New York Giants position breakdowns: Safety

Let's move on the final defensive position in our series of position-by-position breakdowns for he New York Giants. That would be safety, and it is a position where I think we all agree the Giants were atrocious in 2009.

Once Kenny Phillips went down for the season after just two games with an arthritic condition in his knee the Giants never found a way to even adequately replace him. The pitiful safety play is the primary reason the Giants surrendered 61 passing plays of more than 20 yards in 2009, including 10 plays of more than 40 yards. Over and over, their safeties proved to either not know what they were doing or to be incapable of making a play even when they somehow got into position.

'Bad, Bad C.C. Brown' embarrassed himself, and we all want him run out of town as quickly as possible. Have a nice career in the UFL, C.C. Amazingly, though, statistically Brown was not even close to being the worst of the Giants safeties.

According to Pro Football Focus, there were 87 safeties who played at least 25% of their team's snaps in 2009. How bad were the Giants safeties? In PFF's pass coverage grades, three of the Giants safeties ranked in the bottom seven among those 87 players. Ouch!

So, let's hold our collectives noses and look individually at each of the guys who tried to play this position. It is going to be painful, but it is necessary.

Kenny Phillips: His loss for the season after just two games to patellofemoral arthritis was, quite possibly, the most devastating blow the Giants suffered all season. Everyone around the Giants figured Phillips, in his second season, was headed for stardom. Unfortunately, it may also be a devastating blow to the future of their defense. Phillips underwent what was believed to be micro-fracture surgery on the knee, but his future is cloudy. Let's face it, an arthritic condition is one that will never improve and most reports I have read say surgery is only sometimes helpful.

So, if you are counting on Phillips being 100% healthy in 2010 -- and being the same player he showed signs of becoming -- don't. It might happen, but it is more likely that Phillips' career will be shorter and that his mobility will be affected by the condition of his knee.

It is unfortunate, but in my mind the Giants need to plan for 2010 as though Phillips will not be in the lineup. If he is, great.

C.C. Brown: Let's deal with this one and be done with it. Just like we have to hope the Giants are done with him. Jerry Reese's signing of Brown as a free agent is probably the most bone-headed move of Reese's tenure as general manager. Call him 'Bad, Bad' or 'Can't Cover,' or whatever you want. Brown is clearly not an NFL safety. Yes, he was third on the Giants with 49 solo tackles, but that is mostly because offensive game plans pretty much amounted to finding Brown and throwing the ball in his direction whenever he was on the field.

According to PFF, Brown was -10.6 against the pass. That is 82nd in the league. He was -10.4 overall, 76th in the league. Want one more number to show how awful Brown was? Quarterbacks had a 142.6 rating throwing in his direction, and only Jacksonville safety Reggie Nelson was worse. At least he did play the run fairly well (+2.1), but he clearly is a player who cannot be brought back in 2010.

Michael Johnson: As much as we screamed at our televisions while watching Brown, we probably should have been directing as much -- or more -- of our ire at Johnson. Check Johnson's numbers for the past two seasons and you can conclude just one thing -- he is one of the worst safeties in the league.

Maybe it is only because the Giants finally got Brown off the field, but Johnson's PFF grades actually make Brown's look almost acceptable.

in 2009, Johnson was -19.9 overall, 85th out of the 87 safeties playing 25% of snaps. That included -11.2 against the pass, even worse than Brown. Quarterbacks had a 133.0 rating throwing at him.

If you think that was just a poor season for the three-year player, think again. His 2008 numbers? A -15.0 grade, 79th out of 83 safeties playing 25% of snaps.

Johnson is atrocious in pass coverage. Either out of position too often due to a mis-read, or not fast enough to get where he needs to be at other times. As a run defender, he is again either out of position too often or missing too many tackles.

Aaron Rouse: Rouse is a little bit difficult to judge. Green Bay released the third-year player because they were tired of watching him make coverage mistakes and take poor angles on running plays. He made some of those same mistakes with the Giants, but I am also inclined to believe some of Rouse's struggles in New York came as a result of trying to find his way with a new team in mid-season.

Rouse was -9.8 against the pass (81st in the league) and -11.8 overall (78th). Oddly, though, quarterbacks had just a 68.2 rating throwing in his direction.

Of all the players who received significant playing time in 2009, I think I would have the least problem with Rouse being brought back and given an opportunity to compete for a roster spot.

Aaron Ross: I talked about Ross in the cornerback discussion, but he also has to be considered here. After all, in the three games his hamstring did allow him to play he was at safety. He was hardly tremendous there, but he was adequate at an unfamilar spot. If he can ever get healthy he would provide more speed and better coverage skills than Johnson, Rouse or Brown from the safety position. Moving him there, or using him as a hybrid corner/safety in the nickel and dime defensive packages is an intriguing option for new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Sha'reef Rashad: Spent most of the season on the practice squad, being signed to the active roster for the final game of the season. The Giants like his intelligence and athleticism and he will likely be given a chance to compete for a roster spot. Vince Anderson, another safety who spent 2009 on the practice squad, may get the same opportunity.

Keep: Phillips, Ross

Dump: Brown, Johnson

Let 'em compete: Rouse, Rashad, Anderson

Draft/Free Agency Priority (1 being the highest, 5 the lowest): 1. The Giants must address this position. No doubt.

(E-mail Ed at bigblueview@gmail.com)

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