|Coach Tom Coughlin wasn't too happy with the play of the special teams in the Giants' win over the Browns on Sunday. (US Presswire)|
The New York Giants’ silver lining in their Week 4 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was that rookie David Wilson was a monster on kick returns.
The first-round pick had six returns, averaging 36.2 yards per attempt, including one he returned 53 yards.
Coach Tom Coughlin critiqued his offense and defense on the Monday following the loss, but he had nothing but positive things to say about Wilson and the men who cleared his path.
“I think you’ll find an axiom in this business,” Coughlin said a week ago. “When they think the guy back there maybe has a chance to score, they block better.”
Following Sunday’s 41-27 win over the Cleveland Browns, Coughlin was in nearly the opposite situation. The offense looked sharp, the defense made some big plays, but the special teams -- particularly the kick return unit -- didn’t have any success.
This time it was special teams coordinator Tom Quinn who supplied the industry axiom.
“Coach Quinn said when we raised our game, teams are going to raise their game,” said backup center Jim Cordle, who plays the fullback role on the return wedge.
Equipped with a veteran kicker, Phil Dawson, and a speedy coverage unit, the Browns held Wilson to 13.5-yard kick return average, and stopped off returner Andre Brown at the eight-yard line on another kick.
“The veteran kicker did move the ball around on us a little bit,” Coughlin said Monday. “I didn’t think our angles were very good when we brought the ball out.”
A lot of things went wrong for the Giants kick return team on Sunday. First, Brown, who suffered a concussion on the return, should have never left the end zone.
Usually it’s the “off returner” who is in charge of judging the progress of the kicking team and whether the returner should take the ball out of the end zone or take a knee. But when Dawson directed the kick at Brown, Wilson then became the off returner and that decision became more complicated.
“In theory it is [Wilson’s responsibility], but [Brown] probably should have known the timing of the return was not going to be very good and stayed in,” Coughlin said. “But then again, it’s the off returner. He has to help him stay in there.”
Da’Rel Scott replaced Brown as the off returner but the decision of whether or not take a knee wasn’t the only issue for the Giants. When Dawson intentionally kicked the ball short, like he did on the opening kickoff, New York didn’t make the correct adjustments.
Wilson took the first kickoff of the game from the left side of the field at about the four-yard line around to the right and up to the Giants’ 14-yard line.
“We were going to take it back to the right, which was the original call, but when it’s that short, we just got to take it vertical,” Cordle said. “And so David bounced out, he should have stayed to the left.”
“The mortar kick should have been taken right up the sideline, which I think would have been a little more productive than trying to really trying to outdistance a fast cover team,” Coughlin agreed.
Cleveland also did a good job of mixing up their coverages, which allowed several backside tackles to be made on Wilson. And as Cordle explained, it’s the off returner’s responsibility of reading who the most dangerous tackler is on the play. After all, the kick returner and the off returner are two last two sets of eyes on the unit, and since Wilson is focused on making a clean catch, it’s up to Scott and Brown to find the first threat coming down the field.
Coughlin didn’t have any information on Brown’s condition (he said the running back isn’t feeling 100 percent), but regardless of who plays off returner on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, he’ll have to make better reads.
The Giants split two close games at Candlestick Park last season, winning in overtime in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl. New York didn’t have particularly good field position in either game (Scott and Jerrel Jernigan were serving as the kick returners), mostly because kicker David Akers had enough leg on his kicks to prevent any return at all.
Things are different now. The Giants finally have a returner with game-changing speed, but unless they adjust as quickly as their opponents, this return game will never reach its potential.
“It’s definitely good to have field position against that great defense,” Cordle said. “It helps the offense. It gets energized by it. If they kick it deep and we need to stay in, stay in. If they kick it short, make the right adjustment.”
The 49ers have yielded 30.9 yards per kick returner this season -- slightly more than the Eagles and just 30th in the NFL -- so the Wilson and the Giants should have their opportunities.
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