Let's talk about expectations. We all expect our New York Giants to be a very good football team. There is no reason that should not be the case. We hope they end up being good enough to win their second Super Bowl in three seasons.
That, of course, is what we all want. There is no way to know whether it will happen -- there are simply too many variables to consider between now and February 2010.
Now, let's talk about the collision between expectations and reality. After Saturday night's 27-25 loss to the New York Jets the Giants are -- gasp! -- 1-2 in the pre-season. And, horror or horrors, they have not looked like a perfectly well-oiled machine in those three games.
Did you really expect the entire season to be smooth sailing? No hiccups? Did you really think the passing game would be firing on all cylinders BEFORE the regular season got under way? That there would never be miscues and that we would know exactly how everything was going to work out? That Hakeem Nicks would play like a Pro Bowler as soon as he put on the uniform? That our Steve Smith would suddenly morph into THE Steve Smith just because we wanted him to? That there would not be any adjustment period for a defense with a new coordinator, a bunch of new players and a lot of guys coming off fairly serious injuries?
If you did -- and juding from the comments in Saturday's game thread and Sunday's follow-up posts I know there are some of you out there -- then you really need to re-examine your expectations.
Let's look specifically at the expectations for the wide receivers, since there has been so much focus on that group after they spent much of Saturday night treating the football like a live grenade. You had to know coming into the season that there would be bumps in the road as Tom Coughlin and company figured out which guys could do what, and as these players learn and improve.
Should we be alarmed that Smith dropped that long touchdown pass? Disappointed, sure. Alarmed, maybe not. Maybe what Smith was showing you is that he really is what we have seen the past two years -- a classic possession receiver who runs great routes, catches balls in traffic and can always be counted on for key third-down conversions. If that's what he is, what's wrong with that?
Maybe Domenik Hixon is showing us that what he really is is a third wide receiver who can be a useful part of the passing game, and a quality return man, but not a dominating receiver. Nothing wrong with that, unless you are expecting the second coming of Jerry Rice.
Hakeem Nicks is beginning to show us that selecting him with the 29th pick of the first round was a good idea. He runs the correct routes, catches the ball, can make the spectacular play, and is savvy enough to make the right read when he has options in his route. Is he as good, and as consistent, as he will be in Week 12 -- or next season? Probably not. But the more he plays -- and he will play a lot -- the better he will get. Coughlin is already hinting at an expanded role for Nicks.
Mario Manningham is also flashing oodles of potential -- and making his share of mistakes. Manningham, though, is a glorified rookie. He is a wild stallion who hasn't been broken yet -- and when the Giants finally do break him they might have one helluva horse on their hands. Again, he should be better at the end than he will be at the beginning.
Ramses Barden and Travis Beckum have shown potential, but the Giants really haven't figured out ways to utilize them yet. In Barden's case, especially, I think Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride will find ways to get him on the field as the season progresses.
These young players will develop, and in the end the Giants could well have an exceptionally dangerous group. But, to expect perfection from the beginning is simply not realistic.
Also, while there will be mistakes -- especially at the start -- I am hardly ready to panic. Smith is a reliable possession guy. I have to assume more balls will be thrown toward Kevin Boss once the games begin to count. He has been under-utilized as the Giants try to assess their wide receivers. The Giants also still have that top-notch line and one of the best running attacks anywhere.
As for the defense, we expect it to be dominant. I have little doubt that it will be, even if that has not been the case yet. Reality is, like the receiving corps this group should be carrying around an 'under construction' sign.
There is the new coordinator. And the players can say what they want, but there is still an adjustment going on for both Bill Sheridan and for them. There are a lot of new faces on defense to assimilate. Antonio Pierce has barely played. Michael Boley hasn't practiced yet. Chris Canty and Aaron Ross are hurting. The Giants have made some defensive mistakes -- which we all should have expected at this point. The good news is many of those mistakes have been made by guys we should expect to make them -- guys who either won't play much or won't make the team at all. So, no use worrying about those.
Honestly, the Giants need their defense to come together quicker than their offense. Giving the offense a cushion to develop is why GM Jerry Reese spent $83 million to bulk up the defense.
For me, I will worry more about how quickly the defense finds itself than I will about the receivers. The Giants built this team thinking that group would be dominant from the beginning as the offense worked to find its footing. Right now, it's really Sheridan & Co. that should be feeling the weight of expectations, not quarterback Eli Manning and his stable of young receivers.
Things will be fine. Remember, with a Super Bowl championship and an NFC East crown the past two seasons, Giants fans have been spoiled. This group is immensely talented, but it is a different group than that of the past two seasons. It will take time to fit all the pieces. Just expect a few bumps, and have the patience to let the situation develop. I think the end result is going to be a good one.