The Giants are much, much more popular than the Jets now; Osi is agonized

Osi Umenyiora. (nfl.com)
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A weekly column about what the Giants are up to when they're not playing football.

In an ESPN Sports Poll, which, I believe, simply asked fans, “What’s your favorite N.F.L. team?” the Giants ranked 3rd, at 7.1 percent. They were bested only by the Cowboys (obviously) and the Packers.

The Jets, meanwhile, ranked 19th, at just 1.5 percent.

Are there really five times as many Giants fans as Jets fans nationwide? This seems unlikely.  Among other things, one would think that such a discrepancy would be reflected in ticket prices, but Team Marketing Report ranked Jets games as the league’s most expensive stadium experience, while Giants games were fourth.

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What seems most likely is that ostensible football “fans” were cold-called, and listed the Super Bowl champs as their favorite team. With some exceptions, the top 10 is loaded with teams that have enjoyed recent success, like the Packers (2), Steelers (4), Patriots (5), Saints (7), and 49ers (8).

Not surprisingly, teams from the southeast, a region of the country said to prefer the college and high school game to the pros, filled out much of the bottom ten: Tampa Bay (25), Atlanta (26), Tennessee (27), Carolina (28), and the Jaguars (32). Only 0.4 percent of respondents said the Jaguars were their favorite team, or 1/22 the number that picked the Cowboys.

ACCORDING TO THE STRATEGIC TENDENCY BREAKDOWN FROM Football Outsiders, the Giants’ most common offensive formation is a single running back, a single tight end and three wide receivers. They’re in this formation 44 percent of the time. Combined with the 2 percent of the time the Giants are in a one running back, two tight ends set, the third receiver is on the field 46 percent of the time. This means that the Giants’ third receiver is basically half a starter.

As far as other trends, the Giants really did become a pass-first team last year. They passed on 61 percent of their plays, the league’s ninth-highest percentage. In the first half, when the score of the game has less impact on which plays a team calls, the Giants passed 63 percent of the time, the fifth most in the league.

On first down, the Giants passed 57 percent of the time, the second-most in the league. To the extent that Kevin Gilbride called up running plays at an above average rate, it was often in counterintuitive situations: On second-and-long, the Giants ran 43 percent of the time, the eighth-most in the league. When they were trailing in the second half of games, the Giants ran 33 percent of the time, the ninth-most in the league.

Perhaps because the running game was so ineffectual last year--the Giants ranked last in the league with 3.5 yards per attempt--the Giants used play action on the third-smallest fourth-smallest percentage of their plays last year.

THE TIMETABLE GIVEN BY THE GIANTS FOR HAKEEM NICKS' recovery from a broken fifth metatarsal was 12 weeks, but the doctor who performed his surgery told him he could get back in four weeks. It took Domenik Hixon 12 weeks to recover from the same injury, and it took Prince Amukamara 15. (Amukamara wasn’t even fully healed at that point: He recently resumed running after taking an injection in March to help his bone fully heal.)

Clearly, this injury is a temperamental beast, so the Giants are right to place the timetable on the more cautious side. Nicks wants to come back sooner than that, but making sure the bone fully heals is the priority here, rather than letting it heal just enough to throw him back on the field.

If last year told us anything, it’s that it's much more important to be healthy at the end of the year than at the beginning.

IN NICKS' ABSENCE, IT'S NICE THAT DOMENIK Hixon is back.

Should Nicks miss time, Hixon, who worked with the first team in workouts this week, seems like the frontrunner to replace him as a starter. Depending on Rueben Randle’s progress, Hixon, who is coming off two consecutive ACL tears to the same knee, is also a candidate for Mario Manningham’s old third receiver job.

Tom Coughlin praised Hixon’s knowledge of the offense and his consistency, saying to reporters, “Same ol’ Domenik. Makes plays, makes plays makes plays. Very, very steady; very consistent. He never makes a mistake.”

Similarly, Kevin Gilbride said, “He always does it the way you want him to do it.”

For Ramses Barden, the 2009 third-round draft pick who was inactive for the entire Giants’ playoff run due to poor play, and who appears to be on his last life to redeem himself from busthood, the ink was a little harsher.

Coughlin said he had been inconsistent. Gilbride was more damning, saying he wished Barden was “two-tenths of a second faster.”

That’s not an insignificant amount of time, and Barden’s lack of explosiveness might be his undoing. The Giants drafted him on the strength of his immense frame (he’s 6-foot-6 and strong) but his 4.68 40-time at the combine raised a red flag if he didn’t play faster than he clocked. The Giants gambled that he would, but three years into the league, he hasn’t. Perhaps his improvement lies in achieving the technical consistency of which Coughlin spoke.

OSI UMENYIORA HAS PARTED WAYS WITH HIS AGENT, Tony Agnone. The obvious inference here is that Osi is upset that he hasn’t gotten that contract extension he’s been seeking from the Giants. Of course, maybe this owes more to the gulf between Osi’s demands and what the Giants can afford to pay than Agnone’s negotiating skills.

SPEAKING OF OSI: A COUPLE OF COLUMNS AGO, I MENTIONED MY FONDNESS for Osi’s refreshing emotional honesty in a sports media culture in which athletes are often boxed into coming off as deathly bland, off-puttingly cocky, or just plain silly.

This week, in response to Justin Tuck’s and Mathias Kiwanuka’s predictable but nonetheless stand-up gesture of supporting Osi in his quest for a big new contract, Umenyiora provided another example of this quality in an email to the Record:

“What I’ve heard from Kiwi, and Tuck, and JPP, I’ll never forget as long as I live. That’s exactly why we are champions. Because we have each other’s back. These days you hardly see that kind of loyalty from anybody. I appreciate it, and honestly it makes things that much harder for me. Because those are the people I need to be around.”

MARK HERZLICH HAS CONVERTED TO THE SMU-CANTY/TUCK.

That’s what Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba calls the maximum-security facemask popularized by Chris Canty. Last year, when Tuck’s neck injury was aggravated by the Eagles’ Todd Herremans grabbing his facemask, he marched into Skiba’s office and said, “Gimme the Canty!”

BRANDON JACOBS ACKNOWLEDGED WHAT MANY Giants fans have long seen with their eyes: He hasn’t been at his best the past several years because his leg strength and balance have declined.

This is no surprise to fans familiar with the image of Jacobs being on the verge of a big run only to be tripped up by a safety’s shoestring tackle, or being tackled for a loss before he can work up the acceleration to evade a penetrating defender, or being stopped in a short-yardage situation.

It would have been reasonable to chalk this up to the natural decline of a big running back with lots of mileage. But Jacobs offered another explanation this past week: He wasn’t in ideal shape.

Jacobs told Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News that he got up to 285 pounds after the Giants’ first Super Bowl.

“We just relaxed, ate, took trips, had fun. My body wasn’t meant to be that big. But I still looked good,” he said.

Jacobs went on to say, “I’m training ten times harder than I’ve ever trained. I’m trying to get my body back to where it used to be, get strength back in my legs, because that was the weak point in me the last couple years.”

Jacobs hasn’t been known to acknowledge fault or fallibility of any kind, so reading this is somewhat surprising. It’s also frustrating for Giants fans, who knew they were watching a diminished player the past few seasons but didn’t know that it was a problem that was partly of his own making.

ACCORDING TO VEGAS, THE EAGLES, NOT THE GIANTS, ARE THE FAVORITES in the N.F.C. East.

The over/under for wins for the Eagles was set at 10. The Giants were at 9.5, the Cowboys were at 8.5, and the Redskins were at 6.5.

The fact that the Giants have the hardest schedule in the league--the Giants opponents' combined 2011 winning percentage was .547, averaging 8.75 wins--might have something to do with the lower expectations. But the Eagles’ and Cowboys’ schedules aren’t easy: The Eagles had the seventh most-difficult schedule, with opponents averaging 8.25 wins last year (.516). The Cowboys had the 11th most difficult, with opponents averaging 8.06 wins (.504).

UPDATE: Late on Friday, the Giants announced that Osi Umenyiora agreed to a "restructuring" of his deal, which is distinct from an extension. A source told the Star-Ledger’s Mike Garafolo that through easily attainable incentives, it would add around $3 million to Osi’s $4 million salary for 2012. It contains a second year that is voidable by Osi himself if he wants to become a free agent, which would be likely if he maintains his health and level of play. Also, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News, the Giants promised Umenyiora that they wouldn’t use the franchise tag on him after this year, thus freeing him to become a free agent.