Kenny Phillips' week four injury against the Philadelphia Eagles looked to be a devastating blow to an already thin secondary. The issue compounded itself when Will Hill was suspended for Adderall use. The New York Giants were forced to turn to third-year journeyman Stevie Brown into the starting lineup, and the rest was history. Brown has five interceptions to go along with two fumble recoveries on the season and has helped the Giants win their last two contests despite giving 914 yards of total offense. However, Phillips' likely return against the Pittsburgh Steelers puts the Giants in an unusual, yet precarious position.
With Brown's propensity for making plays on the ball and being where he is supposed to be on every play, it's going to be hard for the Giants to remove him from the starting lineup. Although Phillips is one of the better over-the-top strong safeties in the NFL, he has not proven to be a consistent playmaker so far this season. His alignments have been spotty and he has allowed some big plays down the field. Phillips understands the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league, and said on Thursday that he would not be surprised is Brown remains the starter in Sunday.
"He did what he was supposed to do," Phillips said of Brown. "He took advantage of the opportunity. It's rare that a guy loses his position to an injury, but it's possible with the way he's played. But I'm not worried about it. Whatever role they give me, I'll take it. If I have to backup my backup I'll do it."
Phillips return to the lineup gives Big Blue a multitude of options in the secondary. With three healthy, quality players at both the corner back and safety positions, the Giants are going to be able to mix up their coverages frequently this Sunday. In particular, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will be able to bring back the Giants three safety package.
The Giants began running their three safety look with Deon Grant two seasons ago because of weaknesses in the secondary. With three safeties on the field, it made for an extremely difficult pre-snap read for opposing quarterbacks. It was almost impossible to know if Big Blue was in zone coverage, man coverage, or if a blitz was coming off the edge. Brown thinks the Giants now have the ability to bring that back.
"I feel like we can all run, we can all cover well, we can all do different things so you might never know what's coming," Brown said. "We could be in man coverage, we could be coming out in different-type zones, we could be blitzing, and I feel like we all are interchangeable."
The Giants must be careful in how they manage their newfound depth at safety. Phillips is coming off a four week hiatus, so it's imperative that he plays on a limited snap count. Furthermore, Stevie Brown has been one of the most impactful defensive players on the field for Big Blue since Phillips' injury. Although having excessive depth isn't a bad thing, it can become an issue if that talent is mismanaged. The Giants can not afford to take Stevie Brown off the field, but they must also find a way to utilize Kenny Phillips. It's going to be a tough balancing act that should yield positive results.
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