That’s the word Ben McAdoo chose to describe Jameis Winston, the quarterback of the Bucs, and of course that sounds like a compliment. It’s football, it’s a physical and demanding game. Who wouldn’t want to be called aggressive?
But it may have been a bit of a euphemism for something else. So far this season Winston has thrown three interceptions in two games. In his career, which began in the 2015 season, he’s thrown 36 of them in 34 games. The Giants secondary believes that they can take advantage of that kind of aggression.
“He likes to squeeze balls into tight spaces,” safety Landon Collins said. “He does that, we’ve got to make plays on those types of balls. He feels like he has confidence in his offense and his guys who will attack the ball, but we have total confidence that we can make turnovers, too.”
The problem for the Giants so far is that they haven’t. They are one of five teams that has yet to pick off an opponent’s pass. It hasn’t hurt them statistically — of the five, the Giants rank the highest (sixth) in passing yards allowed per game with 181 — but it is starting to bug them.
Asked if the group was hungry for its first interception, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s eyes got very big.
“Do you know who’s in the secondary?” he fired back. “So then you know. Very hungry. That pot is starting to get a little high.”
The pot of money that goes to whoever comes away with the next — and in this case first — interception.
There are any number of reasons why the Giants haven’t yet intercepted a pass. One of them has been the porous Giants run defense, which ranks last in the NFL.
“Teams have been trying to establish the run, and that’s why we haven’t had many opportunities to even get our hands on the ball,” said Rodgers-Cromartie, who led the Giants with six interceptions last season. “When teams are throwing the ball 15-20 times a game it’s hard to get your hands on the ball.”
Another is the respect that teams are showing to the Giants players.
“We feel more respected,” Collins said. “You feel more respected when they don’t feel like they can try you like that.”
He practically dared Winston to try to throw a pass in his direction. “He tries it in the middle,” Collins said, “we’ll see what happens.”
Winston might. He has some pretty good targets, including Giant-killer DeSean Jackson added this offseason as a free agent, and Mike Evans.
When Winston does, the Giants say, the key will be patience. They’ve waited three games so far, there’s no need to rush things.
“You have to let the game come to you,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “[Winston] loves his targets and he’s gonna give them the ball. You just have to be there. But he’s definitely going to get them the ball.”
Winston said he knows that eliminating interceptions are a big part of his development.
“That’s a big thing for concern,” he said this week. “But I’m looking forward to bouncing back, definitely taking care of the football. I think that is the goal every week. So, have to get better in that area.”
With a quarterback prone to taking chances and throwing interceptions, and an offense that is more reliant on the passing game than running the ball (71 passes against 43 rushing attempts in two games), the Giants are confident that they will be able to cash in this week.
“It’d be nice if he throws a couple to us,” Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of Winston. “I always say, ‘Catch the ones he throws to you.’ But look, that’s not going to happen. He’s a good quarterback. You have to force him into those things and we have to do that first. If we do our job, maybe the ball will fall in our hands, we’ll get a couple of turnovers.”
Sunday, and in the games to come as well.
“Once they start, they don’t stop,” Collins said of interceptions, noting that the defense has produced two takeaways on fumbles in the past two games, proving the axiom about these things happening in bunches.
“We know they’ll come,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “It’s just when they do make a mistake, we’ve got to be there to capitalize on it. I know the guys in my room. We’re a good group of ball hawks, so they’re coming.”