Sep 24, 2011, 7:48 PM EDT
The Giants went about assembling a defense that could keep up with the Eagles’ prolific offense over the last two off-seasons, but lady luck would have none of it. New York has been decimated by injuries, turning Philly’s chief rival and most likely competitor for division championship into a shell of itself.
Give defensive coordinator Perry Fewell credit, because his defense actually didn’t look completely awful on Monday night against the Rams. Of course, that’s the same group the Eagles handled in Week 1 with less than their best effort. Still, Fewell knows how to dial up the pressure, and will send plenty of the overload and defensive back blitzes that confuse Michael Vick with such frequency. Can his personnel get the job done?
DEs Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul
Osi Umenyiora, surprise, has been out the first couple weeks due to injury, and he hasn’t practiced at all leading up to this one, so we doubt he’ll go. Even without the two-time Pro Bowler, the Giants have a pair of freakishly athletic defensive ends who could give the Eagles’ tackles fits.
First is Tuck, who has reached double digits in sacks three of the past four seasons, and appears to be on track to do it again. After missing game one with, you guessed it, an injury, Tuck was a difference maker on Monday night, getting in on 1.5 sacks. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler himself, and presents a challenge for Todd Herremans protecting Vick’s blind side.
Pierre-Paul was last year’s first round pick, taken one spot after the Eagles’ Brandon Graham, and he could be turning into a monster before our eyes. The 22 year old has totaled seven sacks in his last eight NFL games, a pace that if kept up, New York won’t be missing Umenyiora much — either now, or next year when contract demands find him on his way out.
SLB Mathias Kiwanuka
One thing the Giants still have in bounds is pass rushers, and Kiwanuka certainly fits the bill. A converted defensive end — proving it’s not just an Andy Reid thing — from Enrico’s Boston College, Kiwanuka was off to a hellacious start last season, racking up four sacks in the first three games. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the injury bug bit.
Kiwanuka has returned from a neck injury, but missing that amount of time seems to have sapped his momentum. The sixth year veteran has been held without a sack so far, though he still figures to play a prominent role in the defense’s pressure packages. He can blitz from his linebacker spot, or slide down to spell the ends. Either way, he’s gonna get after the quarterback.
MLB Greg Jones
The first example of how the Giants have fallen on hard times is visible right in the heart of their defense. With Jonathan Goff done for the season, the job of quarterbacking the defense has fallen on sixth round rookie Greg Jones from Michigan State.
Nothing against the guy — a two-time All-American in college — but it would appear this gives their opponents an advantage. He’s not very big (6’0″), not exceptionally fast (4.8 40 yard dash), and not experienced at all. In a sense, he reminds me of Casey Matthews, only two rounds later. NFL.com’s combine profile lists Jones’ weaknesses as, “Susceptible when teams run downhill right at him,” and, “Has a tough time staying with quicker backs and tight ends in man coverage,” so it could mean big things for Shady McCoy in both phases of the game.
FS(?) Antrel Rolle
The second example of how bad things are getting would be Antrel Rolle being pressed into duties as a cornerback. Rolle began his NFL career at corner with the Arizona Cardinals, but after three disappointing seasons, he was moved to free safety. Now it’s reached the point where the Giants are so desperate for cover men in their secondary, he’s seeing time as the nickel corner.
Rolle is a veteran of this league, and has surely picked up some tricks of the trade, so it’s not as though he is completely out of his element. That said, there is a reason the coaches thought he should change positions, and these aren’t the Redskins’ or Rams’ wide receivers. No matter who lines up in the slot for the Eagles, they are better than the competition Rolle faced the past two weeks, and will have the upper hand in a one-on-one from the moment the ball is snapped. It will be up to Vick to identify the coverage and deliver the football.
On the flip side, one positive aspect for the G-men is the offense is never certain where Rolle will line up. He could be at corner. He could be in centerfield. He can line up in the box and blitz your quarterback. Rolle makes his living off of big plays, and the more ways the defense can utilize that ability, the harder it makes
CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross
So why was Rolle playing cornerback? Enter Ross, who was the team’s nickel corner until the excellent Terrell Thomas was lost for the season. His performance on Monday night against the Rams was so pitiful, Ross actually needed to be benched during the game. On the opposite side meanwhile, Webster is merely capable, and according to Football Outsiders Almanac, his yards allowed per pass has been on the rise for years.
We’ve been watching the Eagles’ receivers eat these defensive backs alive for the past two seasons, and that was with their best corner on the field. Thomas is gone, and Prince Amukamara is out with a you-know-what too, so this unit is the very definition of thin.
Obviously, it will all come down to protecting Vick, as it so often does. If he has time though, there is no way this secondary can defend DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Steve Smith, LeSean McCoy, and so on. They haven’t done it yet, and they clearly aren’t prepared to start now.
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