Here's a pop quiz for all you Giants fans out there: When was this statement made?
"Sometimes last year we were the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and other times we were just an average defense out there. It was a lack of focus. You could call it a lack of leadership. I don't know what you want to call it, but plain and simple, we're too good of a group, collectively, to play to the level we did at times."
Time's up. The quote is from a conversation cornerback Terrell Thomas had with Dan Graziano of ESPN.com recently.
You could imagine a member of the Giants defense saying this in the 2009 or 2010 training camps just as easily as you could this year. In each of the last three seasons, the Giants defense has had moments where they were totally dominant mixed in with moments when they were ordinary and more than a few moments when they were downright awful.
Despite that history, the memories of the defense that led the Giants to the Super Bowl have been hard to shake over the last three years and plenty of people inside and outside the team seem to think this is a defense capable of carrying the team. Thomas is one of those people.
"We know our offense is kind of struggling right now with some of the departures," Thomas said. "But we're already saying, if we've got to be the Ravens of '01 when they won the Super Bowl and just have to shut teams out, that's what we're going to do."
Big words, but, as Graziano points out, we've heard them all before and then watched the Giants defense fail to shut teams out at key points in the season. Forget the fourth quarter of the Eagles game, where was this supposedly mighty defense in the Packers game the next week or when the Cowboys routed them in Jersey earlier in the season?
It's been lost in the volumes of hot air put out by Rex Ryan and the Jets over the past few years, but the Giants have spent a lot more time talking about being a good team than they've spent actually being a good team. We don't quibble with the fact that there's enough talent around for this to be a first-rate defense, we're just not sure that it will actually turn out that way after watching the same defense fail so often last season.
Maybe a second year in Perry Fewell's system or an improved Jason Pierre-Paul will be the difference. The Giants certainly believe something's different, but it would be nice to see it before we have to hear anything more about it.