Friday, October 7, 2011
Updated: October 8, 12:21 PM ET
Fewell out to plug Giants' leaky D
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At first, the Giants' defense had trouble defending the pass.
Now, the problem is stopping the run.
"One week it is pass and one week it is run, one week it is pressure," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "That is just the flow of football."
Four weeks into the season, Fewell's defense has been a little like a leaky kitchen sink. Plug one leak, another one springs open somewhere else.
As the Giants head into Sunday's game against Seattle, they hope to win their fourth straight game with their first complete defensive outing of the season.
Fewell does not make excuses for his defense's shortcomings but concedes that injuries have led to inconsistency. Besides losing cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jon Goff for the season, Fewell has had to play multiple games without defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
And because Fewell has a rookie at middle linebacker in Greg Jones, the defensive coordinator has relied heavily on going with three safeties and two linebackers.
In the last two games, Tom Coughlin has watched the Eagles and Cardinals rush for 177 and 156 yards, respectively. This comes after the Giants had difficulty stopping the pass, as Washington's Rex Grossman and St. Louis' Sam Bradford both threw for more than 300 yards each in the first two games.
"We have not been consistent with our people," Fewell said. "A year ago, you can say we have this guy, this guy and this guy and he was going to be there and be rock solid. We had these two guys and they were going to be there and be rock solid. Now we are just kind of piecemealing, so to speak, with our people coming out. Again, if we can get healthier and play together, I think we can get better."
Last year at this time, the Giants' defense was just starting to hit its stride. The unit was ranked third in total defense and second against the pass after Week 4. However, the Giants were just 22nd against the run.
The following week, Fewell's defense held Arian Foster and a powerful Houston rushing attack to 24 yards rushing. The Giants were ranked first or second in total defense in the NFL for the next 10 weeks.
This season, the Giants are 18th in total defense. They rank 18th against the pass and 21st against the run.
The defense should improve considering Fewell has yet to see his pass rush at its full potential. The Giants have collected 12 sacks this season and that's without their two best pass rushers on the field at the same time.
Tuck has played in just two games due to pain in his neck and has yet to play with Umenyiora, who returned to the lineup last week after missing the first three weeks recovering from knee surgery.
Fewell also has players in new roles this season due to injuries. In place of Thomas, who tore his ACL in the preseason, safety Antrel Rolle has covered slot receivers at times. And when Goff was lost for the season prior to the opener against Washington, linebacker Michael Boley became Fewell's extension on the field, relaying calls to the defense.
Fewell has been most comfortable using his three safeties -- Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant -- for the majority of the last three games, much like he did last year. In those packages, he has rotated either Mathias Kiwanuka or rookie Jacquian Williams in with Boley at linebacker. Jones has seen limited snaps since the season opener.
The Giants have improved against the pass, surrendering a total of 436 passing yards in their last two games.
But during that span, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy gained 128 yards and scored one touchdown, and Arizona's Beanie Wells rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns. All three of Wells' touchdowns came running past the right side of the Giants' defensive line.
"I am not sure but I think I know," Fewell said when asked about what went wrong on the right side of the defense. "We weren't aligned properly at times and they probably took advantage of that."
Those touchdowns came in short-yardage situations against bigger packages.
"We know why we are giving up the yards we are," Boley said. "It boils down to details as far as us as a unit, all 11 players being on the same page. It is all gap control. Somebody gets out of the gap or doesn't fit quite as well in the gap, [opponents] can crease you."
Umenyiora said the Giants have been focused on preventing big plays from happening and that's why opponents have been able to run the ball.
"We can't give up the big play," Umenyiora said. "That's what hurt us last year was the big play. If teams are going to run 300 yards and we're winning every game then we'll accept that. But the big play is something that we can't give up and we're doing a pretty good job of eliminating them."
Stopping the run is a Coughlin commandment. The head coach said Monday that the team will have to take some "extraordinary means" to solve the issue. The good news for the Giants: Seattle ranks 31st in the league with 67.5 rushing yards a game, and Marshawn Lynch -- the Seahawks' top back -- is averaging only 35 yards a game.
Coughlin and Fewell believe the Giants have the right personnel and scheme to defend against the run and the pass. They're hoping it happens against Seattle.
"You can stop the run with a nickel," Coughlin said. "Ask the [Super Bowl champion] Packers about that."