Giants Have New Role for ‘Fast and Physical’ Veteran

Don 'Wink' Martindale

Getty Don 'Wink' Martindale and the Giants have a new role for a "fast and physical" veteran.

Don ‘Wink’ Martindale made a subtle change up to the New York Giants’ defense in Week 15. It helped a “fast and physical” veteran show he still has plenty of value, even in an unfamiliar role.

Landon Collins has been used to playing at the linebacker level throughout most of his career. Yet, the safety in name only has usually only joined the front seven in nickel packages.

While Collins continued in familiar territory during the Giants’ critical 20-12 win over his former team the Washington Commanders, Martindale also had a new role for the 28-year-old. It’s a role that will place heavy demands on Collins, but could also fix a fundamental flaw in one of the NFL’s softest run defenses.

Giants Reinventing Heavy Hitters

Collins saw action early and often after being promoted from the practice squad for the trip to FedExField. Where he played was significant, according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic: “Collins played the majority of his 27 snaps at linebacker in a sub package on passing downs. But he also played eight snaps as a conventional WILL inside linebacker in the 3-4 base defense or nickel package.”

Playing Collins as a nickel linebacker is one thing. It’s where he most often operated in Washington last season, spending his time deployed as a so-called “Buffalo nickel.”

There’s a big difference though to acting as a linebacker in defensive packages primarily set up to stop the pass. Players in nickel sets can still expect to operate in space as coverage defenders or else have the luxury of tackling slighter, speedier running backs who are on the field as much for their skills as receivers.

It’s another world entirely to play at the heart of a 3-4 defense, typically a run front. Teams around the NFL, including the Giants, show their base defense on early downs when teams are more likely to run, so Martindale rolled the dice Collins could hold up.

Collins delivered, like on this tackle against Commanders’ rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., highlighted by Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View:

Notice how Collins began the play in the box, lined up next to fellow inside linebacker Jaylon Smith (54). The Giants flopped their outside linebackers by having Azeez Ojulari (51) switch sides with Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Ojulari moved over to the strong-side of the formation and stood up tight end Logan Thomas (82) so Collins was free to make the tackle. This was perfect complementary defense and a great way to protect 6’0″, 218-pound Collins’ lack of size in the trenches.

Duggan credited Collins with dropping Robinson and also mentioned the other key stop from his destructive performance: “As has been the case throughout his career, Collins played fast and physical near the line of scrimmage Sunday. He made three tackles, including a stop of Robinson for no gain and a hit that dropped Samuel a yard short of a first down on third-and-3 in the third quarter.”

The tackle on wide receiver/running back Curtis Samuel denied the Commanders at a pivotal moment. It also showcased how effective Collins can still be against teams who try to pop a quick draw through the Giants’ nickel, per Sports 24/7:

Using Collins in more ways can also help another veteran fringe safety get onto the field. Together, the pair of heavy hitters can solidify the middle of Martindale’s defensive front, an area that’s already undergone changes, but still needs more work.

Giants Have New ILBs in Waiting

Collins wasn’t the only experienced and imposing safety who made his presence felt against the Commanders. He “was joined by veteran safety Tony Jefferson in the box in the sub package. Jefferson delivered a pair of bone-rattling tackles on consecutive plays late in the second quarter,” per Duggan.

Jefferson, who played for Martindale with the Baltimore Ravens, is another safety who’s more effective the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. It’s why Duggan argues for the 212-pounder and Collins to become the Giants’ new starting inside linebackers ahead of Smith and Micah McFadden.

The suggestion isn’t far fetched. Not when the Giants are surrendering a whopping 5.4 yards per carry, the joint-most in the league, along with the Los Angeles Chargers. Tackling has been a major issue, with the Giants’ “lack of effort” during Week 14’s 48-22 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles dubbed “embarrassing.”

There is room for changes after the Giants released Tae Crowder. Collins, who is on his second tour with the team, after being drafted 33rd-overall by Big Blue in 2015, is a ready-made replacement with greater versatility and upside.

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