Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - Page 18 News List

NFL: With Smith out, the Giants lose a key leading man

NY Times News Service, EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY

Around the Giants’ practice center, receiver Steve Smith has earned a reputation as an amateur videographer, filming short clips of his teammates that he posts on social-networking sites.

Smith has captured Eli Manning lifting weights and Justin Tuck eating lunch this season. However, the absence of Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, has been as noticeable on the field as at the team’s complex.

With Smith sidelined essentially since Week 10 because of injuries, the Giants (9-5), who face the Green Bay Packers (8-6) today looking for a win to clinch a playoff berth, have been forced to adapt to life without one of their best offensive players. The results have been most apparent in third-down situations.

“You have guys running routes that they’re not really used to running,” Manning said. “You’re trying to mix and match. “

The numbers do not necessarily illustrate the impact of losing Smith, who was replaced by Derek Hagan in the slot. The Giants converted roughly 37 percent of their third-down conversions before Smith partly tore his pectoral muscle on Nov. 11, and they have converted roughly 38 percent of their attempts in those situations in the five games he missed since then. However, 11 of Smith’s 48 receptions came on third down, only two of them failing to result in a first down.

As the slot receiver, Smith is often open on third down because defenses typically leave space underneath two-safety coverage, with the cornerbacks spread out. In that coverage, the offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said, Smith was nearly impossible to cover.

“So to have a guy like him in there was a great security blanket for us in terms of our play calling and for our execution,” Gilbride said. “But he’s gone, so you’ve got to come up with other guys who can do that for you.”

Smith was sidelined with the torn pectoral muscle until the Giants’ 21-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 13, when he returned, but suffered a season-ending injury to the articular cartilage in his left knee in the fourth quarter. Smith, who had 529 yards and three touchdowns this year, had successful microfracture surgery on Tuesday.

Though Smith, who went to the Pro Bowl last season after setting a franchise record with 107 receptions, has been praised for his uncanny knack for getting open and his precision route running, the Giants have had to take different approaches on third-down situations.

“There’s many ways to skin a cat,” backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels said. “When we have certain players, that’s one way of doing it. When those players get hurt, there’s a different way to get first downs. The running game changes, too. You’ve just got to find the easiest way for your team to be successful.”

Hagan, who was signed on Nov. 16 after being released in the final round of cuts before the regular season, has played in the slot. Hagan has 16 receptions for 142 yards.

“Film study is going to help us simulate what Steve has been able to do,” said receiver Michael Clayton, who was signed on Nov. 23. “A guy like Steve can feel it out, and it comes natural to him to feel it out. A guy it doesn’t come natural to, you’ll have to load up on film so you know what to expect.”

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