The Giants run defense needs to resume last seasons dominance on Sunday in Tampa Bay:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.– The Giants have yet to intercept a pass this season, and All-Pro safety Landon Collins believes they key to getting the first one is for the run defense to improve.
Although it might seem nonsensical, Collins' thinking is perfectly logical. The Giants currently rank last in the NFL in rush defense, allowing an average of 153.3 on the ground in their first three games. The Philadelphia Eagles gashed them for 193 yards in defeating the Giants last Sunday. With numbers like those, opposing teams have little inducement to throw. And fewer balls in the air mean fewer opportunities to intercept them.
"There just haven't been many opportunities," Collins said. "Some teams are testing us deep. The only time we really had opportunities was the Lions game (on Sept. 18). Other than that, not many teams are trying us deep. If they are trying us deep, they are throwing it outside so they are either going to throw it out of bounds, their receiver is going to catch it, or we are going to get pass interference."
Collins said the defensive backs are not frustrated by seeing the zero in the interceptions column on the stat sheet.
"We feel more respected," he said. "You feel more respected when they don't feel like they can try you like that. So they have to get nitty and gritty, but at the same time, they ain't trying because their run is working right now. If the run is working, why pass it? So, we got to stop the run first."
They've yet to do that to their customary standards. The Eagles' 193 yards was the highest total allowed by the Giants since Minnesota ran for 215 yards on Dec. 27, 2015.
"It started inside, then it moved outside on some plays, then it got out to the second level guys, downhill, not playing downhill, guys not setting the edge in the secondary," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo when asked about the reasons behind Philadelphia's high rushing yardage total. "When it goes like that, it's not one thing. But I think everybody recognizes it. We've been through it. We sat down and watched every run play together as a unit. I think everybody was accountable for what they did or didn't do, and hopefully it will get fixed."
Philadelphia ran for 58 yards in the fourth quarter, which standout defensive end Olivier Vernon missed with an ankle injury. But Spagnuolo said Vernon's absence was not solely responsible for the Eagles being so well-grounded.
"It wasn't one side," Spagnuolo said. "It was everybody. It's never one person. When you run the football, and they run the football for over four yards, it's never one guy. So in that case, I would not say it's one person. I'd say it's the whole defense and that's how we're going about fixing it. Everybody."
Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia have rushed for, in order, 129, 138, and 193 yards, one of the reasons the Giants are 0-3. And that is against a defense that last season finished tied for third in the league, allowing just 88.6 yards a game. The 2016 Giants held their opponents to less than 100 rushing yards in 11 of 17 games.
Vernon suggested the path to improvement is "Everybody just sticking to their job and doing what they have to do. Honestly, it's very simple. So we just got to keep focused on who we have up next and we got Tampa Bay. They got an explosive offense and we just got to do what we have to do and play Giants football."
Harrison said it was "very surprising" to see so much poor tackling when he reviewed the Philadelphia game.
"Nobody saw that coming," he said. "But it's all things that we can get corrected and get corrected fast. It's not a matter of guys not being able to do it. It's just actually doing it and doing it with some authority. I don't think we've been doing that."
On Sunday, the Giants will be on the road to face the 1-1 Buccaneers. Tampa Bay's best running back, Doug Martin, will not play because he's serving an NFL suspension. With Martin sidelined, third-year quarterback Jameis Winston continuing to improve, and an impressive cast of receivers, the Bucs were far more reliant on moving the ball through the air in their first two games (71 passes against 43 rushing attempts). If they continue that pass/run ratio, the Giants should have a chance to pick up that elusive first interception.
"Once they start, they don't stop," Collins said. "We got a forced fumble against the Lions. Now, we got a forced fumble against the Eagles. So, they're going to come."
"Teams have been trying to establish the run, and that's why we haven't had many opportunities to even get our hands on the ball," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who led the Giants with six interceptions last season. "When teams are throwing the ball 15-20 times a game it's hard to get your hands on the ball. We know they'll come. Just when they do make a mistake, we got to be there to capitalize on it.
"I know the guys in my room. We're a good group of ball hawks, so they are coming."
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