Chase Blackburn wreaks havoc on 'D' and the Giants love it
GalleriesGiants 2012 schedule and results
Some defensive players always seem to be around the football for important turnovers. Around the NFL, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu stick out. On the Giants, Osi Umenyiora has 30 career forced fumbles -- an NFL-record 10 of them in 2010 -- and Corey Webster has 17 career interceptions.
One name that probably doesn't jump to mind is Chase Blackburn. It's a name that rarely does in any circumstance. Unless, of course, you are talking to the Giants themselves.
"Chase is really the key to our success because he's the quarterback of our defense," Fewell said. "He plays, and he gets everyone lined up; he gets everyone on the same page and makes sure they have the proper coverages and getting the guys up front doing the things they should be doing. In addition to that, he plays his technique and responsibility."
Blackburn has held down the starting job at middle linebacker since he arrived for his second stint with the team late last season. In the 16 games he has started, the Giants are 12-4 -- with a Super Bowl win.
He's also been the cause of some key takeaways. He picked off Aaron Rodgers in the 2011 regular season and then recovered a fumble against the Packers in the playoffs. He had the dramatic interception in the Super Bowl, outjumping Rob Gronkowski for the iconic play of his career. And two of the last three wins this season have been sealed by one of his plays: an interception in the end zone against the Browns and a forced fumble against Santana Moss and the Redskins.
He's had a hand in three takeaways this season with an interception and two forced fumbles. Only Michael Boley, with three picks and a fumble recover, has been involved in more momentum-changing plays.
"I've always tried to be a turnover player," Blackburn said. "If I have an opportunity to get the ball or a pick or whatever, I try to put myself in position to make plays. But it's just kind of the situation I've been in. I'm getting more plays, so I'm able to have a couple more of those opportunities."
Blackburn's narrative is familiar. He was a special-teams captain and backup linebacker for the Giants for six seasons. In 2011, he was not signed by the Giants and was out of football until late November, when injuries at the position forced the Giants to bring him back. He made an immediate impact in his first game against the Packers and has been the starting middle linebacker since.
"[He] plays hard, smart," Tom Coughlin said. "He comes to try and make something happen to the ball."
Blackburn was always considered a fringe player, someone who could come in during an emergency and play serviceably until the "real" players returned. But his play in this latest stint has made it nearly impossible for the Giants to consider moving him. Even with second-year linebacker Mark Herzlich pushing him from behind and likely ready to become a starting linebacker in the NFL, Blackburn will not relent.
"He's most difficult [to move],'' Coughlin said.
Even Blackburn had to chuckle at the absurdity of this nugget: With Sean Lee on injured reserve for the Cowboys and Redskins veteran London Fletcher's streak of 231 straight games over 15 years in jeopardy because of a hamstring injury he suffered last week against the Giants, Blackburn could wind up being the most established middle linebacker in the NFC East this weekend.
"That's all right with me," he said. "I'd like to do it for a few more years and continue to be that."
As for the takeaways, Blackburn said some players have an innate ability to force them. He was hesitant to put himself in that group but admitted to having "a knack for being around the ball."
"I feel like I play the ball well in the air and I have pretty decent hands," he said. "I think it just comes back to what we work on every day, but at the same time, I think you do have to have 'it' a little bit."
Blackburn certainly has his limitations. He's not as fast as, say, Herzlich. Not as ferocious a tackler. But he makes up for it with an uncanny ability to get the defense settled and that special something that makes him an unlikely ballhawk.
"I think Chase has been playing very steady for us," Fewell said. "He's been doing the job of a mike linebacker, and what a mike linebacker should do. I'm glad he's on my football team."