Justin Tuck recently called Michael Boley the player the defense can least afford to lose.
Considering the injury list that has already consumed much of the defense, starting in training camp, Tuck probably wasn't far off. In fact, he might have hit the issue square on the head given Sunday's defensive struggles against the 49ers.
With Boley out the entire second half with a strained hamstring that has left him day-to-day, the defense was at a loss as far as positioning and speed. Boley is the signal-caller, the guy who keeps everybody on the back of the front seven lined up properly.
Especially a kid like middle linebacker Greg Jones. As solidly as Jones has played, his gaffe with the Giants on top 13-12 in the fourth quarter probably would not have happened had Boley been on the field to remind the Michigan State rookie about his coverage responsibilities.
Instead, Jones let tight end Vernon Davis flash in front of him, and then never made a move to cover him as Davis came wide open for a 31-yard touchdown catch. Davis ran nearly 20 yards before there was even a Giants defender in the picture.
The fact is, the Giants don't possess a linebacker with Boley's experience. Mathias Kiwanuka moves too much between linebacker and defensive end to serve as a confident defensive quarterback. And there's nothing behind Boley except for two rookies, Jacquain Williams and Spencer Paysinger. On the other side, it's another rookie behind Kiwanuka in Mark Herzlich.
None of those guys, obviously, is ready to take over the defense.
Kind of makes you wish Jonathan Goff was still around. But he's out of it, on injured reserve since training camp.
So, once again, the Giants are left in wish-and-hope mode that Boley's hamstring isn't so severe that he's going to miss time. The way the year has gone for this 6-3 team, however, they may well have to prepare themselves for his absence Sunday night.