Film breakdown: Giants need to beware of focusing on Stevie Brown’s 8 INTs before letting Kenny Phillips get away

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:

Stevie 0

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:

Kenny poll

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:

Interception #1:

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:

Stevie 1

When Newton winds up to throw, Brown makes his break:

Stevie 2

And makes the easy pick:

Stevie 3

Good job by Brown reading the QB, but this is still an easy play as Newton somehow never saw him.

Interception #2:

Against Cleveland, Brandon Weeden will roll right at the snap.  Brown (arrow pointing to his legs) follows Weeden:

Stevie 4

You can’t really see him here, but Chase Blackburn hits Weeden as he throws and Weeden’s pass sails:

Stevie 5

It’s high and well behind WR Josh Gordon, and Brown is there to bring in the overthrow.

Stevie 6

Again, credit Brown for capitalizing on a bad throw, but this was a gift.

Interception #3:

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.

Stevie 7

Other easy one.

Interception #4:

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”

Stevie 8

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.”

Stevie 9

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.

Interception #5:

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):

Stevie 10

Now note where Romo threw this ball from (23 yards behind the LOS) after being chased by the Giants’ DL:

Stevie 11

Brown makes a nice catch here, keeping his feet in bounds:

Stevie 12

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.

Interception #6:

Tipped by Antrel Rolle:

Stevie 13

And picked by Brown:

Stevie 14

Credit Rolle for making this play.

Interception #7:

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:

Stevie 15

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.

Interception #8:

Michael Vick gets hit as he’s throwing, and the ball sails:

Stevie 16

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:

Stevie 17

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:

Stevie 18

The result is Chase Blackburn comically trying to chase down Gordon, but it was Brown who put him in that situation:

Stevie 19

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:

Kenny 1

I would advise the Giants to think long and hard about slapping that tag on Phillips.

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30 Comments

  1. There’s something to be said for player who makes the play when he’s given the opportunity. You can call them gifts all you want, if these plays were as easy as described in this thread, bad safety play wouldn’t BE an ‘epidemic’. Also, INT rates would be higher among players.

    No one’s making him out to be a star, and he sure has some negative plays too, but the good outweighed the bad and I’d argue that his ability to capitalize and make the play separated the team from having a worse record than they had. Turnovers and the ability to create them is gold in this league. The Giants haven’t had a safety take away more than 4 passes in a season since Gibril Wilson’s one good year forever ago.

    1. Brown’s 8 INT this year are actually as many as Phillips has in his entire career. Not saying they’re equivalent players, I’m just saying you might be onto something there.

  2. Peter says:

    Jimmy you left out more blown coverages by stevie brown

    look at the aj green opening drive TD against the giants. he also blew another coverage on the last browns TD against the giants. ballhawk but his route recognition is nowhere near KPs level!

  3. CasanovaWong says:

    The only thing I would disagree with is the first Dallas INT. He broke on the ball and made a play in front of Dez, who was dogged after the play by Aikman. Everything else is spot on. Obvioulsy he still had to catch the ball and was exemplary when returning them, but it’s not like he was a lockdown ballhawk like Ed Reed . Right place at the right time all year to clean up the trash. Knuckle dragging Giants fans will only point to the INT totals and talk about how Kenny Phillips has never made a play for the Giants in his life.

  4. great work as always.

  5. Always have been and still am for resigning him.. Was hoping for a L Landry type deal , 3.5mil. ( prove it deal) but he will more likely get better offers. Tag is way to high for this team…this year.

  6. David_Does_Dallas says:

    Jimmy I hope your next article is about the Cowboys soon-to-be new DC Monte Kiffin, I would like to hear your thoughts on him.

    1. Haven’t quite digested that one yet, but I’m not sure I get it.

      1. David_Does_Dallas says:

        I think many Cowboys fans are confused like you. I for one am happy with the hire, I don’t think it will be a tough transition to the 4-3.

  7. ct17 says:

    Jimmy, you are right in your premise. Anyone paying attention to Giants games is aware the ball is not thrown near Phillips, resulting in his lack of INTs. But the Giants have huge cap issues, and he is an injury risk. Recent Giants history is filled with repeat knee injuries.

    I actually think it makes sense for the Eagles to sign him. Allen and Coleman are still on their rookie contracts, they can be kept around as injury insurance. Coleman needs to be upgraded.

  8. Jason M. says:

    I think Jerry Reese is wise enough to not allow one breakout season from an unexpected player rule his decisions. There is reason Cruz was not immediately signed long term after just one immaculate season. He’s got to see if the player can perform consistently not only week-to-week, but year-to-year. Stevie Brown is a nice story and certainly contributed in a big way during KP’s absence. However, as you outlined, many of those picks were neatly wrapped gifts. Looking beyond the picks, I saw several instances where Brown failed his assignment and looked lost in the outfield. You mentioned the Browns game but the one I was thinking of was the spanking they took against Atlanta. You didn’t have to be Matt Ryan to hit a wide open Julio Jones for a 40 yard strike and leisurely stroll into the end zone. The best part of what Phillips does is what you don’t see on the highlight reel. He covers his assignments and, as you said, keeps the opposing offensive deep balls in-check.

    Prediction: Though the two sides try to work out a deal, another team comes and outbids the Gmen for Kenny’s services (Redskins?).

    1. Yes, but you also have to factor in that this was Brown’s first year as a starter and he’s likely to improve at least some in the nuiances of playing the safety position if the Giants make him the starter going into next season he’ll receive far more practice reps/training camp instruction than he ever has before.

  9. HELLOO??!!! says:

    HELLOOO??!! It is obvious to EVERYONE that the issue with Kenny Phillips is his HEALTH and not his ABILITY!!! How could you even make a post like this–pointless!–without acknowledging that as the crux of the argument, and not just an obligatory “when healthy” throwaway remark. HELLLOOOO???!!!!

  10. Kaz says:

    Imagine if the Giants had any sort of pass rush? that would be nice and the importance of the safety position would be lessened dramatically. Stevie did what he did when the pass rush was basically non existent all year. Look for many more plays like these if the pass rush comes to play in 2013

  11. NYG_slater says:

    As previously mentioned, no one questions KP’s talent and ability. The debate around KP is purely about his health, and not just one knee, but both knees, most critically his left knee.

    Kenny has had structural (ligament) damage in his right knee (ACL, MCL), but also has an arthritic left knee, which needed microfracture surgery in 2009 to promote cartilage growth.

    You gotta think of Hideki Matsui if you are the giants. Like Kenny, Hideki had surgery for (two) arthritic knees and got three extra years in at the end of his career (mostly as a DH). Guess who performed Hideki’s surgery? Dr. Scott Rodeo, a Giants team Physician.

    Kenny had his microfracture surgery in 2009. How many more years can he expect to play pain free from arthritis? To my knowledge, arthritis can’t be cured. While, the pain can be managed and surgery can be performed to slow established arthritis, there is no treatment that can cure his condition.

    Even if they tag him, like you suggest, and he plays well next year, it doesn’t mean anything–he’s still playing on borrowed time.

    It’s pretty sad, KP is a great player and, from the outside, seems like a legitimately good guy. But i think his days are numbered with the giants. Didn’t Jerry Reese mention a week ago about Terrell Thomas possibly playing safety? Sounds like JR has already moved on.

  12. Brian says:

    Can we start calling the team of Brown/Hill, Brownhillda and have them sing at the end of every game?

  13. ohitsdom says:

    And yet, substitute Stevie Brown with any Eagles defensive back and the INT total is easily halfed.

  14. Tim says:

    Isn’t the concern about Phillips his health, not his talent? Note how you have to consistently reference “when healthy” in the opening when talking about Phillips’ play. There are legitimate reasons to think you can’t count on Phillips as your 12+ game starter for a season and that because of that you don’t want to pay him ~$7M next year.

    1. Fair point. I should have mentioned this in the post, not sure why I didn’t, but the tag buys the Giants a year to see if he can stay on the field. Phillips played 15 games in 2011, and all 16 in 2010.

      If he can’t stay on the field in 2013, it’s easier to let him walk in 2014. Paying him the $6.8 mil hurts to some degree, but that pain only lasts a year. If you let him walk now and he goes back to being the great player we know he can be (again, “when healthy”), that’s a decision the Giants could regret for years.

  15. Good write up. They should definitely bring him back if the money is right. I just think he’s going to get a nice contract offer because teams realize he’s a good player. John Clayton currently projects the Giants as being about 5 million over the cap and they have to choose who to re-sign

    I think that number includes the 17 free agents the Giants have entering free agency and another 4 restricted free agents.

    So to me the question was never is Kenny Phillips worth re-signing. He definitely is and I think most Giants fan agree.

    The question is what is he going to cost and is the depth at the position at safety (Hill/Brown) greater than the other positions the Giants need to re-sign, especially offensive line where Beatty, Boothe, Cordle, Locklear are all entering free agency .

    Lawrence Tynes, Martellus Bennett, David Carr, Rocky Bernard, Domenik Hixon will also be looked at to be re-signed.

    And then in the near future, Hakeem Nicks, JPP, and Victor Cruz as well.

    Some difficult decisions coming ahead for Jerry Reese

    1. I was just about to email saying I mentioned you in a post, but you’re already on it, ha.

    2. The big one is Beatty, in my opinion. Absolutely can’t let him get away either. The other guys are all replaceable to varying degrees.

      Giants can always restructure a contract here or there. Always some creative ways to clear money to keep the guys you absolutely MUST keep. They can also cut some dead weight (looking at you, Diehl) to save some money.

      1. brisulph says:

        Yes, cut that DUI committing turnstile loose.

  16. Frank says:

    Or they could just let him walk and another team in need of safety help(hint, hint) could pick him up.

    I think Stevie Brown will have double the interceptions next year. He’s your starter Giants, you don’t need Kenny Phillips.

    1. brisulph says:

      16 picks… that would be a crazy good statistical season to say the least.

      1. AJ says:

        That would be the record if I’m not mistaken. I doubt he reaches 8 again, but that’s only because it’s not an easy thing to do. Not to mention teams will be weary of him. I do think he gives the Giants a lot of leverage in any negotiations with Phillips.

        1. brisulph says:

          I think the record is 12 or 13 for one player in a single season.

    2. Tracer Bullet says:

      16? Pfft. He might have that by week 8. The Giants should absolutely let Phillips walk. Why keep an oft-injured LaRon Landry-type around when you’re already starting the modern equivalents of Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott? Jerry Reese should give Phillips the pink slip and make it a point to insult the man’s mama. In public. On a daily basis.

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