The New York Giants knew when they began constructing their 2015 roster that the safety position was going to be an issue. They tried and failed to sign Devin McCourty. They drafted two safeties. They converted cornerback Bennett Jackson to safety. They tried several underwhelming veterans before ending up with Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl. They began with Cooper Taylor as a starter was back in OTAs, pushed him to a backup role, cut him and have now brought him back. The Giants watched Mykkele Thompson, Jackson and Nat Berhe all wind up on IR.
All of that juggling and guess what? The play of the safeties has been an issue for the 5-5 Giants this season.
The Giants are last in the league in passing yards allowed per game at 309.9. They have given up 39 passing plays of at least 20 yards, and only four teams have allowed more. They are 28th in the league in yards allowed per pass attempt. While safeties Landon Collins, Meriweather and Dahl are not directly responsible for all of this, their limitations have certainly contributed to it.
Collins, the rookie second-round pick, is ranked No. 82 of 84 safeties graded by Pro Football Focus with a -9.1 score in pass coverage. Collins has allowed four touchdowns (second-most among safeties) and 340 yards passing (most among safeties).
The rookie was, of course, expected to have some struggles in pass coverage and those have come to fruition.
Meriweather and Dahl were late additions due to injuries and poor performance by others. Both, journeymen types at this point in their careers, have predictably had their ups and downs. While each has contributed some positive things, neither is great in coverage. Tackling has also been a major issue for the Giants safeties.
Meriweather has more missed tackles (14) than any other safety. Collins has 10 missed tackles and Dahl, in just 179 snaps, has six.
"The tackling, I think if you asked every safety, they wish they were tackling better. I think they all wish that they would make a few more plays in the pass game, we've talked about that, and I think they would all want to do better with the communication part of it," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said on Friday. "We worked a lot on that this past bye week in terms of watching tape and doing communication calls. I will say this about the safeties group, I walked off the practice field yesterday, and I went and got something to eat, and when I came back through the meeting rooms, all four of them -- Cooper [Taylor] and Craig [Dahl], Landon [Collins] and Brandon [Meriweather] -- were in the meeting room by themselves, just the four of them, working on getting all those things squared away, so that's encouraging."
Here are other takeaways from Spagnuolo's Friday meeting with the media.
A "sense of security" with Prince
Prince Amukamara returns to the lineup this week after missing five games with a pectoral injury. Spagnuolo said he "didn't call anything differently" without Amukamara in the lineup, and credited Jayron Hosley, Trevin Wade and Traumaine McBride with doing a good job, but admitted that Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie together give the Giants "a sense of security."
"We know he's a good football player. I really thought right before he got hurt, I thought he was really coming along and playing real well for us. Look, if there's a sense of security, I think Jayron [Hosley] did a really good job coming in. When Trumaine McBride went out there, I thought he did a good job for us, and when Trevin Wade came in," Spagnuolo said. "Anytime you lose a player of Prince's caliber, it makes it a challenge. I think the guys have done a good job to this point. We're glad we have him back, he was practicing without playing in games a couple weeks ago, because he was still getting in the groove. Hopefully he can knock the rust off really quick in the game and he can help us."
On Jason Pierre-Paul
Spagnuolo was asked a number of questions about the defensive end, who has now played two games since returning from the severe hand injuries he suffered in a July 4 fireworks accident.
"I think he's just battling the comfort level. I know you guys have probably talked to him and it's getting used to a lot of different things every game," Spagnuolo said. "With him, it is a brand scheme, he wasn't here in the spring, but I tell you what, he and Robert Nunn have been knocking out, they've put extra time in, I think he obviously feels more comfortable this week than he did last week and hopefully that'll pay off."
Pierre-Paul has mostly used a club on his right hand, and acknowledged he is more comfortable that way despite eventually wanting to use only a glove.
"My guess would be yeah, you would want use of your fingers. I know they're working on it all the time, even during the game he's over there trying to get it better, and I would imagine that would be frustrating to somebody in this particular business where you need that," Spagnuolo said. "My guess is that if he can get something, I think it would help him a little bit. I thought he made some, going back to the Patriots game, a couple plays there. I thought he looked like the old JPP. I would like to get that every play."