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It's Friday, so Ernie P. is in the house

It's Friday. That, of course, means our weekly swap of questions with the venerable Ernie Palladino. I can call him that because Ernie, I think, is a couple years older than I am. Which means neither one of us are spring chickens.

Anyway, watching the Giants flounder around and under-perform is also getting old. With that in mind, here are Ernie's answers to this week's amazing questions. Check out my answers over at Giants Beat.

1. Tom Coughlin said he will not fire defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan despite his obvious flaws. Is Coughlin showing too much loyalty to an underachieving coach?

Ernie's Answer: I'm not sure if it's a matter of loyalty or timing. Regardless of what happened to John Hufnagel at the end of the 2006 season, it's very difficult to fire a coordinator in mid-season. Buffalo tried it this year, and look what happened? And what would the new guy do, anyway? Tear up the playbook and start over? That would be impossible. So what we're really left with at this point is change for change's sake, and Coughlin is really not that kind of a guy. He could demote Sheridan and put Pete Giunta there, and maybe the DBs coach would infuse a sense of aggression into a defense that has been forced to play Cover-2. That might help, but at this point I'm not confident these corners can get their hands on any receiver at the line of scrimmage. That's all the Giants need, a bunch of corners missing jams so even more receivers can run free down the sidelines. For now, Coughlin will have to make do, and then find someone in the offseason like a Dave Campo or John Fox for a full makeover.

2. With playoff hopes hinging on how the Cowboys fare over the next three games, do you think the Giants will continue to play hard?

Ernie's Answer: They'd better. They're still very much in this playoff race. Look, the Cowboys have to play at New Orleans and at Washington, and then they get Philadelphia at home. Who here can honestly not see the chances of Dallas going 1-2 over that stretch to finish at 9-7? If you've raised your hand, you're either a liar, a maverick, or an idiot. That's a tough road, far tougher than the Giants' road to 9-7 against Washington, Carolina, and a coasting (probably) Minnesota. Now that Atlanta has all but fallen out of the race, the only thing standing between the Giants and the sixth seed as we stand now are the second-place Cowboys. It's way too early to throw in the towel on the season. However, if the Giants lose to Washington and Dallas somehow pulls off a miracle in New Orleans, then it's a different story. But it hasn't happened yet, and that's cause enough to get up for Monday night's game at FedEx Field.

3. Would you elevate Ramses Barden from the inactive list, even if Coughlin only uses him in Red Zone situations?

Ernie's Answer: Actually, I thought that should have been the case all season. Seems there was no room for him on special teams, so he got caught up in the numbers game. Well, you can see where that got the Giants. The coverage teams stink, the return teams are so-so, and Eli Manning is left to throw fades to Mario Manningham, who lost his feel for the sideline around mid-season. They could use a long, tall drink of water in the corner of that end zone now. And since these three are must-win games -- assuming the goal is to play past Jan. 3 and damned the development for next season -- then they really should get Barden up and playing. It couldn't hurt.

4. Should Hakeem Nicks continue to start in place of Mario Manningham?

Ernie's Answer: Absolutely. This kid has made such an impact on the offense, it's unbelievable. Every time he gets out there, he's good for at least one big play per game, usually resulting in a touchdown. He's obviously a fast learner, unlike Manningham. And also unlike Manningham, he knows how to stay inbounds while fighting for a ball. That's the beauty of this kid. He not only catches the imperfect pass, but he turns and runs with it after he catches it. He'll make the occasional drop, as he did twice against the Eagles, but you can easily forgive him for those when Manning comes right back to him and he makes a spectacular catch. Doubt his explosiveness? His 38 catches for 685 yards works out to an 18-yard average, and his six touchdowns lead the team. I know the Orakpo kid in Washington is making a heck of an impact as a pass rusher, but Nicks has my vote for Rookie of the Year. Can't wait to see him starting a full season with Steve Smith, which should happen in 2010.