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East Rutherford, N.J. - Coordinator Perry Fewell has added a new wrinkle to the New York Giants' defense with veteran safety Kenny Phillips back in the lineup.
Instead of using schemes with three safeties instead of two, Fewell upped the count to four at times in a 38-10 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown formed the main trio. They were joined by Will Hill, and later Tyler Sash after Phillips aggravated an injury to his right knee.
Phillips practiced on a limited basis Friday for the Monday night game against Washington (5-6). He expects to play, which means the Giants (7-4) probably will load the field with safeties to give Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III a little more to think about.
Fewell said the safety-heavy formations can not only confuse a quarterback, they allow him to use all his talent.
"I think when you use that package it gives you a lot of flexibility," Fewell said. "It does cause some confusion for the offense. Who is the safety? Who is the guy who is dropping down? Some people don't know. Some people think they know. Those guys, the way they move around and the way they allow us to change them, it can make things difficult for a quarterback."
Getting Phillips back in the lineup last week was key to the formations. He sprained his medial collateral ligament against Philadelphia at the end of September and missed six games in what was a slower-than-expected recovery.
"It's real frustrating. It seems like it's always something," Phillips said after practice Friday. "But I've been able to play through it. This is probably the most I've been able to play. I'm trying to bounce back from it. It felt OK. I'm getting better each day."
However, Phillips believes his knee will not be 100 percent until the offseason. For now, he's going to play through it. Doing that allows Fewell a ton of options, the biggest being that he can go with his three-safety formation whenever he wants, knowing he's not trying to force it.
Phillips gives him that luxury and also allows Rolle to move into the nickel back spot, where he can either play in the box or cover the slot receiver.
Rolle, who was a crucial part of last season's late run to the title as a nickel, blanketed Randall Cobb of the Packers on Sunday night, limiting the explosive receiver to four catches and 39 yards.
"He brings a different type of energy to our defense," Fewell said. "Antrel is an action player and so it takes him to the action a lot more in my opinion than it does him playing safety. Safety is an action position also, don't get me wrong. But it puts him close to the action, I should say."
Rolle was coy when asked about the three-and-four safety formations. He admitted it gave the defense more speed, while taking away from the run support by taking out a linebacker or two. Either way, if it helped the team win, he was all for it.
"I haven't played nickel all year but going down there this week, I knew it was going to be a challenge for myself," Rolle said. "The coaches also helped me out with a boost of confidence. They felt they can just throw me down there at any given time and I will be successful at it.
"With that added pressure and added pressure from myself, I tried to be the best I could at that position so I don't let any of my teammates down."
A quarterback looking over a Giants defense - with four safeties on the field - has to try to identify where each will be lining up, and that can be a problem because Rolle, Brown, Phillips and Hill can be interchangeable.
"We're hybrids," Hill said.
Sash said he also expects teams to start calling out where Rolle is lined up because he is such a wild card. He can play deep in the middle of the field, line up against a slot man or tight end or even blitz from a pseudo-linebacker spot.
"We want to give the quarterbacks different looks," Sash said, "because we're going to be playing against some of the top quarterbacks in the league over the next few weeks."
Brown doesn't believe taking out the linebackers and replacing them with safeties hurts the run defense because they all like to hit. He also laughed about using four safeties last week.
"It's something we had worked on a little bit, so it wasn't too much of a surprise to see it in the game," he said. "With good athletes, you can do a lot of different things."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora said the formations showed the Giants' flexibility.
"Obviously you have guys who can come down and hit you in the mouth and they can also cover and you have those guys playing back there," he said. "There's really no telling what we're going to do, whether we're playing eight in the box or whether we're playing seven in the box."