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Friday, October 21, 2011
Kiwanuka and the 'unheralded' Giants

By Dan Graziano

A 4-2 record is a 4-2 record, and it's something of which the New York Giants should be proud, especially considering the circumstances that surrounded the start of their season. And while players like Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul are justifiably getting their share of the credit, Giants 101 decided to take a look at four of the "unheralded" players responsible for the Giants' hot start. They chose to focus on linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Jacquian Williams, cornerback Aaron Ross and punter Steve Weatherford, all of whom are indeed worthy of attention.

It's a nice piece, and I agree on all four. We knew Weatherford was going to be an upgrade over Matt Dodge when he signed, and he's been that and more. Williams has emerged from that group of rookie linebackers to make a major contribution to the team's run defense. And Ross? Well, his recovery from his Week 2 benching is indeed remarkable and has, to a certain extent in this space at least, been "heralded." Heck, he's on the All-Division Team!

But Kiwanuka deserves a special mention, and here's what Hazem Kiswani writes about him in that first link up there:
The wild card in the athletic defensive front seven of the G-Men, Kiwanuka is off to an impressive start for New York, showing great instincts and an ability to get into the backfield and make an impact in the run game. Kiwanuka has come up and made stops at and behind the line of scrimmage quite often in these first six games, and when he's lined up at defensive end in passing situations, he's also been a difference-maker in getting after the quarterback. Kiwanuka is on pace for his best all-around season as a pro.

Even if he hadn't played well, Kiwanuka's gripe-free willingness to change positions in the preseason would have been a major contribution to a Giants team that had no other way of constructing a defense heavy on lineman and light on linebackers. He deserves credit for making the change for the good of the team. But while 4-3 outside linebacker isn't a glamour position in today's NFL, Kiwanuka is quietly having a stellar season. Sure, he's an asset in the pass rush, as he always has been and they knew he would be. But he's also graded out extremely well against the run. Pro Football Focus ranks him sixth in the NFL among 4-3 outside linebackers against the run. And while the Giants as a team have not been very good at stopping the run, they'd be in far worse shape there without the contributions of Kiwanuka.