Making Their Mark: Defense

With the second marking period in the books, and the Giants riding high on a six-game winning streak, it's time for TGI to hand out the midseason grades. Here goes:

Averages:

DL – Can anyone say New York Sack Exchange? Grade: B+
LBs – Pierce-led band of LBs have been solid, if not spectacular. Grade: B-
DBs – The biggest surprise on the entire team. They can cover – and even catch. Grade: B

By the player:

Defensive linemen

Michael Strahan – It took a few weeks, as we all knew it would, but Michael Strahan is clearly back. He was wise enough to wait until he started to round into his normal Pro Bowl shape before he sparked up a competition between the members of the D-line. With four sacks at the break, it's still a pretty safe bet that he'll reach double figures. Grade: B

Osi Umenyiora – Six sacks in one game? Regardless of what else you've done in the other seven games, an evening like that immediately bumps you to the head of the class. Umenyiora has played superbly this season – against both the run and pass. Grade: A

Fred Robbins – He's definitely not having the superb first half he enjoyed last year, but he's still playing the best of any of New York's interior linemen. Robbins' pass rush play has started to come on of late, and he still has a penchant for turning in a big play or two a game. Grade: B-

Barry Cofield – Obviously there's much more to playing DT than posting numbers. However, you'd still like to see more than 11 tackles and zero sacks after eight starts. Hopefully he'll flip-flop what he did last year when a solid start was followed by a lousy finish. Grade: C

Justin Tuck – To think what he could be right now if he didn't miss the second half of last season. Tuck is not only a pass-rushing beast, but he's impossible to run on; hence why the Giants don't lose anything when he lines up at DT. Seven sacks in eight games as a reserve? Yeah, he's a beast. Grade: A-

Jay Alford – He's finally starting to see a few defensive snaps, but this rookie has earned his keep with his short-snapping ability. He's improved greatly in that department. Grade: B-

Russell Davis – Hasn't gotten enough snaps to warrant a grade. Grade: Inc. Manny Wright – Surprised we haven't seen more of big Manny this season. Grade: Inc.

Dave Tollefson – Not really sure whey he's even on the roster. Grade: Inc.

Linebackers

Antonio Pierce – He has posted typical Pierce numbers, averaging seven tackles a game. But while he's on pace for another 100-plus tackle season, he's not making the impact tackles that we've come to expect from him. Plus, we're not scared to give him a ‘B' because he really enjoys and thrives on that type of negative stuff. Grade: B

Kawika Mitchell – We told everyone that would listen that Mitchell was going to be a good one. And, after a slow start for the former Chief, he's certainly not making TGI look foolish at all. He's fifth on the club in tackles and starting to make more and more of an impact. Grade: B-

Mathias Kiwanuka – As an every-down linebacker, he still needs work. As a roaming stand-up LB, pass-rushing DE or DT, he's doing just fine. It took defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo a few games to use Kiwi just right, but lately, it seems to be working just fine. Close to 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks are proof. Grade: B

Reggie Torbor – The LB with nine lives is still around and contributing nicely on special teams. Grade: B-

Chase Blackburn – He's the leader of the cover teams, which have gotten better lately. Grade: B- Gerris Wilkinson – Limited early in the season due to injury, Wilkinson is starting to come on as a reserve LB and special teamer. Grade: B-

Zak DeOssie – Just like Alford, DeOssie has earned his keep with dependable long-snapping. Grade: B-

Defensive backs

Sam Madison – Some skeptics, TGI included, didn't even think Madison was a lock to make it out of training camp this summer. Now, he's as close to a lock-down corner as the Giants have had in years. He's already picked off two passes and, ranking third on the team with 38 tackles has shown that he can still play some in run support as well. Grade: B

Aaron Ross – We said he was the most talented corner the Giants have – and he's proven it. Once he was inserted into the starting lineup, he's been pretty much lights out – except for when he missed curfew the night before the Jets game. He has a team-high three picks and the club's only INT return for a score. Grade: B+

Gibril Wilson – He certainly makes the plays in front of him, as his 44 tackles would attest. He's also chipped in with a pair of INTs. Wilson might not have turned into the star everyone expected after his rookie season, but the Giants could still do a lot worse here. Grade: B

James Butler – He's probably played better than it seems, but there is surely plenty of room for improvement. We still don't understand why they were so quick to dump Will Demps. Butler is clearly the weak link of a very strong defense. Grade: C

R.W. McQuarters – He's not playing the nickel role as often or as well as he did last season, when he was arguably New York's top cover corner. The best thing he's done this season is use his sure hands to consistently catch punts. Grade: B-

Corey Webster – He played his way right out of a starting spot – and fast. But give him credit for taking it like a man and not complaining about his fortunes, or lack thereof. When called on briefly since his demotion, he's delivered. Grade: C-

Kevin Dockery – He continues to fly under the radar, but Dockery usually plays well when given the chance. The one notable exception came when he was burned badly in the end zone during the Jets game. Grade: C+

Michael Johnson – He only recently started receiving playing time at safety after Butler was injured. During that time, Johnson has played very well. He established himself on special teams early in the year and now has shown that he's likely worthy of a starting safety spot as well. Grade: B+

Craig Dahl – He hasn't been much of a factor, to say the least. Grade: Inc.


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