It is quite clear who New York Giants fans want to talk about when discussing the team and their 4-2 start to the 2011 season. You usually get mention of the faces of the franchise first – Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora. That will likely be followed by a discussion of the quick emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul, from talented and promising rookie last season, to one of the league's elite pass rushers in 2011. And then the conversation will likely move to the big games from talented young wideout Victor Cruz, and the constantly improving play of tight end Jake Ballard.
Today we ask – what about the other guys? Who have been the under-the-radar contributors that have been key factors in this team's 4-2 start?
LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka
The wild card in the athletic defensive front seven of the G-Men, Kiwanuka is off to an impressive start for New York, showing great instincts and an ability to get into the backfield and make an impact in the run game. Kiwanuka has come up and made stops at and behind the line of scrimmage quite often in these first six games, and when he's lined up at defensive end in passing situations – he's also been a difference-maker in getting after the quarterback. Kiwanuka is on pace for his best all-around season as a pro.
CB Aaron Ross
Now I was on Ross's case more than anybody after his first two weeks of the season. Against Washington and St.Louis, Ross hardly looked like a starting NFL cornerback – as quarterbacks repeatedly found success his way, and he gave up big plays in situations where he could have made plays on the football and even taken it the other way. Ross was even struggling to finish tackles and taking bad angles to the ball carrier, strange for a guy known as a good tackling corner.
Since those first two games and his temporary benching in the St.Louis game however, Ross has really stepped up his play – not only becoming reliable in coverage, but also making big plays for the secondary with three interceptions. Outside of an inexcusable mental lapse late in the Seattle game, Ross has really been key in the improvement of this Giants pass defense.
LB Jacquian Williams
How about the rookie? Jacquian Williams has brought speed, athleticism, and raw ability to this Giants front seven and has shown the skill set needed to be a starting linebacker in the National Football League very quickly. Riding a strong finish to camp and preseason, Williams stepped into a bigger role for the Giants in week two, and followed it up with a very impressive game in Philadelphia. Williams has that "sideline to sideline" ability that the coaches love, and has made plays all over the football field for the Giants – from sealing the edge to getting pressure on the quarterback.
P Steve Weatherford
The Giants really struggled on special teams in 2010, and a big part of the reason why was the inconsistent play of Matt Dodge – who flashed a lot of potential, but just couldn't get the job done on a regular basis in New York. Well Steve Weatherford is getting the job done on a regular basis and then some. Coming off his two best games of the season against Seattle and Buffalo, Weatherford looks to have solved one of the Giants biggest concerns coming off the extremely shaky 2010 campaign for the punting unit.