*Giants punter Brad Wing has become a significant weapon for Big Blue on Special Teams: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Even if you count his role as Robbie Gould’s holder, Brad Wing is usually on the field for no more than a dozen plays a game.
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“He is a weapon,” coach Ben McAdoo said.
Not every coach can say that about his punter. But Wing has been a major force in the Giants’ 9-4 season. He leads the NFL with 17 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. His net average of 41.0 yards ranks 10th in the league and will be a team record if he maintains it (the current mark of 40.2 yards was set by Jeff Feagles in 2008).
But numbers don’t do justice to Wing’s value, because in addition to his ability to blast the ball long distances, he can directional kick to either sideline, and drop the ball close to the opposition goal line when the Giants most need him to.
“Every drive, I assess the situation,” Wing said. “What kind of punt would have to take place here, here or here? Within the game, you have to figure out what you need to do to give the best punt in that situation. In games now, later in the year, they’re all close and low-scoring. Anytime you can get an advantage with field position, it’s a positive.”
Wing continually demonstrated that in the Giants’ 10-7 victory against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday night with a performance that earned him the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award, the first such honor of his three-year career.
Wing tied his season high with nine punts. He had a 43.2-yard gross average and a 42.9-yard net average, with a long punt of 57 yards. Five of his kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the 10, including two inside the five. Dallas totaled three yards on three punt returns.
In the first half, a Wing punt pinned the Cowboys at their own 3-yard line, where his punt was downed by Dwayne Harris.
Wing’s efforts hamstrung the Cowboys even more after halftime. He punted four times and Dallas took possession, in order, at their own 9, 11, 24 and 3-yard lines following those kicks.
“I think the field position was big in the second half of the ball game,” McAdoo said. “Ball on the 45-yard line for the offense for the starting field position, and Dallas on the minus-15 (on average). It was big in the ballgame. He downed the ball five times inside the 20 and two inside the five. That's big in the game, especially in the elements.”
“Field position is big in any game, especially in December and going into January,” Wing said. “A lot of the games are close and low-scoring. Anytime you can gain an advantage on the field position side of things, I think it helps the team as a whole.”
Wing essentially clinched the game with 1:06 remaining, when he floated a punt that was again downed by Harris at the three.
Asked about the play, Wing mentions the player who last touched the ball instead of the one who kicked it.
“I’ll take him out and get him a nice steak dinner,” Wing said. “He makes me look good on Sunday’s. He deserves credit. I don’t know if he gets enough credit for what he does. I definitely notice it, that’s for sure.”
Wing is a native of Melbourne, Australia who spent his final year of high school in Baton Rouge, La., where he had his first exposure to American football. He then played at LSU, where he developed a close friendship with Odell Beckham, Jr. Wing was out of football for a year before spending the 2014 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who traded him to the Giants on Sept. 4, 2015. In his first season here, Wing had a 38.9-yard net average and tied a team record by placing 33 of his 76 punts inside the 20. This year he’s been even better, kicking the ball long or short, or placing it outside the right or left numbers as needed.
“He understands the game,” said Gould, the 12-year veteran kicker who joined the team in October. “A lot of people look at stats. They look at net yardage and gross yardage. To me, stats don’t really paint the picture for him. One, he’s kicking in a bad weather place, and he’s probably top 10 in net and top 10 in gross (he is, as his 46.5-yard gross average ranks fifth in the league). Situationally, he’s probably the best punter in the NFL. He hit a punt at the end of the (Dallas) game that was a 33-yard punt. It’s going to show up as a 33 net and a 33 gross, but that punt won the game. It made them have to go 55, 60 yards to get into field goal range. If he hits a touchback there, they have to go 40 or 45 yards and they’re in field goal range. Those are the types of things that make him an elite punter in the NFL.
“It’s been fun to watch him play and learn some things from him. Whether it’s technique or whether it’s football situation scenarios that come up in the game, I can lean on him to help me through.”
Wing, whose other obvious skill is deflecting credit to others, said his success is based on constant practice and mental preparation.
“A lot of it is rhythm and timing, stuff like that,” he said. “It’s routine-based. You get in a zone and get in a rhythm where you’re just hitting the ball well. It’s hard to explain. It just kind of happens. You get into it and trust your preparation and find yourself in a zone hitting the ball really well.”
Wing has done that all year, and in the process has become one of the Giants’ most valuable players.
• The Giants listed four players on their final injury report of the week. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle surgery) is out. He will miss his second straight game.
Three players are questionable: running back Shane Vereen (concussion), safety Nat Berhe (concussion), and linebacker Keenan Robinson (shoulder).
Robinson has had injuries in the past – he missed the entire 2013 season with a torn left pectoral muscle - but has played every game this year.
“We haven't seen him do much this week,” McAdoo said. “He knows how to take care of his body with the injuries he's had in the past, similar-type injuries. So we'll see more from him tomorrow to know if he can go or not.”
McAdoo didn’t directly answer a question about who would replace Robinson if he can’t play.
“He's played some good football for us,” McAdoo said. “He's really bought into the culture here and into the locker room and he's been a nice player, he's played some nice football for us and we're fortunate to have him. We'd have to wait to see how that goes, who's up and who's down, as far as who can contribute in his role.”
• Justin Pugh, who has missed the last five games with a knee injury, is on track to return at left guard.
“Justin's practiced well this week, so we'll take a look at him again tomorrow in practice,” McAdoo said. “He's a good player, he's been a good player for us and when we can get him, as soon as we can get him back, we'll take him.”
*When the headset communication between McAdoo and Eli Manning broke down last week, the coach used a walkie-talkie. The NFL is reportedly investigating.
“We've touched base with the league, we're working through it right now,” McAdoo said. “I don't have anything to add, but we are working with the league on the incident.”
• The NFL tweeted today that Landon Collins is the first NFL safety with 100+ tackles, at least five interceptions, and at least 3.0 sacks since Rodney Harrison in 2000.