Kenny Phillips, when healthy, is the best safety in the NFC East, and it’s not even close.
Way back in OTAs, Ebenezer Samuel of the NY Daily News was able to coax an interesting story out of Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt about Kenny Phillips:
For all the talk a few seasons ago that Kenny Phillips may have lost a step, Merritt certainly doesn’t think so. In fact, the coach described Phillips as perhaps the ideal safety, capable of playing in the box or stepping out to cover centerfield.
And, according to Merritt, opponents don’t dare test Phillips deep. The coach told a story to back that up, too. And I’ll let Coach Merritt take things from here:
“(Cowboys tight end Jason) Witten told me when I went to the Pro Bowl two years ago when Antrel invited me, Witten said, when 21’s in the post, we don’t ever throw anything deep because we know he can go and get it. He said, ‘But if I see anybody else back there, (Tony) Romo knows, we’re going deep.’
Unfortunately, Phillips wasn’t very healthy this season, and that opened the door for Stevie Brown to come in and play. Brown capitalized by picking off 8 passes, which tied him for 2nd in the NFL, behind just Chicago’s Tim Jennings:
A couple weeks ago, Jesse Bartolis of Big Blue View wrote a thoughtful piece about the Giants’ situation at safety, and he included a poll at the end of the article. The results shocked me:
To let Phillips walk, you would have to have a lot of confidence that either Will Hill or Stevie Brown is capable of being your full-time starter opposite Antrel Rolle, and I’m not sure I’m there on either player. Hill had some nice moments in a small role this season, but there wasn’t enough body of work to think he can replace a player like Phillips. Meanwhile, Brown’s INT numbers are certainly very impressive, but when you look at them individually, you’ll see that the majority of them were gifts.
Let’s look at Brown’s INTs one by one:
Against Carolina on 4th and Goal, you’ll see Stevie Brown watching Cam Newton’s eyes. Newton locks in on the receiver to the right, and never takes his eyes off of him:
When Newton winds up to throw, Brown makes his break:
And makes the easy pick:
Good job by Brown reading the QB, but this is still an easy play as Newton somehow never saw him.
Against Cleveland, Brandon Weeden will roll right at the snap. Brown (arrow pointing to his legs) follows Weeden:
You can’t really see him here, but Chase Blackburn hits Weeden as he throws and Weeden’s pass sails:
It’s high and well behind WR Josh Gordon, and Brown is there to bring in the overthrow.
Again, credit Brown for capitalizing on a bad throw, but this was a gift.
Robert Griffin III sort of double hitched a throw to Logan Paulsen, and missed his receiver badly. Brown (again, legs only on screen) cleaned up.
Other easy one.
Brown’s first pick against Dallas was explained nicely by Troy Aikman: “The play fake was not where Romo thought it was going to be. He comes out to his right and Phillip Tanner goes to his left”
Aikman continued, “And when Romo comes off of (his play fake), I’m sure that threw him off, and then he never located the safety in the middle of the field, Stevie Brown, and Stevie Brown comes underneath of it and makes the interception.”
Aikman then starting talking about Brown: “Stevie Brown now has what, 4 interceptions, and it’s been more of the ball finding him than him finding the ball.”
Troy and I are on the same page thus far.
For this next interception later in the game against Dallas, it’s important to note where the original line of scrimmage was (the 19), and the down/distance (4th and 1):
Now note where Romo threw this ball from (23 yards behind the LOS) after being chased by the Giants’ DL:
Brown makes a nice catch here, keeping his feet in bounds:
However, it was a ball that Romo had to force in there. If it isn’t 4th down, this ball is being thrown away. Plus, Brown actually cost the Giants a few yards by making the catch.
Tipped by Antrel Rolle:
And picked by Brown:
Credit Rolle for making this play.
Brown’s second pick against the Saints was a nice play. The Saints try to hit Jimmy Graham up the seam, but Brown, playing in a 2 deep zone, is able to break on the ball and make the play:
I’ll let Troy Aikman take this one again: “The Giants are playing 2 deep. Anytime you throw the ball down the middle, and you don’t (throw a laser), that’s the one guy based on the zone coverage, the safety is the one guy that can take that throw away because Jimmy Graham is in a position to get into a hole in that zone, and somehow you’ve got to be able to keep the safety, in this case Stevie Brown, from being able to jump that route. Either pump faking him to the outside… you gotta do something, otherwise you have happen what just happened, and Drew Brees knows it.
Nice play, and also a nice 70 yard return by him on the play, but this is another mistake by the opposing QB.
Michael Vick gets hit as he’s throwing, and the ball sails:
Merry Christmas, Stevie Brown.
Brown does a nice job of anticipating where the QB is going with the football, and led to a number of his picks, with of course the help of some very bad throws and/or decisions by the opposing team. But in also bit him this season. Here’s an example from the Browns game:
Browns WR Josh Gordon (circled) is running a deep post that is going to eventually land in Brown’s zone. The Giants safeties appear to be in a Tampa 2 look, with Brown and Antrel Rolle playing deep half and Chase Blackburn covering the deep seam:
Brown jumps the TE’s stop route on the right side, foregoing his deep half responsibility as Josh Gordon comes across the field into Brown’s zone:
The result is Chase Blackburn comically trying to chase down Gordon, but it was Brown who put him in that situation:
Bad safety play is an epidemic in the NFL. If you have a good one like the Giants do in Phillips, you hold onto that guy for dear life. Kenny Phillips is set to become a free agent this offseason. Safeties, fortunately for the Giants, also don’t make a ton of money. As a result, the cost to franchise tag them won’t be exorbitantly high. Per Ian Rapaport of NFL.com, here are the projected franchise tag numbers for each position this offseason:
I would advise the Giants to think long and hard about slapping that tag on Phillips.