POSTED: Wednesday December 31st 2008


By Michael Eisen


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On a typical Wednesday during the football season, Tom Coughlin will give a detailed introduction of the Giants’ upcoming opponent before the team begins a full day of practice and meetings.


Today, however, no introductions were needed. Nor, frankly, were they possible. The Giants will not know until Sunday the identity of their opponent for the NFC Divisional Playoff Game to be played in Giants Stadium on Jan. 11. It will be NFC East rival Philadelphia if the Eagles win in Minnesota on Sunday. If the Vikings come out on top, the Giants will face the winner of Saturday’s Arizona-Atlanta game.


But the mystery of the unknown is not preventing the Giants from working. They held their first bye week practice today and the emphasis, instead of preparing for a specific opponent, was simply improvement.


“The first thing we talk about doing, okay, is recognizing the areas that we really have to improve upon,” Coughlin said. “And knowing that we only have this moment to improve; that is all we have. And this is why we have to focus on improvement and we talk about different aspects of it - what we have done as coaches is taken the big areas, the big areas of our team – first and second downs, third down, the green area, two-minute – we have taken those things and we have analyzed them over the course of the season.


“We selected different areas where we want improvement, things that we really count on that maybe aren’t being done as well as they should be done. And we study them, we present them to the players. Today was mostly first and second down with a little third. We will get third down and green area on Friday when we come in. We did defensive two-minute, we will do offensive two-minute. So the whole thing is, ‘How is the other guy looking at us right now; what does he see when he looks at us and can we improve in those areas?’”


The Giants finished 12-4 in the regular season but were 1-3 in December. That mark ensures the players won’t enter postseason play thinking they must do little more than put on their uniforms and show up.


“It is a great opportunity for us,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “We had a great practice today. It is really a time to work at things, look at some things we have done over the last four or five weeks and evaluate that to see where we can improve, really get specific with things we have to work on. That was our goal today. I thought we did a good job of doing that.  We will watch the games this weekend and see what happens and get excited about our game next Sunday.”


“It’s self-evaluation,” tackle David Diehl said. “You see what you need to do individually and as a unit to become better and that’s what we’ve done so far. We’ve broken down run plays and pass plays just to see what we’ve done well, what we haven’t done well, things we need to work on. I’m not going to tell you specifically what we are doing, but you watch what you’ve done throughout the season, especially these last five games. A zebra doesn’t change its stripes. What you do and what your identity is, that’s what you are. You’re never going to change that, but there are little things you can flip around and switch to make yourself more successful.”


Defensively, the Giants want to tighten up their run defense. They did not allow an individual 100-yard rusher in any of the first 12 games. But they surrendered three in the final four contests, including the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson in last week’s 20-19 loss in the regular season finale. In addition, the team has given up a touchdown run of at least 30 yards in each of those final four games.


“We just have to do a better job of our overall technique of being in the gap at the right place, making tackles, and penalty wise - not letting the offense get free plays against us,” defensive tackle Fred Robbins said. “As far as defensive linemen, we have to do a better job of creating havoc in the pocket with our pass rush, getting off blocks, not getting pushed off the ball, and being run gap conscious and stuff like that. So a lot of things we control ourselves.”


Coughlin said the big plays are not the result of one player being out of position.


“There are any number,” he said. “When we talked about that today there is no – I’m not putting the blame on anybody, I’m just telling you it has to stop. That is basically the way I say it. And also, on the other side of the ball we have to make plays. There are plays there to be made now. I realize where we in the big play category with the past, but there have been plays there to be made and we have to make those plays. So when you get into the playoffs you are in a single-elimination tournament, you have the opportunity to make those plays, they are going to be there for you, but you have to take advantage of it.”


The other benefit of the bye week is that everyone on the team gets a much-needed rest after playing a game for 13 consecutive weeks and the injured players get an additional week to heal. Starters Brandon Jacobs, Kevin Boss, Barry Cofield and Aaron Ross missed the Minnesota game. Coughlin is hopeful all will be in uniform for the Giants’ postseason opener.


Of course, it’s been more than five months since the Giants reported to training camp and this is just the second week since the beginning of August that the Giants will not play a game. So this is all a little strange.


“It’s weird, but it’s something that we’ve earned,” Diehl said. “It’s something that we have worked to do and every weekend you want to play football but for us, having a bye week early in the season, this is time for us to heal up, get everybody back on schedule, recharge and get ready to go for the second season. What we did in the regular season doesn’t matter. This is a one game elimination. We are all fighting for one goal and that is to be champions. So having this week is different for us but the way we are preparing, studying and approaching things – we are excited.”


“It’s definitely important,” wide receiver Amani Toomer said. “We played 13 games in a row because our bye week was very early, so I think it’s much needed for a lot of guys on this team.


“It’s a little different (not playing), but I think it’s something we’ve earned and we’re trying to get better and self-scout what we’re doing. We’re trying to stay sharp, stay in shape, and keep the momentum going.”


*The players are split on whether they’ll watch this weekend’s Wild Card games. Some want to get away from football. Toomer said he might check on the Philadelphia-Minnesota game on Sunday. And then there’s Manning, who is looking forward to watching the games and particularly his brother Peyton and the Indianapolis Colts Saturday at San Diego.


“I will watch all the games,” Manning said. “We have nothing planned Saturday and Sunday and it is a great opportunity to sit and watch a lot of football.”


*Coughlin was asked if it is “flattering” that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has drawn interest from several teams seeking a head coach.


“I don’t know about the word ‘flattering,’’’ Coughlin said. “Am I surprised by it? Of course not. Not at all. So we will see where that goes. Steve is very, very well thought of by our organization and he knows that. So we will see where that goes.”


Coughlin said Spagnuolo’s potential job interviews do not create a distraction as the Giants prepare for the playoffs.


“Not at all,” Coughlin said. “He doesn’t miss a beat.”


*The Giants will have New Year’s Day off and practice again on Friday.

 *The Giants signed wide receiver Paul Raymond to their practice squad. Raymond signed with the Jets as a rookie free agent on May 2 and was waived on Aug. 30. He then spent two stints on their practice squad, the last of which ended on Sept. 29. From Oct. 14 to Dec. 23, Raymond was on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad.


At Brown University, Raymond caught 116 passes for 1,800 yards. As a senior, he was named second-team All-Ivy League after finishing second in the league and ninth in the nation with 97.8 receiving yards a game. A native of Florida, he starred at Miami Senior High School. He was born on May 5, 1986.

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