In a pair of stories by Zach Berman of the Star-Ledger the past couple of days, New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has made it clear he intends to be a head coach in the NFL one day, talked about how the Giants defense "did not play consistent enough" in 2010 and discussed the potential of 2011 first- and second-round draft picks Prince Amukamara and Marvin Austin.
For me, here is the money quote from Berman's two posts.
"I think all we did was just scratch the surface of what we can be with the New York Giants," Fewell said. "I thought we played well, but we didn’t play consistent enough. And as a guy that aspires to be a head football coach, we want consistency in our play and in our game."
I happen to agree with Fewell here. He did a good job in his first season with the Giants after being Buffalo's defensive coordinator and serving a short stint as interim head coach. The Giants defense was good, finishing seventh overall in the league in yards allowed per game. The Giants defense, though, was not as good as it can be -- or as good as the talent on the field indicates that it SHOULD be.
This is a defense with the players to be a top five -- maybe even a top three -- unit in the NFL. Especially if Amukamara and Austin are able to quickly become solid contributors.
So, how do the Giants get there? How does the defense, which despite its talent gave up far too many big plays in 2010, become more consistent? How does Fewell become more consistent?
You had to know I would get around to it, but I do -- of course -- have some thoughts on that.
Mostly, all of my thoughts come back to one central theme. Fewell needs to allow the talented players he does have to play to their strengths rather than line up in positions, or play schemes, that don't maximize what they do best.
This is not meant to be a 'Fewell doesn't know what he's doing' kind of criticism. Hardly. He is an excellent defensive coordinator who brought stability, organization and a clear idea of what he wants to a defense that was in disarray after a year under the 'guidance' of Bill Sheridan.
Fewell brought a system that is Tampa 2-based, though he seemingly loathes being called a Tampa 2 coach. Regardless, his schemes seem zone-based. After a year we know he likes to use three safeties, we know press coverage is not his first choice for cornerback play and we know the all-out six- or seven-man blitz is something he only turns to out of dire necessity.
Of course I really don't want to see any more of Justin Tuck trying to chase a tight end 40 yards down the field, but my real hope is that Fewell has spent his offseason time -- after getting done interviewing for head-coaching jobs -- analyzing the Giants secondary and realizing that some changes in how his corners and safeties are used might improve that consistency he spoke about. And maybe get him a head-coaching gig sooner rather that later.
Let's look at the corners.
Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas, especially Thomas, are guys who have made their reputations in aggressive, press coverage schemes. Amukamara comes to the Giants with the reputation of being another guy who thrives in press coverage. So, let 'em get up there and press! It's what they do best.
Thomas has stated a preference for the slot, feeling like he can use his size and physicality to handle inside receivers. So, when you have three or four corners on the field let him do that. Put Aaron Ross, who always seems to wind up in chase mode when he plays in the slot, on the outside. Or, Amukamara. The other benefit of Thomas in the slot? He's a fairly big corner who is one of the better tacklers and run defenders in the league at his position. Putting him in the slot places him in a better position to support the run defense.
Now, let's look at the safeties.
We know Fewell loves the three-safety package. I understand it, and I don't mind it at all. It's a pass-happy league and this improves your pass coverage. Besides which, if your third safety is better than your third linebacker -- which was definitely the case in 2010 -- he should be on the field.
My issue is that I don't want to see Antrel Rolle, a guy who is best-suited as a play-making guy when the ball is in the air, hugging the line of scrimmage to play the run and try to chase tight ends. I also don't want to see Kenny Phillips playing so deep the quarterback needs binoculars to find him -- which was too often the case a season ago.
Fewell, without any doubt, knows more about defense than I can ever hope to. The one thing I do know about coaching, though, is that the job is to put your players in the best possible position to succeed. To find that consistency Fewell seeks I think that is the one thing he needs to do better in 2011.