What does it take to vie for a championship?

All year round we talk about the ingredients necessary for a championship.  To list them all is a near impossibility.  But let’s mention one element that you cannot have: a glaring weakness.

This blog was tepid and ‘super’ (pardon the pun) cautious on considering the Giants as contenders for a title before Bulluck because so many things had to go right for the LBers.  Why is LBer so damn important?

ANSWER: It is no less important or no more important than anything else for the team.

Linebacker is one unit.  You do not need stellar linebackers in order to win Super Bowls.  Heck, you do not even need a stellar Quarterback to win Super Bowls!  Guys like Doug Williams, Jim Plunkett and Trent Dilfer were not great Quarterbacks, but they got the job done. We’ll get to Eli in a minute or two.

The key is that none of your units can be BAD!  Rest assured that the NFL is an assassin.  They will find out your weakness and exploit it.  The more the better.  Some coaches are not particularly good, but they do one thing well- they find and target matchups against the opponent that are favorable to them and go after that all day until the opponent makes an adjustment.  The fewer weaknesses a team has, the more difficult it is to find and exploit them.

Until Bulluck was signed, the Giants had a glaring weakness at LBer.  We won’t rehash all of it, but the point is that this stuff collectively is pretty hard to hide.  Coordinators spend all day, all week, all SEASON trying to make adjustments to cover up weaknesses.  One of my personal favorites was back in 2000, when John Fox had Swiss Cheese Thomas at Cornerback.  Fox had little choice but leave Sehorn (3 years removed from a career-changing injury) in single coverage, allowing the Free Safety to help Thomas.  Then Fox purposefully sent blitz pressure from Thomas’s side so that the opposing QB would avoid that side… imagine the lengths of scheming that were required to cover up a weakness!!

How are you going to win a title this way?  The answer is that it is extremely hard.  Sehorn, for his part, played great, but had to do it one too many times and it finally caught up to us in Super Bowl XXXV.

If Bulluck is still not healed and is unable to handle coverage assignments… well, what do you think that opposing coordinators are going to do on 1st and 2nd downs when he is on the field?  … Yes, Joe Morrison, the opposing team is going to find out about it and test all of these issues.  The less issues you have, the tighter your defense. The less weaknesses you have, the more football you can play instead of just performing triage.

Who do you want out there on 1st and 2nd down, ‘back’ing up your line, when the opponent is running the ball?  Bulluck?  Or Goff/Wilkinson/Kehl/Blackburn/Dillard? Assuming Bulluck is healthy and has not lost more than a half step, this one is not going to be even close.  That the Giants and many commenters were even talking about Dillard stepping in as a rookie starter had to tell you something about why we disliked the MIKE story and why the Giants were so interested in Bulluck.  This one is night and day.

In 2007, what was the Giants’ biggest weakness?  They had many.  Let’s see how selective your amnesia is.

Need a hint? The position was mentioned earlier in the article.

That’s right, QUARTERBACK!  Eli Manning, for all of you big Eli Supporters, could not put together a single game where he played well for four consecutive quarters.  His best game of the (regular) season was in Week 17 vs the Pats when he played well for 3 quarters and then went back (briefly) to the sloppiness early in Q4.  Eli was terribly inconsistent and was the weakest link.  Some kind of light bulb went off, because all of a sudden the guy was quarterbacking complete games.  He was looking off defenders, his accuracy improved and he as focused as we have ever seen him.  The QB of Weeks 1-16 was that positional liability we talk about.  No, it does not mean you get rid of a young guy like that.  It just means that until he can carry himself competently and play well more consistently, then you realistically do not have possible Super Bowl aspirations.

Repeating what was said in earlier posts/comments, Kawika Mitchell and Antonio Pierce made the 2007 LBer unit more than adequate for title aspirations.

In 1986 and 1990, in my estimation/memory, the weakest unit was at Wide Receiver.  This was before the rules changes/enforcement that made passing so prevalent.  Plus, Erhardt had the common sense to leverage his young TE Bavaro, who led the team in passing yardage in 1986 and was a significant contributor in 1990.

Bulluck is not expected to be a ‘great’ linebacker for the gmen.  His ‘great’ days are long gone in Tennessee.  But all the Giants need is adequate.  All they need is for the LBer unit not to be a weakness.  Bulluck has never been a weakness.  All this franchise needs from him is competence.  The DL and Secondary can make the Defense terrific, assuming the Linebackers get it done.  I am operating under the assumption that Whisenhunt and Reese both saw that Bulluck will get it done.  This means that the Giants are ‘live’ in 2010.  They still have plenty of hurdles: (1) Will Fewell be aggressive with the secondary? (2) Special teams (3) Health issues, notably with players like Boley and Phillips (4) The depth of an aging OL. These issues are not small, but they are also not insurmountable.

We wait for 2010 and watch Fewell.  We know about Gilbride- that leopard won’t change his spots.  Coughlin is as good or as bad as his coordinators.  The thinking here is that if the Giants are healthy there will be enough talent to make a run at another title.

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