Positional Reviews: Safety ... These Guys Should Be Better

Deon Grant (34) of the New York Giants intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Gary Barnidge (82) of the Carolina Panthers as teammate Kenny Phillips (21) defends during the first quarter on September 12 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In his season-ending press conference New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said the biggest problem on the defense in 2010 were the "explosive plays" surrendered in the passing game.

" We have to make more plays on the back end. We gave up too many explosive plays on the back end of the defense and we've got to get that corrected," Reese said.

" I'm not sure what it is. We're trying to figure that out during the off season. I just know that there were some explosive plays that happened on the back end and we've got to prevent that. It's going to happen sometimes, there's always going to be explosive plays on the back end, but I think we gave up too many explosive plays. I'm not calling anybody out because we're all part of it - the defense in the front, the linebackers, everybody, the calls, whatever, but I just felt that that jumps out at me that there were too many explosive plays that we gave up."

In 2010 the Giants gave up 10 pass plays of 40 or more yards. That is the same number the team surrendered in 2009, and only seven NFL teams gave up more. In terms of plays of 20 yards or more, the Giants surrendered 44 of those in 2010, just seven fewer than they gave up in 2009.

Reese did not call anybody out, but those numbers have to be bitterly disappointing to the general manager. He had Kenny Phillips, injured most of 2009, on the field all season. He spent $35 million on Antrel Rolle. He spent more free agent money on veteran Deon Grant. He used a third-round pick on Chad Jones, which, unfortunately, turned out to be wasted. He had a much better defensive coordinator in Perry Fewell this time around. All of that and, at least in terms of preventing the "explosive play" this group really didn't do much better than C.C. Brown, Aaron Rouse, Michael Johnson and Aaron did a year ago.

Rolle, Phillips and Grant are much better players than those the Giants field at safety in 2009. yet the results at that level of the defense -- in the "explosive play" context -- weren't better. Why? Reese didn't have the answer a few weeks ago, and I don't have it right now. I do, however, have a theory.

My belief is that a lot of this comes back to how these guys were used. Remember that the Giants played with two linebackers and three safeties much of the time -- shoot, sometimes with three corners, three safeties and one linebacker.

Rolle is a play-making, ball-hawking deep safety. Yet, he was often asked to play at the line of scrimmage against the run as the Giants tried to cover their perceived issues at linebacker. Same with Grant, who was almost always "in the box" as a pseudo-linebacker when the Giants had the three-safety package on the field.

That may have been what the Giants had to do because of the personnel they had available, but it was not -- in my view -- the best use of the talents of Rolle or Grant. In all honesty, I would like to see Phillips up in the box if the Giants are going to put someone there. He is more of the roaming, play-making type and I would rather see him lined up where he can make in impact as a blitzer or run defender instead of 25-30 yards down the field -- where he sometimes was.

All of that said, let's look at each of these guys individually.

Antrel Rolle: We are judging his performance on the field here, not talking about his mouth off of it. We have done enough of that. Rolle was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl, but did he really deserve it? The guy made 87 tackles and I give him all the credit in the world for the excellent work he did in the box against the run, a place that was really foreign to him prior to this season.

Yet, Rolle was responsible for a lot of those "explosive plays," taking bad angles in zone coverages or just plain not getting where he needed to be in time. In a post-season interview Rolle admitted he hadn't played up to his own standards.

"I have to get in the mind-set of being able to transform myself from being up as opposed to playing back deep," Rolle said. "I caught myself a couple of times not being the player I'm used to being back there, just because I'm playing up so much that I kind of lose focus of the things I'm used to targeting, as far as having the vision of the entire field as opposed to getting tunnel vision like on a quarterback or a particular receiver perhaps."

Rolle finished the season with, by far, the worst Pro Football Focus grade of any Giants defender. His -10.1 was well below the -6.5 compiled by Aaron Ross. Rolle was -12.2 in pass coverage. He had just one interception and four passes defensed, after having four picks and eight passes defensed with Arizona in 2009.

Reality is, Rolle is not a great every-down coverage guy. He's a big-play safety. I simply want to see the Giants put him in position to make more of those types of plays next season. That, after all, is what they brought him to New York for. Not to be an extra run defender.

Overall Grade: Kwillie

Kenny Phillips: It was great to see KP stay healthy throughout the season, and play pretty well, after fearing that the arthritic condition that afflicts his knee might curtail his promising career. Phillips missed the one huge tackle in the Philadelphia game, but I really have little issue with the work he did in 2010. He made a career-best 77 tackles and tied his rookie season of 2008 with five passes defensed.

My issue is mostly with the way Phillips was used in 2010. Maybe KP will never be Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, but how will the Giants know if they don't put him in places where he can make plays more often? He spent much of the year lined up as a deep safety way, way off the line of scrimmage. Maybe that is like playing center field in baseball, but you can't make many plays from 30 yards off the ball.

Just to put it out there, Phillips' PFF grade was +9.3, ninth in the league among safeties.

Overall Grade: Kudos

Deon Grant: The 10-year veteran came to the Giants as insurance for KP, and he came in insisting he was still capable of being a starter in the NFL. To me, he showed it. Grant played pretty well with 63 tackles, three interceptions and a sack. I hope the Giants are able to convince him to return in 2010. As with the other safeties, I also hope the Giants are able to utilize him a little better. He did a good job in the box, but the Giants need linebackers to play linebacker and they need to let their safeties do what they do best.

Grant's PFF grade was a -2.1, due largely to -4.9 against the run (which is sort of unfair because of how much time he spent out of position).

Overall Grade: Kudos

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