We've reached the end of our training camp preview of the New York Giants' defense, and we're finishing off with the last line of defense. No unit has seen more turnover, or faces more questions, than the safeties. The 2015 offseason has seen a complete rebuild of the safety position after the veterans the Giants fielded in 2014 proved to prone to coverage and communication breakdowns.
Gone are familiar faces, defensive leaders, and long-time veterans at the safety position. Instead the Giants have gone "Giant Sized X-Men No. 1" , cleaned house, and will field an entirely new cast of safeties. But will their strategy be successful?
2014 Depth Chart
|Strong Safety||Antrel Rolle||Nat Berhe|
|Free Safety||Stevie Brown||Quintin Demps|
*Cooper Taylor was placed on injured reserve in preseason
2015 Depth Chart
|Strong Safety||Landon Collins||Nat Berhe||Jeromy Miles||Justin Currie|
|Free Safety||Cooper Taylor||Mykkele Thompson||Bennett Jackson|
Departures - Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps
Additions - Landon Collins (rookie), Mykkele Thompson (rookie), Justin Currie (rookie) Jeromy Miles (FA), Bennett Jackson (transition from cornerback)
Have The Safeties Improved?
What we do know is that we don't know much about how the safeties will play in 2015. On average they are bigger, faster, stronger, and definitely younger than they were in 2014. The new safeties are definitely an athletic improvement over the safeties that the Giants fielded in 2014, but we do not yet know how they will fare in a football game.
Let's take a look and see what the -- current -- starting safeties might bring to the field. We'll start with the rookie, Landon Collins
This play is an important one.
First off, it's third down. The money down, when the defense needs to show up and get off the field.
Second, one of the ways offenses have countered the Giants' pass rush the last few years is with quick passes that get the ball out of the quarterback's hand before the rushers can get there. That's why JPP's sack total dropped despite actually getting pressure more often in 2012. Alabama is in a two-deep safety look on this play, with both safeties in position to defend the first down marker.
Arkansas throws the quick pass to a crossing route short of the first down. The idea is that the receiver gets the ball and is able to turn upfield in a void in the defense and pick up the first down. Collins sees the play coming and quickly gets downhill and takes the receiver down well before the marker.
This play sees Collins drop down into the box to defend the run.
Collins does a great job of stacking and shedding his blocker before helping to make the stop at the line of scrimmage. It's a play that Collins both has to make, and absolutely should make. If the running back hadn't already been caught from behind, Collins would have been in place to make the stop on his own. Also, considering the player assigned to block him is 195 pounds, the 230-pound Collins absolutely should make that play.
Still, seeing a secondary player fill his gap well and show willing physicality is always refreshing.
This final play shows some awesome awareness by Collins. He starts out the play on a blitz, something he'll likely be asked to do often under Steve Spagnuolo. When the Arkansas quarterback scrambles, the running back blocking Collins releases down the field. Collins is likely on a "Green Dog" blitz, where he only rushes if his man stays in to block. So, rather than press his rush and leave an open receiver down the field, Collins stays true to his assignment and breaks off to cover the running back. He puts himself in great position to make the play on the ball, and comes up with the interception.
So far this offseason, Collins' running mate as a starting safety has been Cooper Taylor. Though listed as the starting free safety, their exact roles are still something of a mystery -- reports from OTAs and minicamp say that the two have been playing sides, rather than a classic "strong" and "weak" safety.
Taylor was injured for the 2014 season, but saw snaps with the first and second team in pre-season. In his time on the field he stood out enough to be graded as Pro Football Focus' third-highest rated safety with a +4.1 for the three games he played in.
Much like the first play by Collins, this play sees the offense go for the quick pass. This is basically a catch and throw by Andrew Luck, who manages to fit the ball around a blitzing linebacker. Taylor comes flying down from his position as a free safety to make the stop on the screen play. He and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie managed to stop the play before the Colts could pick up the first down. But because the coverage was so soft, the wide receiver was able to get position and effectively block both DRC and Taylor while the slot receiver got to the sideline. Still, Taylor did a nice job of coming down-hill and flying to the play.
This play we see a bit of deception from the defense. They're in a Cover 1 defense, that is a single-high safety and man coverage on the receivers. But while Taylor is lined up as the deep safety at the start of the snap, he is actually in coverage on the slot receiver. Quintin Demps (No. 35) is the free safety.
This is another quick pass by Luck, but Taylor recognizes the play and breaks on the pass as soon as Luck's eyes find his target. You would like to see a safety of Taylor's size (6-4, 228 pounds) deliver a better hit than the one he does here, but he still gets the receiver stopped and on the ground while the rest of the defense is still scrambling.
This play looks pretty simple on the surface, but there are some interesting things going on. First, the Giants are in a nickel set, with Demps up on the line of scrimmage as a psuedo-linebacker. On the other side of the formation, Taylor walks down from the second level to the line of scrimmage showing blitz as well, and both safeties come on blitzes.
Recognizing the heavy pressure the Giants are set to bring, Luck fires yet another quick pass. The wide receiver beats Zack Bowman (No. 31) on the outside with a quick comeback route. However, Taylor puts his size and athleticism to work and bats down the pass when he can't get to Luck for the sack.
I have no clue. As of right now nobody has a clue if the safeties will play better in 2015 than they did in 2014. We probably won't know if the position has improved until sometime in the regular season. We don't even know how Steve Spagnuolo intends to use the safeties in his new defense. What we do know is that the safeties have gotten younger, bigger, and faster.
Will that be enough to overcome any rookie mistakes? We'll just have to wait to find out.
One thing to keep in mind though, is that while the safeties are a question mark, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ben McAdoo's offense was a question mark a year ago, and so was Odell Beckham. There is no shame in saying "We don't know", and that doesn't mean that the questions will be answered negatively.