Osi Umenyiora fell on him while tackling Detroit running back Kevin Jones.

So now we wait for the 2009 season, where we'll find out just how much of Steve Spagnuolo's residue sticks to Bill Sheridan and the New York Giants defense.

"It's obviously a proven, excellent system that Steve brought from Philadelphia..." Sheridan said in a Giants team statement released on Monday. "You're obviously going to have a slightly different tint to it, because you have a different coordinator and will get different input from whoever Tom brings in from outside to complete the staff. But the system is in place and there's a tremendous comfort level with the players."

Tom Coughlin added, "We won 26 games here in the last two years..." Coughlin added. "...there is an inclination when that happens that you would stay within. Continuity is important to me, but the strength of staff is important, too. We've lost Steve, our coordinator, but it takes many, many people to be successful and to function properly... I want to keep the continuity, I want the players to know that the fact they have performed to a high level the last two years is, in a way, being rewarded. One of the coaches from the staff has been elevated to the coordinator's role and the terminology will stay the same."

Staying within... I like the way that feels. And Spagnoulo wanted Sheridan to join him in St. Louis, which - for now - is good enough for me.

 

References: giants.com, nydailynews.com (Ralph Vacchiano - staff writer), nfl.com  -  Giants Statement: Associated Press

Posted on: December 20, 2008 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2008 1:00 am
 

NY GIANTS "Things to Do" List for Sunday 12.21

Mirror Images

 

Antonio Pierce sees two 11-3 teams with striking similarites. He also sees one team that's not being given a chance in the current of thought.

Antonio Pierce thinks Carolina is very similar to Big Blue: same record, great running and strong defense. While his team is hosting the Panthers on Sunday night for what will determine everything regular season success has to offer for the post season - the top seed and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs - he's well aware that most sports radio hosts, newspaper columnists and talking heads on TV are not just questioning the Giants' chances, but are flat out picking them to lose. And Pierce seems quite comfortable with that.

During his weekly interview on WFAN 660 AM, Pierce was asked by host Mike Francesa if there was any sense that the Giants themselves had doubts about whether they felt they were the same team as they were a month ago, when they were in the midst of an impressive 7-game winning streak against solid teams like the Steelers, Eagles, Cardinals and Ravens. "That question doesn't even come into our minds" Pierce stated emphatically, "Hey, we faced two good teams that are fighting for a chance to get in the playoffs... people wish for us to be perfect but we're not...we didn't play perfect ball for two weeks, but does that totally erase the fact that we're 11-3 with a chance to play for the number one spot in the playoffs and a bye in the first week? We've put ourselves in a good position and now it time to finish it... get our swagger back."

That's right, Antonio.

I personally like the fervor behind his words... but should I (and other Giants fans) be a little skeptical about his choice of words? Do they come off as - pardon the pun - a tad defensive? Maybe. As the conversation progressed, Pierce discussed his ongoing issues with the Plaxico Burress investigation. "I'm going about my business the way I go about my business... I'm going out there and playing football, you know? When I'm at work, I'm at work. When I'm dealing with those things, I'm dealing with those things - that's life. That's no different than if I'm dealing with problems on my own that didn't have to do with that situation that happened."

That answer... I like. Why? Because it's never the fact that a player is distracted that bothers me. It's the fact that I never know how that player is dealing with the distraction that does. Hey - even if it's less than forthcoming, at least it's enough to carry me through until 8:15 tomorrow night. 

Pierce holds the Panthers in high esteem; he sees a strong likeness between Carolina and the Giants "A solid offensive line, a solid quarterback, great receivers and a good defense". He specifically acknowledged their terrific running game. He said it's going to be a lot of hard work and preparation to stop the combination of Jonathan Stewart - "a guy who's very big" - and DeAngleo Williams - "a guy who's very fast". With the anticipated return of a healthy Brandon Jacobs, the Giants will need to old up a mirror to that image, and show everyone why they were on top of the league in rushing for the better part of the season.

Pierce also touched on the current thought in the sports media - the current of thought - that the Giants have "lost something".

The tide is high when your team is winning, but the level of confidence in a team is directly proportional to their last watermark. Everyone knows that commontators and anylists make their living off the fortune and misfoutune of teams, players, coaches, etc. Every team in the NFL has gone through it this season. The Colts are the darlings of the NFL right now, but in week 6 there wasn't a single person talking about how they'd bounce back. Speaking of the Colts, was there anyone who predicted the Steelers would be fighting for the #1 seed this week at Tennessee after they lost to Indianapolis? Ben Roethlisberger was raked over the coals after his performances against the Giants and Indianapolis. Look at him now - nothing has changed, he's still the same. Just like Peyton Manning, who is apparently surprising everyone with his play over the past eight weeks. Perhaps they thought having knee surgery less than two months before the season began wasn't a big deal. The sports media is a river; drop a team or player in the river, and they'll control the flow based on the most recent events. If you don't agree, ask yourself this question: What have they been saying about the Cowboys over the last three weeks? What will they say about the Cowboys if they lose convincingly to Baltimore tonight, and where will the current take them?

So after watching NFL Live last night, I was neither surprised or bothered by the fact that Trey Wingo, Mark Schlereth and MarcellusWiley felt it was a foregone conclusion that Carolina would continue to play their hot hand and win the matchup. In the Meadowlands... in the snow... in freezing temperatures... despite the crowd, and despite the return of Brandon Jacobs and most likely defensive tackle Fred Robbins. The Panthers are hot, the Giants are not; that's what sticks to the wall. Being considered a team that shouldn't necessarliy get consideration worked well for Big Blue last year. Let's see if that same flow in the river works this week.

 


 

THINGS TO DO for Sunday December 21st:

1. "Brandon" design: If you've got it, flaunt it. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Any similar phrase applies to the return of #27 after missing time with a knee injury. Carolina's run defense is ranked 18th in the league this year, giving up an average of 112 yards per game. New York's offensive line will need to step it up and open up lanes again with Brandon Jacobs back in the lineup. Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride must go back to the formula that was successful all season - the old "tenderize, marinate & cook" formula. Tenderize the Carolina defense with Jacobs - let him pound them, pulverize them, beat them until they are softened up. Get Derrick Ward in there to add a little flavor, a little zest. Then throw them in the oven with Ahmad Bradshaw when they're too tired and too sore to keep up with him. Game time. Easier typed, than done - but when the Giants could carry it out, it's worked all season long. It will force Carolina to respect the run a little bit more, and even if it buys Eli Manning a single extra second in the pocket it will make a tremendous difference. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie (back) and guard Rich Seubert (illness) are both listed as probable after leaving the Dallas game last Sunday night.

2. Smart, patient play from the linebackers against the run: One of the biggest differences in the Giants' defensive performance the past three weeks has been the inability to stop the run. After limited practicing on Thursday and Friday, it's possible that Fred Robbins will be back on the field. That would be great news for the Giants, whose defense has looked softer in the middle than jolly old St. Nick himself. Tahsard Choice and Brian Westbrook had no trouble smashing through the defensive tackles the past two weeks, despite the efforts of Barry Cofield and Jay Alford. Robbins, if healthy and ready, is the cure for that ill - which would allow ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka to pursue the run on the outside. This means that Antonio Pierce, Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn should not feel the need as much to get up on the line of scrimmage as they shadow running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Pierce, in particular, overpursued plays the past two weeks to the point of taking himself completely out of them before they ever developed. In Jeff King and Dante Rosario, the Panthers don't have the mid-range tight end threat the Cowboys, Redskins or Eagles posess; With the big passing threat of Steve Smith being more of a downfield coverage concern for the Giants secondary, the linebackers need to stick to their assignments and act as another "wave" for the front four in containing the Carolina running attack.

3. Make Jake Pay: Jake Delhomme has played well recently, but remains an up-and-down performer overall. Will anyone be able to forget his game against the Raiders earlier this season? Seven completions (27 attempts) for 71 yards and four interceptions... he has three passing touchdowns and seven interceptions in six road games this year, and the Giants Stadium winds will wreak havoc on his ability to throw downfield to his favorite target, Steve Smith. The book on Delhomme is that he'll try anyway, without regard for the conditions. Number two on this list works hand in hand with number three. If the Giants can contain the running game of the Panthers just enough to force them to air it out, Delhomme should provide Corey Webster, Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross some takeaway opportunities.

 

Antonio Pierce quotes: 660 WFAN "Mike'd Up"   /   Statistical sources: sportsline.com, sportsnet.ca

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 16, 2008 11:31 am
Edited on: December 16, 2008 2:24 pm
 

NY Giants: What Are We Witnessing Here?

Mediocrity Exposed, or just missing Lynchpins? 

           

For the road to Super Bowl 43 to pass through East Rutherford, Big Blue needs two healthy bodies and one clear-minded leader to face Carolina this Sunday.

It was evident from the first snap Eli Manning took; DeMarcus Ware bolted from the left side untouched and plowed into Eli, knocking the ball loose (recovered by the Giants) and creating a 2nd down & 19 situation. That is not how this Giants team starts games. Or at least, it wasn't.

The Giants had an opportunity on Sunday night to all but seal the deal for themselves - a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs were not guaranteed, but were more realistic than irrational reach when John Carney booted the opening kickoff in Irving, Texas. Defeating the Cowboys in their final visit to Texas Stadium would have been the cherry on top of what has been a season more successful than even the most ardent fan could have imagined. Alas, victory wasn't in the cards - and Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg may become a fitting symbol for the defending Champions who are now displaying a less egregious, but more demoralizing form of self-injurious behavior... One lands you on the DL with a suspension; the other gets you a plane ticket and hotel accomodations should you be fortunate enough to make it to the NFC Championship.

Give credit where credit is due. The Cowboys took care of business at home against a division rival, and they need the victory to stay alive for the postseason. They're defense continues to get healthy and improve, getting more aggressive as the season rolls along. Though receivers Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith showed a lot of toughness and fight, losing tackle Kareem McKenzie to an injury and guard Rich Seubert to an undisclosed illness for the second half did the Giants in as they couldn't get the running game established. In the end it was the eight sacks on Manning and the overall inability to sustain drives that made the difference in the game.

In last year's season opener in Dallas, Manning suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder. Luckily he didn't miss any time, as the injury wasn't serious enough that he couldn't play through it. As a Giants fan, hoping that Manning would emerge unscathed from the piles of white jerseys was the hardest part of getting through the entire game on Sunday. Hats off to Dallas - no one should question their talent or legitimacy regarding the playoffs; Tony Romo was back behind center and was not going to give up - regardless of the amount of pain the Giants' pass rush inflicted on him. 

While the past two games against the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles were dissapointing, there's as many reasonable excuses to point towards as there are unreasonable ones. Mediocre teams don't pull off an 11-3 record in the NFL by sheer luck; meaning, the Giants are not mediocre. They are what their record says they are, and despite the past two weeks and the Burress situation had a very impressive string of victories against solid opponents heading into week 14. Some of what we're seeing with the Giants is obvious. No matter the circumstances, Philadelphia was hell-bent on leaving the Meadowlands with a victory two weeks ago, and Brian Westbrook was the project manager. 

Was it the distractions of week-long headlines about the Latin Quarter, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Antonio Pierce that derailed the Giants against the Eagles? It certainly had an affect on them. But then what about their performance in Dallas? Did Tony Romo's presence make that much of a difference? Even in the two regular season games the Giants lost to them last year, they played with more intensity and managed to stay in the game until the end. On Sunday, the difference was alarming; the 7-3 lead the Cowboys held for most of the game felt like 27-3. So what has happened the past few weeks to keep the Giants from being competitive against these teams?

Three answers: Fred Robbins, Brandon Jacobs, Antonio Pierce.

Every team in the NFL will suffer their share of losses, injuries and off-the-field turmoil. The Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have proven that some will suffer more than others (check out the Bengals blog by fellow member IGetNoRespect for a well written, heartfelt look at the rash of injuries his team has experienced).  As the 2008 NFL season got underway, the Giants had their own issues to cope with. Michael Strahan retired, Kawika Mitchell and Gibril Wilson - two main cogs in the defensive gears - were lost to free agency, K Lawrence Tynes suffered and leg injury, and Super Bowl hero David Tyree ( their best special teams player ) was put on the PUP list. Then the most devistating of all: losing Osi Umenyiora for the season to a torn lateral meniscus in a preaseason game with the Jets. This was a lot to overcome for the Giants, and to Tom Coughlin's credit they've managed to do just that. The underlying concern has been how they would do if hit with a few more injuries to key positions. In the Giants case, it could take a potentially elite team and render them quite ordinary, All the depth in the world couldn't change that. 

Now we come to the crux of the Giants current state, which is that the wheels are beginning to wobble a bit. Check the lynchpins. 

I'll begin with Antonio Pierce. Pierce is the captain and emotional leader of the new "Crunch Bunch" (a little nostalgia for inspriration - I used to have a poster with Lawrence taylor, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelly wearing hard hats sitting on top of a bulldozer). But Pierce has found himself on the outside looking in; standing around the pile-ups as opposed to being buried in them, and watching backs and tight ends run past him instead of being taken down by him. Here is what I wrote following the loss to the Eagles back on December 7; it's eerily applicable to his performance in Dallas, and I see no reason to alter my commentary of Pierce's performance two weeks ago, while offering it up as somewhat of a bullet point (no pun intended) for future consideration: Antonio Pierce is playing this (Plaxico Buress situation & overall distraction) up as if everything is fine, and that there's nothing taking his focus way from football. After watching him and the rest of the defense today, I wouldn't necessarily agree. It may be unfair to lay everything on Antonio, but he was not on his game today... He was caught out of position quite often, and over-pursued on many of the plays out of the backfield... I'm curios to know if anyone else thinks that Chase Blackburn should have taken over for him at some point... He just seems out of it.

Now let's take a look at Brandon Jacobs. The loss of Jacobs is something the Giants offense can deal with when playing less physically overbearing opponents. However, the Eagles and Cowboys are anything but pushovers; both teams have stout, quick defensive lines that pride themselves on physical domination at scrimmage. What has made the Giants running game so efficient is the 1-2-3 combination of Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Community member Jimmy the Greek might appreciate the culinary references I like to attribute to Earth, Wind and Fire:  I call them TenderizeMarinade and Cook. Jacobs is the Tenderizer - he pounds you, pulverizes you until your soft and malleable. Ward comes in at this point and gives the offense a little flavor; a little spice to liven things up and provide some zest. Once Bradshaw enters the game, it's time to cook the meat - and the Giants like it "well done". That's the game. Have you ever tried marinating a steak fresh out of the freezer? It doesn't work, does it... well, without Jacobs there to punish a few defenders, the running game doesn't work either. Not against the like of Dallas and Philadelphia anyway.

Finally, the underrated defensive tackle Fred Robbins - the unknown soldier. Robbins has been nursing an injured shoulder for a month. Over the past three weeks, Robbins sat out the Redskins and Cowboys games, and played sparingly against the Eagles. Jay Alford has been filling in for Robbins and while he's done a fine job, does not have the strength, size or experience that Robbins has. In tandem with fellow defensive tackle Barry Cofield, Robbins wreaks havoc in the middle of the line, bottles up runners and forces them to the outside where Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka can either run them them down or allow the linebackers to track them as Tuck & Kiwanuka rush the QB. Clinton Portis was pretty much shut down in large part because of nagging knee injuries; and with Cowboys guard Montrea Holland out, much of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's success in pressuring Tony Romo was a result of mismatch opportunities against Cory Proctor. But don't think it's gone unnoticed that Tashard Choice & Brian Westbrook gained the majority of their rushing yards straight up the middle of the field. In fact , 22 of Westbrook's 33 carries against the Giants were right up the gut, and with the exception of his 30-yard TD run, his 10 carries to the outside only garnered 11 yards. Tashard Choice's blast right through the heart of the line for his 38-yard score further emphasizes the point that Robbins' presence on the field is sorely missed. 

We'll know a lot more as information is released about the Giants infirmary as the week progresses, but it's not overstating it to say that a healthy Brandon Jacobs and a healthy Fred Robbins are a must for the upcoming matchup against Carolina.

And Antonio Pierce having his head in the game wouldn't be the worst thing either. 

Lynchpins. They don't look like much, but they keep the wheels from falling off.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com