Champion Giants just not the same on defense

Eli Manning has shown the New York Giants can score with

anybody.

It’s the defending Super Bowl champions’ defense that is playing

catch-up heading into Sunday’s NFL championship rematch against the

San Francisco 49ers (4-1).

Perry Fewell’s unit has been inconsistent at best, allowing 111

points and way too many big plays.

Take Sunday’s 41-27 win over the Cleveland Browns. The defense

allowed touchdowns on the Browns’ first two series. Granted the

first one was set up by an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble at his own 22. But

it only took two Trent Richardson runs to get the score

The second was a 65-yard pass play from Brandon Weeden to Josh

Gordon, the fifth score of 29 yards or longer this season against

New York (3-2).

That’s a no-no for any defense, particularly one with Tom

Coughlin as coach.

”Defensively we have had spurts where we have played really

well, and then we give up some things,” middle linebacker Chase

Blackburn said. ”We’ve definitely got to continue to get better as

a unit. There is no doubt we have to be better this week. We have a

challenge.”

The 49ers (4-1) seem to be hitting on all cylinders after being

surprised by Minnesota on Sept. 23. They crushed the Jets 34-0 on

Sept. 30 and followed that with a 45-3 thrashing of the Buffalo

Bills on Sunday.

San Francisco’s total of 68 points allowed is the fewest in the

NFC, while its total of 149 on offense is second only to the Giants

(152) in conference. Put simply, there is no comparison between the

two defenses.

Whereas Manning and the offense have overcome injuries to

Bradshaw, tackle David Diehl and receivers Hakeem Nicks, Ramses

Barden and Domenik Hixon, the defense has not shown the dominance

it exhibited at the end of last season.

Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck

have struggled getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Cleveland

QB Brandon Weeden was not sacked and only hit twice while throwing

the ball 35 times Sunday. And in the past two weeks, Eagles RB

LeSean McCoy and Richardson have found holes aplenty vs. New

York.

”We’ve been inconsistent,” defensive tackle Rocky Bernard

said. ”At times we have been pretty good and all on the same page

and other times we haven’t. That’s what we try to fight for, to

just try to all be on the same page more often than not.”

While reluctant to make excuses, the Giants have battled

injuries this season. Veteran cornerback Terrell Thomas was lost

for the season in training camp and his backup, Prince Amukamara,

missed the first two games with a sprained ankle. Michael Coe, who

stepped in after Amukamara later went down with a hamstring

injury.

The linebacking corps has been without Keith Rivers for three

games. Bernard missed Sunday’s contest with an arm injury, while

safety Kenny Phillips was out with a knee injury.

”We don’t hang our head on injuries,” said safety Antrel

Rolle, who has played the past two games with a sore knee. ”It’s

just as far as execution. We’ve been an up and down team, it’s not

something that we’re proud of, but we’re 3-2 and looking to get

better each and every week.”

The one area that needs immediate improvement is the pass rush.

It is the anchor of the defense, and it dominated in the

late-season run to a second title in five years.

Opponents are not letting the Giants take free runs at their

quarterbacks. Dallas showed the way in the season opener with

shorter patterns, quick releases and maximum protections or chip

blocking. Everyone else has learned from them.

”Teams are always going to try to take away your strengths,”

Bernard said. ”When they come into the meeting on Wednesdays,

that’s probably the first thing the (opposing) offense talks about:

`Hey we have to find a way to control their defensive line.’ That’s

part of the game. We have to find a way to counteract that. Like I

said, it’s early in the season, it will come along.”

Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell plan to discuss

changes this week. But for the most part, the linemen are

frustrated.

Maybe getting defensive tackle Chris Canty (knee) back in the

middle will help after this week.

”We just haven’t had the opportunity to have continuity,” said

Canty, who will be eligible to come off the physically unable to

perform list after the 49ers’ game. ”We’ve had a lot of guys

playing and shuffling guys in and out. I think once you start to

get that continuity and that rapport so to speak and we continue to

work like we have been working, I think we will start to see some

of the benefits and results of that effort.”

The bottom line is the Giants need to be better. This is a game

that the 49ers probably have had circled on their calendars since

New York beat them 20-17 in overtime for the NFC title.

”They’re a very talented group,” Rolle said. ”They came down

to the wire with us. I only expect them to get better. I think

under Jim Harbaugh, I don’t think that team is going to be allowed

to slack off, especially after the performance they put on last

year.

”I think they can only get better and continue to get better

from this point on.”

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