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Jabrill Peppers has been missing ingredient for Giants' defense

Jabrill Peppers #21 of the Giants defends a

Jabrill Peppers #21 of the Giants defends a pass to O.J. Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter during the game at Raymond James Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Credit: Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann

Landon Collins figures to stomp into MetLife Stadium like Godzilla on Sunday, looking to leave a wake of destruction in his path as he seeks vengeance against the team that not only let him walk away in free agency but seemed more than happy to hold the door open in silence. The Redskins safety has been snarling about this game for months. Yes, he got paid because of the Giants’ decisions. But now he wants something more than money. He wants payback.

“I know he is going to be an emotional guy,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the Pro Bowler. “He was drafted by them, he has lots of friends on that team. He had some great years with that team and any time you lose a player, there is some animosity from time to time . . . I’m sure personally for him there will be some extra competitive incentive.”

It would be a very good time for the player the Giants acquired to replace Collins to illustrate why they made the decisions they did. Because so far, Jabrill Peppers has yet to make his case on the field for being the better option.

That’s not to say he has played poorly. Or at least no worse than the rest of a defense that is second-worst in the NFL. But while Collins’ talk and hits have been brash enough to be heard from all the way down the I-95 corridor, there hasn’t been a peep from Peppers.

He has no sacks, no interceptions, no tackles for a loss.

The Giants acquired him from the Browns as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade in the offseason and thought they were getting a dynamic playmaker who could thrive in a system that never quite seemed to mesh with Collins’ skills. Almost a month into his first season with the team, he’s yet to make a memorable play. He’s yet to have his Welcome to the Giants moment.

He knows it, too.

“I’m very hungry,” he said on Thursday regarding his lack of tide-turning impact plays through the first three games of the season. “But one of my problems was trying to force [things], trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to me and let things happen naturally. Pressing the issue. I want to make those splash plays, but I’m not going to be pressured into trying to do more than what I’m asked to do. Then I’ll get out of position a lot. I’m just going to let them come to me.”

There haven’t been a lot of those opportunities, though Peppers was able to name a few. He said he wished he had trusted his gut on a short pass to the tight end in the Bills game and gotten a better jump on a double-move later in the same contest. Neither of those were big gains for the opponents, but nor were they big momentum-shifters for the Giants.

“I felt like those were plays that I could have made to directly change the game,” he said.

“When I go back and look at it, I don’t see the ball going his way a ton,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I see a guy that’s competing his butt off and he’s working just as hard as anyone else to get better with his game.”

Peppers knows what he is being measured against in Collins. When he first came to the Giants he watched a lot of film of the defense from 2018. More often than not he was tracking Collins because they play the same position.

It’s not a comparison he has shied away from. Peppers even wears the same jersey number 21 that Collins wore during his four seasons patrolling the Giants' secondary.

Come Sunday, though, Peppers insists he won’t be trying to one-up his predecessor.

“I ain’t really thinking about all that extra stuff,” he said. “I’m gonna play football and do whatever I can to help my team win.”

If he succeeds at that, then the Giants might consider themselves victorious in the game and in the decisions they have made.

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