GLENDALE, Ariz. — The curious case of Eli Apple took another strange turn on Sunday when the Giants used the second-year cornerback on special teams but not in the secondary in a 23-0 loss to the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
This was despite the team’s struggles to keep up with Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who shredded the defense for nine catches and 119 yards — including eight for 104 in the first half alone — and a touchdown.
Hmm. Interim head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Apple’s deployment, or lack thereof:
“I left that to the defensive coaches. He was going to get in there in some dime situations. We had the guys that have been in there and playing together for a little bit. The continuity has been good . . . We probably need to try to get him in there. We’ll see how this week goes.”
But wait: Didn’t Apple play extensively on defense the previous week against the Eagles after missing the previous four games? He even led the team with nine tackles.
Spagnuolo said that was in part because Brandon Dixon had been hurt.
But wait: Wasn’t Dixon struggling against Fitzgerald and the Cardinals on Sunday? Did Spagnuolo consider removing him in favor of Apple?
“I don’t know that we had that conversation,” Spagnuolo said. “It probably would have been a good one to have. We may talk about that going forward. But I don’t remember us talking about that. Good thought. Maybe there was something I’m not aware of right now.”
As he left the visiting locker room, Apple said, “It was a coach’s decision. That’s all I have to say. Ask the coach, man. Have a good one.”
Apple, the Giants’ first-round draft pick in 2016, had a promising rookie season but has had an uneven 2017 and has alienated some teammates to the point that safety Landon Collins said the young cornerback needs to “grow up.”
Apple was so disconnected from the action that he was seen talking to teammates while sitting on the bench when the defense was on the field Sunday. At least he did not tweet about big plays by the Cardinals the way he did for the Cowboys when he was inactive during a loss to Dallas two weeks ago.
When asked if he knew Apple would not play on defense, cornerback Ross Cockrell said only, “We didn’t hear anything from the coaches.”
Cockrell was a bright spot against the Cardinals with his first two-interception game in a four-year NFL career. He has been a source of relative stability in a secondary that has been in turmoil all season.
“Our communication continues to improve,” he said. “That’s the best thing about it. Our communication is good with the new guys in the rotation. It just comes down to execution and making plays. In the second half we did a better job of that.”