Duo's Play Has Been Key In Turning Around Defense That Ranked Last In NFL Last Season

By Ernie Palladino
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The statistics say the Giants’ secondary is less than average, having allowed 262.7 yards per game through the first 10.

But as coaches and players have said ad infinitum, stats are for losers.

No doubt, realizing that made Thursday’s turkey dinner go down a lot easier than it did last year.

Remember 2015? Over and over again, the offense would hold a lead or be tied in the fourth quarter, only to watch the opposition throw the ball over the secondary. Six times it happened, and six times they lost games late because of it.

The backs of the defensive backs’ uniforms became all too common a sight for Giants fans. Plus, it caused a lot of agita in both the locker room and the coaching offices. In the end, though, Tom Coughlin paid the ultimate price with his job.

The 7-3 Giants are winning this year partly because they finally have a secondary. After several years of suffering through injury depletion and just plain bad play back there, the defensive backfield actually looks like a defensive backfield. And they can in large part thank safety Landon Collins and cornerback Janoris Jenkins for that.

Without those two, the secondary would be, well, ordinary.

Collins, of course, was the Giants’ second-round draft pick last season. Jenkins came this year from the Rams when he accepted a five-year, $62.5 million free agent deal.

The Giants' Janoris Jenkins, left, makes a play against the Bears

The Giants’ Janoris Jenkins, left, makes a play against the Chicago Bears during the game at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 20, 2016. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

A year of growing for Collins and a little foresight from general manager Jerry Reese made all the difference in the world this year. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that stud defensive end Olivier Vernon, the real prize of a $200 million free agent spending spree, has worked so well in tandem with Jason Pierre-Paul to exert pressure on passers. But the improvement in the defensive backfield, thanks mainly to Collins and Jenkins, has proven just as pivotal.

“It’s awesome,” Collins said this week as the Giants prepared for the 0-11 Browns in what could theoretically turn into a trap game to end all trap games if they fall below their current level of play. “We’re working as a team, working as a unit. We harped on that through the whole OTAs and the whole spring. We’re doing it, and we have to keep doing it and just keep raising the level.”

MORE: Palladino: Giants Have The Motivation To Avoid Trap Against Browns

The dedication in learning how to catch a football over the offseason has paid off big time for Collins, as evidenced by a four-game interception streak. His 62-yard round-the-world touchdown return of an interception against the Rams on Oct. 23 started it off, and his latest at the end of last week’s 22-16 win over the Bears extended his picks total to five, a far cry from last year’s one.

“I want to catch as many interceptions as I can,” Collins said. “The more interceptions I catch, the better chance the offense has to score. And sometimes when I have the ball in my hands, I can get down the field and score myself.”

He is definitely the leader of the secondary now, and some have even touted him as a longshot contender for MVP.

But he’s not doing it alone. Jenkins, appropriately nicknamed “Jackrabbit,” has become the shutdown cornerback Reese expected when he wooed him from the Rams.

In addition to locking down top receivers like Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, he’s allowed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to put him in one-on-one coverage.

Just like the Jets did with Darrelle Revis — before he went downhill.

The closest the Giants came to that in recent years was Prince Amukamara. But he was never healthy enough to make a lasting impact.

Not so with Jenkins who, despite leading the Giants’ cornerbacks with 38 tackles to go along with 12 breakups and two interceptions, isn’t satisfied with his performance.

“I just feel like some balls I got my hands on could have been my ball,” Jenkins said. “I just feel like I need to come up with those.”

Still, that’s a far cry from the years cornerbacks and safeties dropped one easy pick after another.

The overall passing yards allowed may not be impressive. But the timing of big interceptions and breakups couldn’t be better.

They are a big reason for the Giants’ five-game winning streak. And the main players behind them are Collins and Jenkins.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino


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