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Position Breakdown: Linebackers

Today I’ll be breaking down the line backing  unit for the New York Football Giants (does Berman have that copy righted?)



First though I want to touch on something I’ll touch on in much more detail later, but I’ve becoming increasingly more interested in a website ( that is like a baseball prospectus type web site for football. It is full of statistical analysis, correlations and breaking downs of everything in football. The statistics that is like the “base set” statistic for all of this is DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) which is essentially a measure of how much better players are over what other players would be in similar situations (for those of you deep in baseball stats congruent to VORP or value over replacement players in baseball).


If an offensive players DVOA % is positive that’s a good thing. The higher the number the better. For defenses that’s a bad thing. It’s better to be negative (therefore the lower the number the better the player/defense).



The Relevance to the Giants is this:


The New York Giants offense, overall was MORE productive in Burress’ absences then they were without Plax.


With Plaxico Burress in the offense the offense had a DVOA of 20.6 percent. And without Buress the offense had a 27.8% DVOA with Plaxico out of the lineup (not even including the Seattle game when the Giants put up 44 points).


The reason this seems counter-intuitive is that because the Giants scored less points. However, the Giants scored less points against defenses that on the whole were much better.



So the question naturally becomes what to trust? The statistics or pundits opinions?


The Rush offense DID decline slightly, however, the passing offense was actually better off.


Just something to think about before you write the Giants off in your pre-season predictions.





Before I talk about the linebacking corps I want to mention this (and will do so again in the secondary preview)


The New York Giants pass defense went from 18 in 2006, to 15th, to 9th last year.


And last year the Giants struggled mightily against the pass vs running backs where they had a DVOA of 30! (Remember negative DVOA are good. 30 is awful)


And the responsibility of pass coverage for running backs generally falls on the linebackers.


Something to keep in mind.



Another position of concern for many Giants fans is the linebacking corps.


Last year Antonio Pierce, Danny Clark, and X player (Wilkinson early, Blackburn and Kehl later).



And despite some glaring shortcomings in talent the defensive unit was pretty good which means the linebacking corps was not THAT Bad. Not great though.



The biggest concern seems to be centered around middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and many question whether or not his play tailed off especially after the Burress incident.


Pierce’s biggest problem is coverage, and most notably was the play against Brian Westbrook in the Eagles game that was shown on repeat on highlight reels. But that’s only part of the problem. Antonio Pierce was the second WORST coverage Linebacker in the league (statistically speaking. Pierce gave up an average of 5.8 yards per catch when he was in coverage and only James Farrior gave up more).




To me, Pierce looked to be playing about 10 pounds heavier than he usually does. Pierce was an undrafted free agent and almost universally speaking undrafted players lack something (athleticism or height) and they usually overcome their deficiencies with hard work, tenacity, and being a smart player. Pierce is that, I just hope he still has the athleticism to compete this year at a high level because he is probably the heart and soul of the defense.



Other players who might be playing in the middle linebacking spot are:


Chase Blackburn

Blackburn is another player who is not an overly gifted athlete, but someone who plays smart, does all the right things, and is constantly on the go. He’s better suited, in my opinion, as a rotational player and backup, which is where he will play this year. Having Blackbrun gives the Giants great flexibility and depth at the middle linebacker position in an event where Pierce gets hurt or can’t stay out of night clubs or something crazy like that. Last year Blackburn had 61 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in 8 spots and played below average to terrible against the pass (as most Giants linebackers did. He was actually statistically worse than Pierce but does not qualify for worst coverage linebacker in the league).

Jonathan Goff

Goff is a fifth round pick from a year ago out of Vanderbilt who was hurt for the season and did virtually nothing. He’s not the biggest player (6-2, 232 pounds), but he’s a good athlete and I was excited about him last year. Hopefully he is fully recovered from his surgery and will be able to contribute something to the team this season.


Kelvin Smith

Smith is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Syracuse (in my backyards) so I know a little bit about him. We’ll see what he has. Smith was mentioned often in the Coughlin and Sheridan transcripts during rookie mini-camps so we’ll see if he actually sticks with the team. Not likely. The Giants have to be at a much lower number than they are now when the season starts.




Strongside Linebacker

Danny Clark is a savvy veteran who has played with Coughlin in different stops (with Jacksonville way back when) and he did better than I expected last year. Surprisingly good. In fact statistically he was the best linebacker on the team last season. Clark can Gasp! play coverage. Jeez. He had a adjusted yard per catch of 5.1 (better than Michael Boley, but he did not qualify either with enough attempts in pass coverage). Against the run Clark is also better than the rest of the team giving up 2.6 yards per rush that were in his direction.


Clark ranked 13th in the league against the run for linebackers last year. According to these statistics,  Clark should have been a pro bowler.


The one thing Clark did not do last year was get at the passer (I don’t think he was asked a ton, anyway) but it is now in vogue for linebackers to get at the passer first and foremost and worry about other facets of the game second (especially for a strong side linebacker). There is a reason, that despite his effectiveness the Giants drafted Clint Sintim to rush the passer from the strongside linebacker position last year. Giants fans, don’t worry when Clark is on the field. He’s better than you think.  The thing I would say about Clark though, is I’d like to see him make more plays in the backfield.



Clint Sintim

Unfortunately, Sintim has been sidelined so far with a hamstring injury (as almost everyone on the team has been)which may limit his capacity to learn the playbook and may keep him out of some packages for awhile. Sintim was the best OLB at getting at the passer last season in College Football.


It is widely believed that had Hakeem Nicks not been there in the first round that the Giants liked Sintim MORE than Rey Maluaga and would have drafted Sintim with their 29th overall pick. That should tell you all you need to know about what the Giants think of Sintim’s potential.


I’m excited to see what Sintim has.



Zak De Ossie

De Ossie will probably not see the playing field out of base sets in the defense this year, but he is probably the Giants best special team’s player. From Brown (so you know he’s smart) De Ossie was selected by Andy Reid for the pro bowl due to his special team prowess. De Ossie has a roster spot locked down, I believe. As long as he plays excellent special teams this year I’ll be happy. If he contributes anything else then great!




Weakside linebackers


I have been harping in this breakdown about the Giants inability to play against the pass. Well Ta Da! Michael Boley. Before free agency started I thought Boley would be the steal of the free agents. The best Value player there may be. I’m extremely excited the Giants got Boley. Unfortunately Boley is having arthoscopic surgery and will miss 8-10 weeks.


Atlanta soured on Boley because he is meh against the run. However, Boley is exceptional against the pass (20th best in the league last year in a down year). And it is widely believed that Boley, if provided with the opportunity, would make an exceptional pass rusher. He’s extremely athletic and although he was not asked to blitz last year with the Falcons, he will be this year and could excel. Get well soon, Boley!



Bryan Kehl


I like Bryan Kehl a lot. He played great in relief last year. In his one start against a Minnesota team fighting for a playoff spot Kehl played well registering 9 tackles (7 solo) and a sack. Kehl is good against the run and is a good athlete. Kehl fell to the fourth round in large part because he’s from BYU and most BYU players fall. It’s not a bad school, they are actually good at football. But almost all students at BYU are Mormon and must go on a mission trip, which means when they enter the NFL they are already 24 or 25 years old. Kehl is no exception, having just turned 25 on the 16th of June.


I think Kehl will play a lot more than people think on the weakside, especially on rushing downs. More solid depth.



Gerris Wilkinson


Wilkinson a 3rd round pick out of Georia Tech is super athletic. And a player I thought would be successful, but he has gone the Sinorice Moss route of being ineffective and looking behind because he’s always battling injuries. I predicted last year that Wilkinson would have a 100 tackles by seasons end. Wilkison is athletic enough to play the pass too which I thought would help, but alas he was hurt and ineffective and is probably in line to be the 4th or fifth LB of the bench (behind Blackburn, Sintim or Clark, and Kehl). Let’s hope he contributes greatly on special teams.



Kenny Ingram


Ingram is a Former Safety out of FSU. Who has exceptional height for a Safety (6’6”. At the very least a true 6’5”). Ingram is a player I like and hope that he sticks with the team, though I doubt he will. Perhaps he will make the practice squad. He’s a player that must learn how to play the linebacker position, but with his size and coverage abilities I think he could really help out an NFL team somewhere, whether it eventually will be at linebacker or as a special teams ace, only time will tell.

That does it for the linebacker unit. Up next will be the secondary unit. If you’re interested in checking out the other units, click on the “features” tag and it will bring up the other unit breakdowns.

If you take the time to leave a comment, I’ll take the time to respond to your comment.

Have a nice day, everyone.

Go Big Blue!


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