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Mid-season 'Kudos & Wet Willies': Grading the Giants' defense

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Assessing the Giants' defense at the midway point of the season.

Johnathan Hankins
Johnathan Hankins
Elsa

Let's break down the New York Giants' defense position-by-position thus far in 2014. It is time to give that group the mid-season 'Kudos & Wet Willies' treatment. Here goes.

Defensive Line

Aside from piling up bushels of sacks, Jason Pierre-Paul has played defensive end about as well as it can be played this season. Second-year man Johnathan Hankins is justifying the Giants' decision to let Linval Joseph seek greener pastures by devouring blockers, running backs and quarterbacks. Robert Ayers has played well. Those three, in order, are the highest-graded Giants defensive players in the ratings from Pro Football Focus. Veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has played well. Individually, you would have to give all four of those players 'Kudos.'

Mathias Kiwanuka, Markus Kuhn and Mike Patterson? Well, their work has not been impressive. Individually, those three happen to be Big Blue's worst-rated defenders. 'Wet Willies' to them.

Damontre Moore gets an "incomplete." We know he is developing as a pass rusher. We know he is still on the small side to hold up against the run and that the Giants aren't comfortable with his ability to set the edge. He needs to play, though. So does rookie third-round pick Jay Bromley, active for only one game thus far. With Jenkins hurt and Kiwanuka, Patterson and Kuhn not getting the job done the two young guns deserve a chance.

The Giants have not defended the run well the past two weeks, and their 15 sacks put their pass rush in the middle of the NFL pack. Overall, this group has to do better.

Grade: 'Kwillie'

Linebackers

Things have not turned out the way the Giants hoped here. Even though middle linebacker Jon Beason has played in four games, the Giants have never really had JON BEASON in their lineup. The foot/toe injury he suffered during OTAs has limited him ever since and may cost him the rest of the season. The more the Giants saw rookie fifth-round pick Devon Kennard in training camp and the preseason the more they thought they had stumbled into something special. They may have, but they haven't seen it in the regular season yet because of a hamstring injury.

On the positive side, free-agent signee Jameel McClain has become an important player, doing a good job on both the strong side and replacing Beason in the middle. His leadership is probably under-valued by those who aren't close to the team. Jacquian Williams has also developed into an every-down linebacker.

Individually, both McClain and Williams get 'Kudos,' although personally I am less enamored of Williams' work than the Giants seem to be. As a group, the linebackers are improved from past years, but not nearly what they could be if Beason and Kennard had been healthy all season.

Grade: 'Kwillie'

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Prince Amukamara battling with Dez Bryant [Ronald Martinez -- Getty Images Sport]

Cornerbacks

The plan was solid. Fight fire with fire. With NFL teams passing more and using more spread offenses with three and four wide receivers on the field, load up on talented cornerbacks to be able to match up with all of the teams on the schedule who boast a multitude of big-time pass catchers. The Giants jettisoned several veterans who weren't healthy enough to get the job done any longer. They signed free agents Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond. They made sure they-resigned veteran Trumaine McBride. They paired all that talent with former first-round pick Prince Amukamara, developing into a star in his own right, and looked to have one of the league's best secondaries.

Then it all went up in flames as injuries shattered the Giants' plan.

First, Thurmond was lost for the season. Then, McBride went down. Rodgers-Cromartie is still playing, but right leg injuries have severely limited what he can do and how many snaps he can play. Amukamara is playing the best football of his career, but it's not enough. The Giants have gone from being confident they could match up one-one-one with any receiving group in the league, to ending up in situations where former practice squader Chandler Fenner is trying to cover superstar Dez Bryant on deep routes. That isn't going to work.

If the Giants can get Rodgers-Cromartie back to a point where he can once again play full games and shadow No. 1 receivers, he and Amukamara can still form a shut down tandem on the outside. A strength, though, has turned into a question mark for the Giants.

Grade: 'Kwillie'

Safeties

The safety position has been an issue for the Giants all season long. The guy they counted on to start opposite Antrel Rolle got himself suspended by the NFL for the third time, was released and is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Cooper Taylor got hurt and is on season-ending IR. Stevie Brown and his 158.3 passer rating against found his way to the bench after being victimized for several big plays the first three weeks of the season. Quintin Demps (110.6 passer rating against) hasn't really been better. Rookie fifth-round pick Nat Berhe hasn't really gotten an extended opportunity yet, but that might be coming.

The primary responsibility of the safety position is the prevention of big plays in the passing game. The Giants have surrendered six plays of 40 yards or more in the air, and only three teams have allowed more. The Giants have given up 34 plays of least 20 yards, including the six that went for more than 40. Only the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (38) have given up more.

With season-ending injuries to slot corners Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride, the Giants used more three-safety looks against the Dallas Cowboys last week, with Demps in the slot and Brown deep. They will likely have to do more of that, and the way those two have played thus far that is not a comforting thought.

Grade: 'Wet Willie'