Weekend mailbag: Jekyll-n-Hyde Giants

It's the weekend mailbag, where you guys send in questions and I do my best to answer them. It's a tradition that predates us all. Well, I guess not really, since it's on the Internet, and I don't think I have too many readers that the Internet predates. But you get the idea. I'll stop now. Questions.

Tom from Danbury, Conn. believes people are "overlooking" something about last year's New York Giants -- namely the run of injuries they had during the season, and the fact that their late-season and postseason turnaround coincided with the sudden health of folks like Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. He writes that once "other units that were hit hard by injury (O-Line, Secondary) began to gel in their new configurations, the Giants were a much different (and better) animal."

Dan Graziano: No one's overlooking that, Tom. It's been written and analyzed and discussed a billion times over the past six months, to the point where it's become conventional wisdom. We assume it's a fact that the Giants had rotten luck for the first few months of the season and, once that abated, we finally saw the "real" Giants. But I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I'd like to play devil's advocate. Yes, the Giants had a lot of injuries. They lost starters in the preseason and kept losing them as the year went along. But they're hardly the only team to which that happened. And it's not as though nothing went right for them during those first few months. The performances by Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul were of incomprehensibly unpredictable caliber. Corey Webster had a career year. Aaron Ross had a career year. Eli Manning had a career year behind an offensive line that played very poorly. Michael Boley played better than he had in prior Giants seasons. Mathias Kiwanuka was outstanding in a new position. It's not as though the first three months of the season were some brutal slog through impossible circumstances. The Giants had just as much go well during that time as they had go poorly. Yet, they were still streaky. I think it's possible that the January Giants were the "real" Giants. But I also think it's possible that the November Giants were the "real" Giants. I think the "real" Giants of the past three seasons are a team that can play like one of the very best in the league, but can also go through very bad stretches. And I guarantee you the people running and coaching the team would prefer a little more consistency between September and January than this group has tended to show. I'll judge them on everything they do, not just the good and not just the bad. To pretend the Giants are not a complex and unpredictable "animal" is to kid yourself.

Matt in San Diego wants to know why Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo doesn't use more man coverage, that seems to be the strength of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

DG: Castillo's decision to employ Asomugha as a zone corner early last season has been universally panned, and for good reason. Asomugha didn't play it well, and he didn't seem to like playing it. My belief is that the Eagles played zone last season, in part because Asante Samuel's strength was not man coverage and they didn't want to over-expose him. With Samuel gone, I believe you will see Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie play a lot more man coverage in 2012.

Jack from Winston-Salem, N.C. says he knows it's "fashionable" to blame the Dallas Cowboys' defense for last season's collapse, but wonders why no one blames the offense. Jack thinks the offense was "inept" in the first 10 games, and would have won the division if it had scored just one more red-zone touchdown along the way.

DG: Interesting. The 2011 Cowboys' offense finished 11th in the league in yards and 15th in points. The defense finished 14th in fewest yards allowed and 16th in fewest points allowed. Those numbers make Dallas look like just about the most average team ever, across the board. The issue is the 29.25 points they allowed per game in their final four losses (which came in their final five games). The Cowboys' overall defensive numbers are helped by the fact that the defense played pretty well in the early part of the season, and collapsed as the season went along. So while the offense kind of is what it is (and was better when DeMarco Murray was a healthy starting running back) the defensive failures stood out at the end of the season, when they gave away the division lead in ugly fashion. To put it in modern sports-talk terms, it's a "clutch" issue. The defense vanished during the part of the season when it was needed most.

Greg from Greenbelt, Md. asks about new Washington Redskins receivers coach Ike Hilliard. Greg points out that there's been a lot of attention on new secondary coach Raheem Morris, but little on Hilliard, and wants to know what I saw and heard about Hilliard at minicamp this month.

DG: It's a good question, Greg. Obviously, Morris gets the attention because his last job was as a head coach. But Hilliard's position group is a critical one as well, and I promise I will pay extra attention to him when I visit training camp next month. I do remember Santana Moss saying nice things about Hilliard while I was there, but I did not hear anything to indicate any major changes in approach in terms of coaching the wide receivers. It's a good idea to file away, and I will remember that it's something in which folks are interested.

Enjoy the rest of your weekends.