It's Friday, and that means time for my weekly swap of questions with Ernie Palladino. As usual, we have a common set of questions. Ernie's answers are below. Mine are over at Ernie's Giants Beat.
1. Is it better or worse that the Giants are playing a hated division rival on the road following two stinkers in a row?
Ernie's Answer: It's absolutely better. You want a good way to stop thinking about a blowout in New Orleans and a great opportunity lost against Arizona? Try filling your head with an upcoming game against the hated Eagles in The Linc. Remember, this is the squad that knocked the Giants out of the playoffs last year, the one where Donovan McNabb showed them up with his phone escapades on the Giants' own sidelines. Think those guys don't remember that? Believe me, don't downplay the revenge factor of having lost their last two meetings against the Eagles last year. Those two losses in a row seem far, far away right now.
2. What is the Giants' true identity, a run-first or pass-first team?
Ernie's Answer: Tom Coughlin may say it's a run-first team, and he most likely believes it. But let's face it. The NFL is a passing league right now, and a run-first team at this point means at best an even split between the ground and the air. Now throw in the fact that his offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, seemingly can't wait to put Eli Manning in the air. The last game was a perfect example. Brandon Jacobs finally appeared to be breaking out of his early-season doldrums, knocking out four, five, seven yards a pop. But as soon as the Giants fell behind the Cardinals 17-14, Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw all but disappeared from the offense. From that point, Manning went back to pass 22 times and handed off just 10, one of which was fumbled by Bradshaw on the next-to-last drive. It seems the pass-first philosophy has been well-embedded in Manning's psyche, too, as he admittedly checked out of a couple of runs in the second half because the Cardinals were showing blitz. One audible took them out of a third-and-2 run, with Manning electing to take a deep sideline shot to Mario Manningham that sailed out of bounds incomplete. Whether Coughlin wants to admit it or not, this is a passing team right now. The Giants need to get back to what they do best, which is run the ball, especially now that the chill of November is upon us.
3. Do the Giants need to start Hakeem Nicks?
Ernie's Answer: Couldn't hurt. Defensive backs seem to have caught wise to Steve Smith, despite his outstanding route-running abilities. And for all of Manningham's outstanding powers of concentration on deflected balls and such, he isn't the most reliable guy out there. But Nicks is a nice target who seems to be learning and improving every game. He's still got a lot to learn, but you can't fault the productivity that includes four touchdown catches in four games. Were it not for his Johnny-On-The-Spot alertness on his 62-yard catch off a deflection, Manning would have left the Cardinals game with exactly zero touchdown passes. Not only that, but his 16 catches for 315 yards has already equaled the most catches by a Giants rookie wide receiver since Bobby Johnson in 1984 (Ed McCaffrey in 1991 and David Tyree in 2003). If the coach's adage that a player earns field time by producing, then Nicks has certainly filled his quotient. He's already a more reliable downfield threat than Domenik Hixon, whose strength lies more in the return game. And at 6-0, 201, he'll make a more adequate complement to the shifty Smith than the smaller Manningham. So, yeah, start him.
4. Should Bill Sheridan play Justin Tuck inside more?
Ernie's Answer: I may be in the minority here, but I don't think so. I like it when Mathias Kiwanuka rotates in and they put Tuck inside to give them three pass rushers up front. But stopping the run, even in a pass-first league, is huge, and Tuck does just fine with that working from the outside. He's strong enough to fend off blocks and fast enough to prevent running backs from getting to the corner. Plus, he can drop back into coverage on the zone blitz every now and then. I think the answer to the inside pass rush problems is to get Fred Robbins going. Remember, too, that we haven't seen Chris Canty. If he ever gets back from his calf injury, he's going to help on the inside with that big wingspan and speed. So better to keep Tuck on the outside on the 50-50 run/pass downs and save his sore shoulder from the wear and tear of the guard/center double-team. He's too valuable to subject to a steady beating inside.