Sunday, November 3, 2013
Shifting roles in the Giants' secondary
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As is the case elsewhere on the roster, the week-to-week changes in the New York Giants' secondary have largely been out of necessity. Safety Corey Webster got hurt in Week 3. Safety Will Hill was suspended for the first four games of the season. Cornerback Terrell Thomas is making his way back from a third major knee reconstruction. Because of those and other factors, the Giants have changed the ways in which they have doled out playing time among their defensive backs so far in 2013.
But what's different about this situation is that the shifting has led to solutions and to a feeling among the players and coaches that they can deploy their defensive backs in a multitude of ways depending on the week and the opponent. That has them all feeling good about things.
The versatility of defensive backs Antrel Rolle, left, Terrell Thomas, center, and Will Hill has helped bring a positive vibe to the Giants' defense.
"It definitely makes it tough for our opponent to know what to expect," Thomas said Monday after playing all 63 defensive snaps at the slot corner position the previous day, turning in an 11-tackle performance that included a sack and a forced fumble and earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. "We're a brotherhood, and we support each other, no matter who's playing or who's on the bench."
In the first game against the Eagles this year, Week 5 in New Jersey, Thomas played only one defensive snap. It was Hill's first game back, and the Giants used three safeties on 84 of their 85 defensive snaps. Hill, Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy basically never came off the field. But in Week 8 in Philadelphia, with Mundy apparently nursing a hip injury, Thomas played the slot as he had earlier in the season, and Rolle and Hill played every snap at safety. On the outside, mainstay Prince Amukamara played all 63 snaps. Across from him, Trumaine McBride played 50, while Webster, in his second game back after missing four games with a groin injury, played 13.
Secondary coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday that the reason this works is that Thomas is able to effectively play that third safety role, switching from the slot to the post as needed depending on the coverage the Giants call and the manner in which they attempt to disguise it.
"We have an ability right now to roll guys back and forth, whether it's Will Hill, whether it's Antrel, whether it's Terrell Thomas," Merritt said. "And you're able to confuse the quarterback."
Which is the point, and the fact that the Giants have had to play several different guys in several different roles this year gives them the flexibility to do that -- not to mention to outmaneuver injuries as they come up from week to week or even within the course of the game.
Amukamara has pretty much been an every-snap guy since the opener, though he did get hurt that night, so he only played 40 of 79 snaps in Dallas. Webster was an every-snap guy before his injury, but it's possible McBride gets to keep some of the snaps he's earned as his replacement. Rolle never comes off the field, and Mundy really hadn't either until he fell into a more even split with Hill in the Week 7 game against the Vikings. Mundy could cede snaps to Hill when the Giants use just two safeties or when Thomas is in the slot, though they'll also continue to manage Thomas' workload because of his knee. Thomas' per-game snap counts so far this year have been 39, 47, 27, 67, 1, 62, 14 and 63.
"They're always mixing and matching back there, and it helps us disguise what we want to do from play to play," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We're lucky to have guys who match up differently with different teams."
So the look the Raiders see next Sunday from the Giants in the secondary might be totally different from what they've seen on any game tape so far this year, which is the way the Giants would prefer it. They themselves might not know from week to week whom they're going to use at which defensive back spot, or who's going to be available to them. But what the first half of the season has taught them is that they have more -- and more interesting -- options than they may have realized at the start.