- Prince Amukamara's return will solidify the secondary.**
Fifth-year cornerback Prince Amukamara hasn't played since Week 5 due to a pectoral injury, but his return appears imminent. Before the injury, Amukamara had allowed just one touchdown and a 57.1 completion percentage against, according to Pro Football Focus. Cornerbacks coach Tim Walton expects Prince's return to provide a big boost to the secondary.
"It just gives us some numbers and gives us some depth and that's what we need going forward," Walton said. "It gives us an extra DB out there so when we see these teams that love to spread us out and they're in 11 personnel or they like to use it almost as a fourth wide out with some of these tight ends. Now it just gives us an extra body to be in better position to cover for when we're spaced out."
2. Landon Collins is having his ups and downs.
Second round draft pick Landon Collins has had his share of growing pains, but he's impressed coaches with his motor and has benefited from Brandon Meriweather's veteran leadership. Safeties coach Dave Merritt points out that when the Giants drafted Kenny Phillips in 2008, he only came in on sub packages his rookie season, whereas Collins plays virtually every down.
"The game is fast mentally for him still, hopefully he can continue to progress, and move toward the player that we all know that we have in him," Merritt said. "You hit that little, whatever you call it, rookie wall or whatever it may be. I don't see him doing that, but at the same time having a new scheme and trying to make sure every week there's a little tweak here and there, he has to be able to pick those things up."
3. Technique will be the biggest challenge for JPP.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul's highly publicized return against Tampa Bay came with lots of question marks about his ability to be the same presence he was his first five years with the Giants. Pierre-Paul played in 46 of 63 (73 percent) defensive snaps against Tampa Bay, and 63 of 68 (86 percent) defensive snaps against New England. His return has immediately paid dividends for the entire D-line unit – they sacked Tom Brady three times on Sunday.
"How to use his hand as much as we can is the biggest thing we have tried to work on," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "It would have been nice to have training camp to work on those techniques --- you really don't have a lot of time to work on technique with the way practices are structured during the season, so we [have been using] a little bit of trial and error but his attitude could not be better."
4. Robert Ayers working inside of JPP gives the Giants their best pass rush.
Robert Ayers missed three games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, and even after he returned Week 7 against the Cowboys, it took a couple weeks for him to get his legs back under him. He recorded his second sack of the season against Tom Brady on Sunday. Nunn says the attention JPP gets on the edge will open things up for Ayers and Cullen Jenkins inside.
"We hope so. That is what we are trying to do," Nunn said. "He does help everyone else, there is no doubt --- it opens some things up for Robert, Robert can move inside more, which is what he does best is rush inside, so having [JPP] back certainly opens up other opportunities for everybody else."
5. Devon Kennard will continue to handle on-field communication.
With Jon Beason out for the season, the Giants have shifted radio communication duties to starting strong side linebacker Devon Kennard. That will continue after the bye, even though Beason's immediate replacement, Jasper Brinkley, has played exceedingly well. Kennard has made a big jump from year one to year two, according to linebackers coach Jim Herrmann.
"He's more involved in all the packages and we can use him in multiple positions; on the ball, setting the edge, we can put him as a roam-around kind of guy in sub, we can stick him back off the ball in a four-man front as an inside backer," Herrmann said. "To me, his overall understanding of the game has gone up tremendously. I think from year one to year two, that's probably the biggest improvement that he's made is being able to go in and do all of that and feel comfortable and taking the role of taking the defensive signal and getting guys lined up."
6. Injuries at linebacker a blessing in disguise?
Injuries to Beason, Uani 'Unga, J.T. Thomas and Kennard this season have forced the Giants to use a variety of combinations at linebacker. With 'Unga and Thomas expected back soon, the linebacking corps has lots of options for its different sub-packages.
"You have to do it in this league, you've got to be ready for injuries at any given time, so guys have to double up duty," Herrmann said. "They're learning. Some will play WILL linebacker in base, some may have to back up the MIKE, and some may have to back up the SAM. When we get into the sub-packages, that's where the guys have really got to know, okay what's my role, where am I going to be playing, who am I backing up, and they do a good job."
7. Swiss Army knife Nikita Whitlock will continue to play offense, defense and special teams.
Nikita Whitlock's first game playing offense and defense was in the Week 3 win over Washington. On defense, he's primarily been used as a pass rusher – he recorded his first career sack against Buffalo. From a conditioning standpoint, Whitlock has had to adjust to withstand the grind of playing all three phases. But his versatility has impressed assistant special teams coach Larry Izzo.
"When we were looking at Whitlock, I saw a lot of similarities to Dan Klecko, who played with New England, and he was a versatile player who played fullback, D-line, had good pass rush skills, and he could contribute in the kicking game," Izzo said. "Anytime you can add a versatile player that can wear many hats when you're building your roster, I think that adds value, and can help you in a number of ways."