The solution to a young, inexperienced pass receiving corps seems simple heading into the season-opener Sunday. Hand the ball to Brandon Jacobs and let him pound away at the Redskins' front seven.
Ah, but that kind of thinking won't necessarily work. First off, there's a 340-pound fellow named Albert Haynesworth who might have a major say in anything Jacobs tries on the ground. Stop Jacobs a couple of times, and Eli Manning will have no choice but to go to the air against a strong secondary of corners DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers, and safeties Chris Horton and LaRon Landry, not to mention a pass rush that returns fortified with Haynesworth from a 2008 season.
So, one way or another, the Giants are going to have to put the ball in the air to keep the Redskins from packing the front against Jacobs. And therein lies the rub. Nobody knows if this receiving corps -- Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, Derek Hagan, and rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden -- can handle responsibility like that. And it's also unknown if Jacobs can come through in the passing game, since he only caught six passes for 36 yards last year.
Now, this isn't just a one-game situation we're talking about here. Every team could look to pack the box against Jacobs. Without a solid one-two punch at receiver, ala Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, the Giants might just have to finesse their way through the season. They may have to play mix-and-match against schemes and personnel every week, never really settling the principals into clearly defined roles.
It's certainly not the usual way to handle the passing game. But after no one truly stepped up as a go-to guy in the preseason, the braintrust has no other choice than to play at least part of this season like a mediocre pinochle hand.
"No, we have been doing a lot of things that aren’t traditional for the last few years and we have been able to make it work," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "You have to believe that your guys can do it. It doesn’t matter what you draw up if you put them in a position to make a play. If they can’t do it, you are handcuffed."
It's a tough situation made harder by the fact that the main characters downfield have either been hurt, made key drops, or have simply been ineffective in the past. Remember Hixon's drop against Philadelphia? Steve Smith's drop this preseason? Manningham's missed assignments?
Too many questions. Too much uncertainty to get comfortable about anything. Or even to ink any of those guys' names into a permanent role.
"It's trying to determine, which is very much -- my guess – very much still in the evaluation phase of who can do what best," Gilbride said. "You know what you want to do. You see a scheme defensively. You say, ‘Okay, we want to go after it here. Who can best do that thing that most effectively attacks or gives you a chance to perform that play or execute that concept against that defensive approach?’
" I don’t know that we have one guy that we say, ‘Okay, he can do it. That guy – he can do this, or this guy can’t do that.’ I think we kind of feel like they all have their strengths and they all have their areas that we still need to get better at. And so that is why, as I said, I can see certain guys right now we think are ahead, but maybe in another five or six weeks maybe some other guys that we think maybe physically can be better at that."
Finesse, at least for the time being. And if it doesn't work, it could turn into a long, long year offensively.
"I can see it, not only finessing, but also this guy is doing this role now, but six, seven, eight weeks from now maybe somebody else is doing it because we think they have improved to the point that they can do better," Gilbride said.
Once more, a sobering thought. The four main returning receivers -- Hixon, Moss, Manningham, and Smith -- totaled 106 catches for 1,349 yards and five touchdowns. Houston's Andre Johnson, the league's receiving leader, and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, No. 4 leaguewide, each had more yardage and touchdowns than that quartet.
Something to think about.
Anybody out there feel confident?