Fewell's defensive unit has caught fire

New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has helped make the Giants defense a force for the playoffs. (undated file photo) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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At this time last year, Perry Fewell was a hot commodity. He interviewed for head-coaching jobs with the Broncos, Browns, Titans and Panthers. But so far this offseason, he hasn't received much interest from teams with openings.

When asked why he thinks he might have fallen off the radar, Fewell laughed.

"I'm just trying to keep the job I have," he said this past week. "I'm happy not to see my name in print sometimes. I've been focusing on the job at hand, and that hasn't been a concern for me."

It was only a few weeks ago that many wanted Fewell's name to be in print, followed by the word "fired." His defense was a wreck with missed assignments, poor decision-making, questionable play-calling and -- most of all -- losses piling up.

It was enough for some to suggest that Fewell had dipped to the level of his predecessor, the beleaguered Bill Sheridan, who lasted only one year as the Giants' defensive coordinator.

But faster than you can say "pink slip," things turned around. The Giants were in much too big a hole to put any kind of dent in their defensive rankings for the season. But after falling to 30th at one point, they finished 27th, allowing 376.4 yards per game.

"We knew we could get it together and we would get it together," Fewell said. "It was just a matter of when. Obviously, there was frustration. This is the era of instant gratification, so we wanted it to happen right now. But we just kept talking to each other, we kept communicating with each other, we kept believing in each other. I never saw any doubt."

The past four games have been nothing short of a buttonhook. The Giants have allowed 314 yards per game; even more significantly, they've given up only 48 points in that span. They allowed 49 against the Saints on Nov. 28, their low point of the season.

"We had a lot of interchangeable parts and I spoke throughout the season that we were not able to play together as a front, as a secondary and as a linebacking corps," Fewell said. "So over the last four or five weeks, we've been able to play together. Our coverage is based on feel and knowing where people are and trust. We've been able to feel and trust each other now because we've played together as a unit."

The players have responded, not only on the field but to Fewell. Safety Antrel Rolle credited him with not only devising game plans but listening to the players.

When the Giants were using too much zone coverage -- a scheme that is based on that feel and trust that Fewell described -- during their four-game losing streak in November and into December, he heard the players' concerns and backed off. Some called it "simplifying" the defense, but really, what they did was play more man coverage. Lining up against a receiver and saying, "I got him." That's about as simple as it gets.

Fewell said that was accomplished "because we are able to communicate and we talk to each other."

"I know the players a lot better, definitely," he said. "I think that as a coordinator and as a leader, you're most effective when you're listening, not talking."

If the Giants win Sunday night and their defense keeps playing the way it has for the last month, Fewell could wind up listening to a lot more than just his players. He could be hearing some offers to make him a head coach.

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