The Giants earned a playoff berth in 2011 by the narrowest of margins. New York won three of its last four games of the season to finish 9-7 and two of those wins -- Week 14 at Dallas and Week 16 at home against the Jets -- could have very easily gone the other way.

The Giants’ tenuous hold on a playoff spot was reflected in the stats. They ranked 32nd in the league in rushing, 19th in rush defense and just 29th in pass defense. Complicating matters heading into the 2012 season has been the departures of running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham, as well as the ongoing knee issues of cornerback Terrell Thomas.

Quarterback Eli Manning ranked fourth in the NFL with 4,933 passing yards last season, but if the Giants can’t improve on last year’s shortcomings, he’ll need to do better than that if they’re to pull a repeat.

Questions to be answered in exhibition season:

1. What will the secondary look like? We know safeties Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and cornerback Corey Webster will be starting, but we don’t know much beyond that. Thomas, a former starter, aggravated his surgically repaired right ACL and is out indefinitely, so it’s time for either Michael Coe or former first-round pick Prince Amukamara to step up at cornerback. But the real questions begin when the Giants go to their nickel defense. Will Rolle play nickelback again this year, even though the team no longer has Deon Grant to step in at safety, or will someone earn the job out of camp? Defensive backs Will Hill, Dante Hughes, Bruce Johnson, Antwuan Molden and third-round pick Jayron Hosley could all factor into the discussion.

2. How will the running game bounce back? Starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw says his surgically repaired feet are finally better, and even if that’s not the case, nobody on the Giants has played through pain more than No. 44. The real issues are along the line, where David Diehl moves from left tackle to right tackle to replace the departed Kareem McKenzie, and in the backfield, where first-round pick David Wilson is competing with D.J. Ware, Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott to get Jacobs’ carries. Left tackle Will Beatty is battling back problems and will miss the first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so there’s still a chance Diehl moves back to the blind side.

3. Who wants to be a star in the passing game? Receiver Victor Cruz and tight end Jake Ballard each broke out in 2011, and now the Giants need two or more people to stand up now that Ballard and Manningham, a Super Bowl hero, are gone. Hakeem Nicks continues to work back from a broken foot, so there will be plenty of opportunities for receivers Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon, Jerrel Jernigan and second-round pick Rueben Randle to earn that third-receiver spot in the preseason. Meanwhile, Bear Pascoe and first-year Giant Martellus Bennett are each gunning to be the next starting tight end for New York.

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