New York Giants: Stevie Brown
Brown opened everyone's eyes with his eight-interception season in 2012 but missed all of 2013 after tearing his ACL in preseason. His road back from the injury was a tough one, and he was eager to resume his role as a starting safety for the Giants this season. But he played poorly in the first three games and says now that it was because he got too caught up in trying to make big plays happen instead of letting them happen in their time.
"When you're someone who's looked at as a playmaker and the plays aren't happening, it's frustrating," Brown said Friday. "That's when you start to force the issue."
Brown was looking for interceptions rather than handling the assignments the defense was giving him. Perry Fewell's defense is assignment-driven, and efforts to freelance have a tendency to hurt rather than help. Brown's mistakes could have been avoided if he'd simply done what he was supposed to do instead of trying to replicate his magical 2012 run.
"When I had mistakes, it was at times when I was trying to do more than I was asked to do," Brown said. "I can't be doing that."
Brown is back in the starting lineup now. He's played every snap on defense the last two weeks and is once again a starter. He'd love to start racking up interceptions again, because what defensive back wouldn't? But he's wiser for his September errors, his knee feels great, and he believes he can finish strong and carry a good feeling into the offseason.
"I told him our team needed him to play the way he is capable of playing," Coughlin said. "He got back on the field, and he has made a nice contribution. I'm hoping he can do more. He does have outstanding hands, and he does have the ability to maneuver in center field, so you'd like to think he can maybe get in position to have an interception."
Meantime, just staying in position will do for now.
"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."
Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.
On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.
"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."
Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).
No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.
"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."
The Giants had hoped Beason would be able to play after practicing a bit this week, but obviously the very short time between games made that even more challenging. It's possible the 10 days between this game and their next one will give him enough time to heal to the point in which he can play.
In his place, Jameel McClain will move over from strongside linebacker to start at middle linebacker and Mark Herzlich will start at strongside linebacker for the second game in a row. That role likely would have been rookie Devon Kennard's, but he's out for the third game in a row with a hamstring injury. Herzlich isn't an ideal solution, but he's stronger against the run than Spencer Paysinger or Dan Fox. The Giants play most of the game in a nickel defense, so they usually only have two linebackers -- McClain and Jacquian Williams, in this case -- on the field at a time. But when they are in their base defense, they have more faith in Herzlich's ability to stop the run than they do the other remaining linebacker options on their team.
Safety Stevie Brown is not injured, but he has officially lost his starting job, at least for this game. The Giants announced Quintin Demps as their starting free safety. More on that move here.
Giants-Redskins: Full list of inactives.
"You've got to be deeper than the deepest," Demps said Tuesday. "Deeper than the deepest, that's what it's all about."
"It's an opportunity for me," Demps said. "So I just take advantage of the chance to be the best I can be for this team and go from there."
It's not the easiest week to take over as a Giants safety. Tuesday was their only full practice of the week, since they're headed to Washington for the Thursday night game. Washington's offense features two of the best receivers in the game in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and Jackson's rare speed is one of the toughest challenges a secondary faces all season.
"You've got to play a little bit deeper with that dude," said Demps, who roomed with Jackson when both were rookies with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008.
So, if you normally back up two steps, then against Jackson it should be three?
"Four," Demps said. "It's DeSean Jackson, man. All he does is run."
Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also a former teammate of Jackson's, having played for the Eagles in 2011 and 2012, so he's practiced against him, too. The two are close friends, and Jackson offered Rodgers-Cromartie a compliment Tuesday when asked if his former teammate had the speed to cover him.
"DRC is fast," Jackson said. He's one of the ones that can."
Rodgers-Cromartie is likely to draw that assignment, though Garcon, who led the league in catches last year, is no picnic on the other side. Garcon wins with his size and physicality and has shown the ability to catch the ball in short range and take it the distance. But like most of the receivers in the league, he doesn't have Jackson's speed, and so he's the more desirable assignment by default.
"I'd rather face the bigger guys," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Those shorter, quicker guys are much more difficult."
It's basically a coincidence that the Giants are making a change at safety on the week they face Washington. Brown had a bad first game, running into Rodgers-Cromartie on Calvin Johnson's long touchdown in Detroit. And after the loss to Arizona, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Brown still didn't look like the ballhawking player he was in 2012, when he got eight interceptions. After another rough game Sunday, it was time for a change.
Demps is a very fast safety (hence his kick-return responsibilities), but he said he believes he can play strong or free safety and allow the Giants to switch off him and Antrel Rolle as is their preference.
"I feel like I'm interchangeable," Demps said.
His mission Thursday is to make the Giants' decision to change their starting lineup look good. And, of course, to be deeper than the deepest.
So that makes it pretty clear Brown was benched for performance reasons rather than injury reasons, and it leads one to wonder whether Berhe might have a chance to get the start or at least a few more snaps in Thursday night's game in Washington.
Brown missed the entire 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp last year, and Coughlin made a comment last week about Brown not being all the way back to the player he was when he had eight interceptions in 2012. So there has been some level of dissatisfaction with Brown's performance so far by the coaching staff.
It might be that they have determined he's not able, because of his physical condition, to play a whole game and be as productive as they'd like him to be, and in that case they might have to work out some kind of timeshare with Brown and Berhe and maybe Quintin Demps in the mix. Or it might be that they're upset with Brown for not playing as well as they need him to play and they sat him down Sunday to send a message after a particularly bad error. We'll explore this further Tuesday when we get to go into the locker room for interviews, I promise. Definitely something to keep an eye on this week.
This, through two weeks, is the New York Giants' secondary. A unit that was supposed to be the strength of this team has instead been one of the main culprits for their 0-2 start.
"The no takeaways is an issue now," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "This is something that every team counts on in the NFL -- getting an extra field position, bona fide field position from some type of takeaway, whether it be special teams or defense. And we have not had that."
Coughlin lamented a couple of plays from Sunday's game that he believed safety Stevie Brown and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could have turned into interceptions, and he seemed to believe the issues were of technique and/or decision-making.
"You've got to be in the right position. Your eyes have got to be in the right spot. You've got to have a good feel for it," Coughlin said. I thought on a couple of occasions, the quarterback was actually staring the ball down where he was goingm and we still weren't influenced enough to go in that direction and be in position to make a play. We do have athletes. They are good athletes. A couple of years ago, we referred to Stevie Brown as kind of a ballhawking guy in center field when he had that opportunity. He's just not there yet. He's not back yet to where he was a couple of years ago, and let's hope he gets there."
In the meantime, the Giants' defensive backs need to keep their hands to themselves. They weren't called for many of those preseason-type downfield contact penalties in the opening-week loss in Detroit, but they had way too many of them on Sunday. And while fans and even some players and coaches may want to sit around and argue about the validity of the calls being made against defensive backs, they are being made, and defensive players have to adjust better than the Giants have done.
"We need to be smarter," safety Antrel Rolle said. "You can't hold a guy. Illegal contact, things like that are going to take place throughout the course of the game. But there are certain things we saw on film. When you're jamming a guy, and you're holding and you're looking at the quarterback, they're going to call that 100 percent of the time. So we have to be smarter."
It would be one thing if the over-aggressive play were leading to interceptions, but they don't have one yet. And while it's still early, this is a unit that needs to be setting the tone for the rest of the team. It's not going to get any easier with nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond out for the year due to a pectoral muscle injury, but the players who remain are good enough to cut down on the penalties and make some plays. At this point, though, the Giants would take just one of those things.
"Obviously, we're not as good at it as we should be," Coughlin said. "So we've got to sharpen it up."
We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.
Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.
Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.
On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.
Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.
One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Brown looks just fine, as though nothing ever happened. The knee injury happened during a preseason game last year, so he's had just about a full year to recover, and he was at the Giants' facility throughout last season and through the winter and spring rehabbing the knee. Brown told me recently that it was January or February when he jumped to catch a ball in a rehab drill and landed hard on his left leg without even thinking about it. Since then he's felt good, and he's practicing in full as though it never happened. The Giants want to be able to switch him and Antrel Rolle off, and so we have seen Brown playing down in the box more against the run than he did when he was Mr. Interception in 2012. So far, so good with Stevie.
@DanGrazianoESPN: There's no real replacing what David Wilson would have brought to the run game had his career not ended this week because of repeated neck injuries. There's no other back on the roster who has anything resembling Wilson's uncommon speed or explosiveness. It's not as though they'll just plug Andre Williams or Michael Cox or Kendall Gaskins or Peyton Hillis into the plays that were designed for Wilson. Rashad Jennings is the clear starter at running back, and my sense from 30 days out is that they'd love it if the rookie Williams could advance to the point where he's the No. 2. If he can't, then it's Hillis (assuming he heals from a sprained ankle in time) or someone else -- maybe even someone not yet on the team. But as far as the back who goes in when Jennings needs a break, my sense is they'd love for it to be Williams, but he has to show them he's ready to handle that responsibility. He runs quite well with the ball in his hands, but he's not really a complete back in terms of being able to contribute in the passing game just yet. How quickly he develops in that area will determine how much they can use him this year.
@DanGrazianoESPN: We're doing roster projections every Monday morning throughout camp, and so far all of mine have had five wide receivers. This is because I believe the Giants want to carry four tight ends and a fullback, and even with only two quarterbacks, that really only leaves room for five wide receivers. Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan are sure things, and at this point I'd probably give the fifth spot to Marcus Harris. But the remaining weeks could obviously change things and even expand that group to six. They want to keep four tight ends, but given what they have there, it's entirely possible they could decide they don't have four worth keeping and they're better off adding an extra wideout instead. On the flip side, if their tight ends show enough in the intervening weeks, they could decide to go without a fullback and add another wideout. So as of now, I think five, but it could end up being six depending on how things shake out with the other position groups.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I think the most impressive player in Giants camp so far is cornerback Walter Thurmond, who's been making life miserable for slot receiver Victor Cruz in practice. Thurmond could be a difference-maker at that nickel corner position for the Giants this year. The most disappointing is obviously first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn't practiced since the first day because of a hamstring injury. Ditto return man Trindon Holliday, who also remains out with a hamstring injury and now looks unlikely to make the team. And while I don't think expectations for him were overly high, I haven't see Brandon Mosley do very much with his opportunity to handle the starting right guard spot. Though I guess there you'd also have to say injured John Jerry is a disappointment because he can't get on the field to challenge Mosley for that spot. Thanks for the questions. I'll chat at you from the MetLife Stadium press box in a few hours.
"So," Weiss said. "I guess you're not worried about it anymore."
"You're forced to take a step back, and you have to rebuild your game as you're getting healthier," Brown said before Giants practice Thursday. "There are some things that I excelled at in the past that took a while to get back before I could just break-and-cut, break-and-cut. I had to start off with the little things -- coming downhill, addressing myself like I was going to be in the run game, just basic football patterns rather than going out right away and getting in deep thirds and breaking off. I had to start by making sure I could come to balance, breaking down in the tackling game, shifting one way, shifting the other way, things like that.
"Just a big, gradual process to get back to where I am now."
Where he is now is on the practice field, doing everything he would normally be doing to get ready for a football season if he'd never injured his knee in the first place. Brown said there's extra work that goes on off the field -- he has to do extra leg workouts to make sure to keep the muscles around his left knee strong. But once he's on the field, he said he believes he's able to do everything he used to be able to do.
"He worked really hard," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He was here every day in the summer and throughout the entire offseason. So he's worked hard to get himself back on the field, and the work has obviously paid off. But the process of making him stronger, getting him to the games is still going to be important."
With Will Hill suspended and released, the Giants are a bit thin at safety. Brown and Antrel Rolle project as the starters, with Quintin Demps behind them and a pair of fifth-round picks from the past two seasons -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- behind him. If Brown weren't able to play at full strength, the Giants would suddenly have a big problem at the position. Fortunately for them, at this point, he feels as good as ever.
"I'm able to do everything right now," Brown said. "No limitations to anything. I take all the reps that they want me to take and just go out there and do everything I need to do."
Projected starters: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown
Projected backups: Quintin Demps, Cooper Taylor, Nat Berhe
Others fighting for roster spots: Kyle Sebetic, Thomas Gordon, C.J. Barnett
Brown says he feels good coming off the knee surgery that cost him a chance to start alongside his Pro Bowl mentor Rolle in 2013. He's been eager for a while now to follow up on his breakout eight-interception 2012 season, and the Giants are hoping his knee allows him to do that. If it does not, thanks to the suspension and release of Will Hill, things could get thin here in a hurry. Demps was signed more as a kickoff returner than a safety, but at this point he's the clear No. 3 when they want to go to their three-safety defense, and he's the projected substitute starter if Rolle or Brown can't play.
Behind Demps are two recent fifth-round picks -- Taylor from 2013 and Berhe from this year. Given the Giants' numbers at cornerback, it's hard to see them carrying five safeties, so it's possible both guys can't make the team and they might have to try to put Berhe on the practice squad. They do like Taylor, who had injuries last season but has come back larger and stronger this year and could have an opportunity for more playing time if he shows he can handle it.
But to hear his position coach tell it, Rolle is still developing as a safety and is likely to get even better this year and beyond.
"Antrel is just now starting to understand and develop as a safety," Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt said Thursday. "He was a corner, as we all know, when he was drafted out of Miami. Now all of a sudden he's a safety, and he's starting to understand the position more so than ever. Before, as far as formations, he didn't see formations. He didn't really see the route concepts. Now, the last two years, it's all coming together for him and he's feeling more comfortable. So with Antrel's ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn't really scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become."
Odd stuff to say about a 31-year-old player entering his 10th NFL season and the final year of his contract with the team. But Merritt pointed out that Rolle wasn't strictly a safety even in his first couple of years with the Giants, who used him in a variety of roles from 2010-12 as needs dictated.
"The first couple of years, you all know, we played him at nickel, we played him at 'Bison,' we played him at corner, we played him at safety," Merritt said. "Now he's able to just play strictly safety, and it's coming together for him well."
Merritt said he recently told Rolle he thought he could play another four years. The safety position is a major question mark for the Giants this year and in years to come. Rolle is a free agent at the end of this year. Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are signed to one-year contracts. Will Hill was recently released following his third drug suspension in as many years. They can't know yet what they have in 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor or 2014 fifth-round pick Nat Berhe. Depending on the way this season goes, the Giants could find themselves needing to sign Rolle to another free-agent contract just to stabilize things for them at the position. Or they could find themselves starting over with a whole new crew.
In the meantime, though, the Giants' sudden depth at cornerback should enable Rolle to stay firmly planted at safety this year. And his coaches believe he'll continue to grow, improve and thrive there as a result.
Fewell is entering his fourth season on the job, but had several new players to incorporate this spring, including at least a couple starters.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play cornerback opposite Prince Amukamara, with Walter Thurmond seeing plenty of action as well as the team's nickel corner. Jameel McClain will almost certainly start at linebacker -- in the middle until Jon Beason is healthy, and then alongside Beason after that. Then there are the other free-agent acquisitions, plus the team's draft class.
Fewell likes the new "tools" at his disposal. "I definitely think those tools allow us to do a lot more different things than we've done in the past," he said. "I was very excited about what we were able to install [this spring], some of the things we were able to do, the information they retained, and executed at a high level."
The most attention-grabbing additions the Giants made this offseason, defensively, were in the secondary. But the team lost 50 percent of its starting D-line with the departures of Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck, both of whom played well in 2013.
The Giants do have veteran replacements for each in Mike Patterson and Mathias Kiwanuka, to plug in with Cullen Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul. But both Fewell and defensive line coach Robert Nunn singled out young defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn in particular on Thursday.
"I've been extremely impressed with both those guys," Fewell said. "Technique-wise they have accomplished a lot in Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the offseason program. And then just their knowledge of the game -- I think they've done a really, really nice job."
Hankins, a second-round draft pick in 2013, played in 11 games last season, with 16 tackles. Kuhn, a seventh-round pick in 2012, tore an ACL late in his rookie year, but was able to play in five games late last season.
"We've got a very healthy situation there at defensive tackle," Nunn said. "We've got two veterans (Jenkins and Patterson) that have had an outstanding offseason. And we've got two young players that have come in here -- it was every day that one of those two, Hankins or Kuhn, either myself or Perry was pointing out positive things that they did, every single day."
So the Giants feel good about what they have up front. They're expecting Beason to return from his injured foot early in the season, if not by Week 1, and aren't too concerned about his absence in the meantime.
"We install, we go as we need to go, and we go with it with the intent that Jon will be ready when he's ready," Fewell said. "Just him being in the meeting room, being there, hearing his voice is enough for us. So we proceed as follows."
Fewell also spoke very highly of rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, a fifth-round pick who got some reps with the first team during minicamp this week. "He blew us away," Fewell said, of the USC product's football knowledge.
And regarding the secondary, beyond the new additions, Fewell sounds very pleased to have safety Stevie Brown back, after Brown missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
"He looked pretty good this spring," Fewell said. "Obviously he hasn't tackled, he hasn't hit anyone, but Stevie is -- we'll use the term, on point. He's on point to returning to that form where he was when he left off."
It's easy to be optimistic in mid-June, with the regular-season opener nearly three months away. We'll learn a lot more starting July 21, when the Giants reconvene here for training camp.
This was Fewell's answer when asked about second-year defensive end Damontre Moore's progress, but it applies across the board:
"I would really like to give you a set answer. [But] I think preseason games will be the measuring stick," Fewell said. "We all look pretty good when we're running around in underwear, shorts. But when you get hit in the mouth and that person reacts, that's when you can measure and find out where you really are."
No. 1 -- Week 3 at Carolina
"We had put in a different blitz that week, and I had the option of blitzing based on what the running back did, or I could sit back and hover and watch the quarterback's eyes if the halfback stayed in. And I chose to hover and watch Cam Newton's eyes, and when I saw where he was going, I just went and made a play.No. 2 -- Week 5 vs. Browns
"I think it was my second snap, so I was just trying to feel out everything. I didn't want to go rushing up in there and then maybe have him scramble out and do something, so I just kind of sat back with my eyes on him. It was literally my second snap in, so I was just like, 'Let's play it safe right now.'"
The Giants trailed 17-10 in the second quarter when Brown intercepted a Brandon Weeden pass at the 14-yard line and ran it all the way back to the Cleveland 40. The Giants tied the game two plays later on an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run and also scored the game's next 17 points en route to a 41-27 victory. Brown said he took advantage of a poor pass from Weeden:
"I think we were in a Cover 1 on that one, and it was a sprint-out, and they like to throw it to the tailback out in the flat, and I was just trying to get over the top and I saw that it was overthrown, so I just went and got it. It was kind of a sprint-out, everything was kind of going to that direction, so I was just trying to get out and get over there and see what happened, and the ball got overthrown and I went and made a play."No. 3 -- Week 7 vs. Redskins
No. 4 -- Week 8 at Dallas
"That was all Linval. That was definitely all Linval. Linval came in with the pressure and it made him hold his throw, and then when he went back to throw it, it threw off all the timing and I was the beneficiary of that. Definitely all Linval."
The Giants led 3-0 in the first quarter when Brown intercepted a Tony Romo pass intended for Dez Bryant at the 36-yard line and ran it back to the Dallas 37. The Giants turned that possession into a Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 6-0 lead. Brown thinks Bryant was running the wrong route on the play, and remembers Bryant and Romo talking on the sideline after it was over:
No. 5 -- Week 8 at Dallas
"It looked like he was running a post and I saw the ball in the air, so I just went and got that one. I was definitely in the post. He was running the post, apparently he was supposed to be running a dig, so I remember they were talking about that one after. But he ran a post and I just broke out of the post and made a play on the ball.
I'm reading the quarterback and I've got to read the receivers and see what they're doing. One of the toughest plays to break on is the dig, so before I come directly downhill I have to see where my receivers are so I can break accordingly with them. And I saw he was coming in on the post and I saw the ball in the air at the same time and I went for the ball."
The Cowboys had wiped out a 23-0 Giants lead and trailed 29-24 with a little over a minute left in the game. They were on the Giants' 19-yard line, and on fourth-and-1, Brown intercepted a Romo pass at the 17 to hold off the Dallas comeback. The Cowboys did get the ball back and nearly scored to win the game, but Bryant was ruled out of bounds in the end zone when replay showed part of his hand had come down out of bounds on an apparent touchdown catch. Brown's interception was once again the result of pressure from his buddy on the defensive line:
"That was another one where I think Linval helped as well. He got pressure on Romo. He's definitely an underrated guy. Linval's a great player. So he got pressure and he flushed him out of the pocket, and I don't know if he was trying to throw it up for [Jason] Witten to get or if he was just trying to throw it up to get out of bounds, but it didn't quite get out of bounds far enough, so I was able to go up and get it."No. 6 -- Week 14 vs. Saints
No. 7 -- Week 14 vs. Saints
"That was all Antrel. Antrel had man-to-man coverage on Jimmy Graham, and he made a great play. Jimmy Graham went up to catch it, Trel came up and punched it out of his hands, so it went up in the air and it was just another one of those plays where I was the beneficiary of it.
That's one thing I joke around with Eli [Manning] about all the time in practice, like, 'Eli, if you ever overthrow the ball or if it ever gets tipped, it will be mine.' He just has to know, he's got to put the ball on the money every single time or it's going to be my pick. I just like to tell him that I'm always going to be in the vicinity every time, so if it's not right to the receiver at the perfect place, it's going to be mine."
The Giants led 42-27 in the fourth quarter when Brown picked off another Brees-to-Graham effort and ran it back 70 yards to the Saints' 22-yard line. That led to a Lawrence Tynes field goal as the Giants were on their way to an easy 52-27 win:
"I think we were in Cover 2 on that one, and as I was just backpedaling reading my 2-1 read like normal. [Michael] Boley had carried Graham maybe 10-15 yards down the field and then he stopped and Graham kept going and I saw Brees look at him and I took off, because I knew, you got your big tight end right there up the seam closer to the red zone, I knew that's where he was trying to go, so I just gambled and it paid off."No. 8 -- Week 17 vs. Eagles
The Giants began the day still alive in the playoff hunt and would crush the Eagles 42-7 in the final game of the Andy Reid era while results elsewhere in the league eliminated them from postseason contention. They came out fired up, though, and Brown picked off Michael Vick on the Eagles' opening drive. Another long (48-yard) return got the ball to the Philadelphia 26, and Manning cashed in four plays later with a short touchdown pass to Rueben Randle:
"I think he was trying to throw to [Brent] Celek, and I know Kenny [Phillips] was in coverage on him, and it was real windy that game. So I don't know if the wind caught it or what, but it kind of got thrown a little bit behind Celek and I just dove out and made a play on it.
"It's definitely a good season. I set goals every single year. I set five in my head, and wrote down five, so to be able to get eight was amazing."
“I realized how many times he saved our butts and how many times he came up big,” Amukamara said of Hill, the former Giants safety who was waived on Monday after being handed a third drug-related suspension in three seasons by the NFL. “It’s going to be a tough loss. Hopefully if he goes to a team, it’s not someone in the NFC East. He’s a guy you don’t want to face.”
However, the sentiment behind Amukamara's point is that Hill was a star-caliber player in the secondary for the Giants last season and that he will be difficult to replace. Stevie Brown is the obvious replacement, but he's coming off ACL surgery and will have to be monitored closely in camp. Quintin Demps started a few games at safety for the Chiefs last year and will get more looks there now, but he was signed mainly for his abilities in the return game. It's unlikely that Cooper Taylor or Nat Berhe would be ready for a major role, and no, since many of you have asked, I do not see them (or anyone else, for that matter) pursuing Ed Reed.
Hill's departure likely means that the big three-safety look defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used to like to use is not much of an option this year. That may not matter much, since they're deep enough at cornerback to leave Walter Thurmond in the slot and since they have a bona fide three-down linebacker in Jon Beason, but it does reduce their options. And if Brown has any setbacks or problems with his knee, they're suddenly quite thin at safety.
We talked Monday about the $5 million in new cap room the Giants picked up this week once the post-June 1 release of David Baas became official, and it's possible they could use some of that to bring in a safety for depth now. But there isn't much left on the market at this point. And the premise behind Amukamara's quote is that replacing Hill isn't as simple as throwing another body in there. He wasn't just a starting safety for the Giants in 2013. He was, quite often, the best and most important player on their defense. Cutting him could not have been easy, however obvious the decision may have been from the outside. Replacing him will be even tougher.