When teams build their defensive game plans for the upcoming season, Super Bowl Champions are always the standard.
The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary was led by solid corners Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend, Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu, and safety Ryan Clark. Clark is a non-drafted free agent originally signed out of LSU by the Giants. While they are a solid group, besides Polamalu who is the standard at his position, the Giants match up well talent-wise.
During a regular season hard-hitting matchup between the teams last year, the Giants secondary out-performed the Steelers unit, holding Ben Roethlisberger to 189 passing yards and four interceptions, with three made by the Giants secondary. The key was a relentless pass rush that generated five sacks and continuous pressure that had Roethlisberger passing off his back foot most of the game.
Are the Giants that far off from the NFL's top secondaries in terms of talent and ability? Not at all.
If that Steelers game could be freeze-framed and replicated, look for this group to generate more multiple-interception games in 2010 and get more respect around the league.
However, the four expected starters for the Giants, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Michael Johnson, and Kenny Phillips, haven't shown the knack in the pros as consistent interceptors, combining as a unit for only 14 interceptions in a total of 135 regular-season games.
So what can we expect? Here are four bold predictions about the Giants secondary that should bring smiles to every New York fan:
1. The Giants Will Play More Man-to-Man Coverage and Prosper
The Giants have tremendous confidence in their pash rush. With the defensive line rejuvenated and ready to go, the team should be ready to trust their two young veteran corners in man-to-man.
Both corners have been good, but not great, tacklers. However, they demonstrate a good learning curve and their tackling should improve.
Second-year safety Kenny Philips has good closing speed and has shown flashes of becoming a respected hitter across the middle, while Michael Johnson has the heart, strength, and speed to blow up running plays at the line of scrimmage and cover tight ends and running backs.
2. Aaron Ross Emerges as a Lockdown Corner
If Ross remains injury-free and his shoulder fully recovers, the speed and ability he possesses will give elite receivers trouble.
He never seems to be far from his man in press coverage and he closes on the ball quicker than Corey Webster in the cover two sets.
Ross started in the Super Bowl as a rookie, and now that he has had a chance to adjust to the NFL level, look for him in his third year to get comfortable with his ability and dominate.
3. Corey Webster Leads the Team in Interceptions and Receives a Pro-Bowl Selection
While Corey was a monster interceptor at LSU, that ability has not fully translated to the NFL.
However, he has a knack for the big interception and he performed so well last year that teams stopped throwing the ball his way.
With Ross' development, teams are going to start throwing Corey's way. Also, with the added chances to defend the ball, his interceptions should go way up.
4. Kenny Phillips Will Send Two Players to the Sidelines after Hard Hits This Year
Phillips slid to the 30th pick in 2008 because some draft prognosticators felt he wasn't the "blow-up-your-man" safety that he talks about being.
Phillips came into training camp last year and immediately set the tone by flying all over the field and hitting players hard.
During the 2008 regular season he did a nice job as a rookie, showing flashes of being a determined hitter, but he still needs to become better in coverage.
Look for Phillips to enhance his game with a year under his belt and become a player that receivers watch when they run deep posts and crosses.