Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Frustrated by a lack of interceptions and the continued problems of the Giants' secondary, Antrel Rolle is issuing the following challenge to all opposing quarterbacks left on the Giants' schedule: Start throwing the ball his way.
"Honestly, I wish teams would challenge me more," Rolle said Wednesday. "I wish they would throw the ball more. I like to be tested. I like to understand where I am as a safety. I like to evaluate myself. So if I got to put it out there for teams to throw the ball at me, I'm going to put it out there: Throw the ball at me because I want to go get it."
Rolle hasn't been getting much of anything lately in the Giants' defensive backfield. He's the leader of a unit that has been the team's biggest weakness, and his own play has come under increasing scrutiny. The Giants signed Rolle last year to a five-year, $37-million deal that made him the NFL's highest-paid safety at the time, but his production hardly reflects the investment. In each of his first two seasons with the Giants, he has only one interception.
So for all the good that the Giants' offense has done in recent weeks, the problems defending the pass continue to threaten the team's playoff push. The outspoken Rolle, one of the most widely quoted players on the team whose weekly radio appearances on WFAN almost always make news, has become increasingly agitated by his unit's poor performance.
Unfortunately, Rolle is often first to the microphone but last to the ball. The Giants need him to step up in a big way and begin to eliminate the defensive problems that are threatening to undo all the offensive magic from Eli Manning & Co. Rolle has made a big impact with his words; now it's time for his play to start providing the answers.
To hear Rolle explain it, he's doing everything asked by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and it's not all his fault that the Giants are among the worst pass defenses in the NFL. But he's certainly not helping.
The numbers are disturbing:
The Giants have allowed the sixth-most points per game (26.8) in the NFL.
Their pass defense has allowed 3,428 yards, the fourth- worst mark in the league.
Only the Vikings (26) have allowed more touchdown passes than the Giants (24).
Only the Patriots (68) have allowed more passing plays of 20 yards or more than the Giants (56).
The sum total of Rolle's production: 77 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception. There are 17 free safeties who have more picks.
"I play and do what I'm told to do and do it very effectively," Rolle said. "I have to do what I'm told."
Hmmm. That sounds like a player who would rather do as he pleased, not as he's told. Rolle admitted as much.
"If it was up to me, I'd be back deep, hunting the ball, doing what I love to do, but that's not what the defense calls for right now," he said. "That's not what's required of me right now with the position that I'm playing and the roles that I play. I have to do exactly how my defensive coordinator wants me to do it and I've been doing that extremely well all season long."
Well, if that were the case, then would the Giants' defense be this erratic? The secondary allowed four passing touchdowns against the Cowboys in the Giants' 37-34 victory on Sunday night, the third game in a row they've been burned for four passing scores.
While the Giants exulted in victory, Rolle's feelings were mixed because of the pass defense's poor performance.
"Personally speaking, I wasn't all upbeat after the win," he said. "I understand the win and that we did fight hard, but other things went through my mind. I know how the outcome should have been."
He thinks it should have been a much easier win than it turned out to be. But he believes there's time for the Giants' defense to correct the mistakes.
"We have to play big in order for us to get to where we want to get to with this postseason," he said. "We have to step our game up."
No one needs to step up his game more than Rolle. Sunday against the Redskins is a good time to start.