Safety depth key for Giants vs. Fitzgerald

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
3:27
PM ET
Larry Fitzgerald and Antrel Rolle were teammates for years with the Arizona Cardinals, so Fitzgerald is looking forward to seeing Rolle on Sunday when Rolle and the New York Giants head to Arizona for their Week 4 game. Whether the Giants are looking forward to seeing Fitzgerald is another story. As one of the elite wide receivers in the league and the clear No. 1 target for Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, Fitzgerald looms as perhaps the most important person on the field for the Giants to stop if they want to come out of this game 3-1.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaGiants safeties Antrel Rolle, right, and Kenny Phillips, back, will have their hands full Sunday against Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Stopping him is easier said than done, but with Rolle, Kenny Phillips and veteran Deon Grant at safety, the Giants have enough depth there to give them a puncher's chance. As Mike Garafolo points out in that link up there, the only way teams seem to have a chance against Fitzgerald is to use bracket coverage against him, doubling him with a cornerback and a safety on pretty much every play.

Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3, which gives him a three-inch height advantage on each of the Giants' starting cornerbacks, Corey Webster and Aaron Ross. The Giants would be wise to assign Webster to him for a couple of reasons. First, Webster has the leaping ability to at least compete with Fitzgerald and give him a chance to help make up for the height differential. And second, Ross is still finding his way as a starter in place of the injured Terrell Thomas. Ross had a rough game in Week 2 against the Rams but played well in Week 3 against the Eagles, and it would probably make more sense to keep him on other Cardinals receivers and help him continue to build confidence.

But even if they assign Webster to Fitzgerald, he's going to need help, and that's where one of the Giants' defensive strengths comes in. Their depth at the safety position, and their ability and willingness to put three safeties on the field when they go down to two linebackers on passing downs, should enable defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to constantly have a safety help out Webster over the top against Fitzgerald. There's no guarantee it will work, of course. Fitzgerald wouldn't have fashioned the career he has so far if he weren't able to beat double-teams. But unlike a lot of teams, the Giants have a lot of options and flexibility when it comes to making those double-teams as strong as possible. Phillips, Rolle and Grant are as solid a group of safeties as there is in the league.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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