I received an e-mail from a reader Tuesday morning inquiring about the recent lack of playing time for Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. I, too, noticed against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday that Kiwanuka did not play much, and when he did he was often lined up as a pass-rushing defensive lineman.
I figured that it was a situation caused by the Giants playing against an explosive passing offense and that the Giants simply played more nickel/dime with the three safeties and with rookie Jacquian Williams as a pass defender than they normally might.
Then I went to Pro Football Focus and looked up the numbers. Sure enough, Kiwanuka played only 22 of a possible 77 snaps Sunday against Green Bay. But then I looked a little further. He played only 19 snaps against Dallas in the season finale and 25 snaps against Atlanta in the Giants opening-round playoff game.
Prior to this three-game stretch, which coincides with the Giants playing their best defense of the season, Kiwanuka had played at least 40 snaps in every game, and more than 60 seven times.
So, what gives? Kiwanuka is not good in pass coverage (-5.1 PFF grade for the season), but is outstanding in run support from the linebacker spot (+15.5 per PFF). Have the Giants decided that his pass-coverage weaknesses hurt them more than his run defense helps them? Have they just reverted to the three-safety look that was so successful a season ago, costing Kiwanuka snaps as sort of collateral damage? Was Kiwanuka, who seemingly has played very well overall whether you think he belongs at linebacker or not, part of the defensive problem? I certainly did not think so.
To be honest, I really don't know. I would love to hear Perry Fewell's answer on this, but even if he were asked he would be unlikely to give a straight answer that would actually tell us anything. It may well be a situation where Kiwanuka is only being used at linebacker when the Giants expect run, and is getting the rest of his snaps as an occasional part of the four defensive end pass-rush package.