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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Giants' shaky D needs to shape up

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Giants are through the toughest stretch of their schedule and Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are in the rearview mirror barring a potential playoff rematch.

Now the Giants face Rex Grossman and Mark Sanchez in the next two weeks before being reunited with Tony Romo for a game that will likely decide the NFC East.

But the Giants' defense can't afford to exhale just because the next two quarterbacks on the schedule are capable of throwing more picks than touchdowns in any given game.

The Giants' defense has been a mess, capable of being shredded by any quarterback this season and prone to suffering untimely coverage breakdowns that result in game-changing plays.

On Sunday night, Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul's brilliance during the Giants' 37-34 win masked the Giants' defensive shortcomings against Dallas.

But Manning and JPP can't put on their capes and come to the rescue every game. The Giants' defense must give Manning some kind of help if they want to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.

"I'm continually asked about concern," head coach Tom Coughlin said when asked about the defensive breakdowns he again saw against Dallas. "It's tremendous. Grave concern. I can't express that any more."

The Giants have surrendered four passing touchdowns in each of their last three games to Brees, Rodgers and Romo. Granted New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas possess talented and explosive offenses, but what has been disturbing is the Giants' inability to cover and avoid breakdowns.

In the fourth quarter against Dallas, rookie Prince Amukamara lost Laurent Robinson in coverage to allow a 74-yard reception that led to Miles Austin's 6-yard touchdown catch to give Dallas a 27-22 lead. In that case, the Giants' pass rush was nonexistent as Romo had all day to find Robinson. But on Dallas' next offensive series, Dez Bryant scored on an easy 50-yard touchdown after cornerback Corey Webster let Bryant go. Safety Antrel Rolle was coming up and the Cowboys receiver ran right by.

"We had a couple of checks in where they gave us a certain formation and we would check to it and they got a beat to what we were doing late in the game," defensive end Justin Tuck explained during his weekly show on WFAN radio. "They gave us a sloppy formation where it could have gone either way and we didn't do a good job of communicating."

"We had one guy playing one defense and another guy playing another defense," Tuck added. "Obviously, when you got one guy playing one thing and another guy playing another, you have guys walking into the end zone like that."

Rolle said he was exactly where he was instructed to be on that play disguising Cover 2 but playing Cover 3. During his weekly appearance on WFAN on Tuesday, Rolle took exception with television commentators blaming the breakdown on him.

"I am never going to be the one to sit here and point fingers because there is no one without sin in our defense," Rolle said on WFAN. "I am not saying that I don't make mistakes, because I do. But I am saying that if there is a coverage and I am supposed to be in a certain area, best believe that I am going to be where I am supposed to be like I was Sunday night, like I was against San Francisco, like I was against the Packers."

"I am not going to explain exactly what happened on that play but I can say that I was in the right spot and I was exactly where I was supposed to be," Rolle added. "Just because I am the safety or Deon Grant or Kenny Phillips is a safety, it doesn't mean that we are always supposed to be that deep. We have a million different coverages that we play. Sometimes we are going to disguise a Cover 2 and walk down to a Cover 3 like we did on that play."

The Giants, who did come up with a three-and-out late in the fourth when they needed to give the ball back to Manning, have several reasons for some of their defensive shortcomings this season. Injuries have rocked the unit with cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jon Goff lost before the season started. Also, key starters like Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley and Kenny Phillips have missed games due to injuries this season.

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell admits he has tried to compensate for the injuries and protect some of his rookies with his schemes and calls. Goff and then Boley were Fewell's extension on the field, relaying calls into the huddle. Without Boley for two games, Fewell had third safety Deon Grant relay plays into the huddle. Boley hurt his hamstring in the first half against San Francisco and without the every-down linebacker, the Giants lost that game and the next two without him against the Eagles and Saints.

Outside of Pierre-Paul, the pass rush hasn't been as effective as Fewell would like with Tuck battling injuries and Umenyiora now out with an ankle injury.

The Giants' secondary also has been shaky in coverage. Add on the injuries (the Giants played Dallas without Phillips), the lack of a pass rush at times and occasional miscommunication and defensive lapses and the result is a defense that has allowed an average of 40.3 points per game in the last three games.

"The thing that I'm most discouraged about and disappointed is when we do have a breakdown in communication and we do have some type of an error that gives up a big play," Coughlin said. "I really can't tell you [why]. It's ongoing. You can list any number of reasons why those things happen. None of which satisfies anything obviously."

The Giants (7-6) still managed to stop a four-game losing streak thanks to Manning, who bailed the defense out yet again. Pierre-Paul -- who won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for having eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, a safety and a blocked field goal -- also did everything short of moving a mountain against Dallas. But the defense needs to give the offensive and defensive MVPs more help in these final three weeks if the Giants want to make the playoffs.

"We all play for each other but if one person is wrong, that is going to make 11 people wrong," Rolle said. "And that is what we have been having and that is what we can't continue to have. In order for us to be the defense that we need to be to make the postseason, we need to clean that up and clean that up now."