This was supposed to be the year when Landon Collins erupted.
He came in healthy, which he wasn’t for the majority of last season. He had a new scheme and defensive coordinator that was going to allow him to move around the field and attack the ball. The safety was named captain, a title he’s coveted since he came to the Giants in 2015. This is his contract year, with the possibility of a big-time payday looming in the coming offseason. Everything was in place.
He even has a nameplate in his locker that declares him “Head Honcho.”
This was supposed to be his defense.
So where has he been?
Through two games, Collins has been almost invisible on the field, far from the standout performer many projected, or even the one he’s been in the past. He’s had an unremarkable 11 tackles through two games and only one pass defensed. So far, the biggest impact he’s made on a game was when his comments seemed to antagonize Dak Prescott and the Cowboys into attacking the Giants’ secondary in the opening quarter of last week’s game.
“I’m just doing my job within the defense,” Collins said, unfazed by his lack of production.
Right now, that job is mostly drawing the attention of offenses and providing opportunities for others.
“A lot of teams key in on me when I’m down [near the line of scrimmage],” Collins said. “A lot of stuff is sliding my way, but that’s opening up looks for other guys. That’s a plus.”
Last week against the Cowboys he recalled a play in which he was inching toward the line of scrimmage disguising a blitz.
“The whole line and the back slid my way,” he said. “Ray-Ray [Armstrong] shot free towards the quarterback, and he had to throw it in the air. They’re going to key in on me while I’m down there. We’ve got blitzes coming from everywhere. You never know really who’s coming.”
Being a decoy may not be the best use of Collins, who over his career has displayed a knack for making game-changing plays. During the past two seasons and the first two weeks of this one he is tied for sixth among all NFL safeties with seven interceptions and is fifth with 20 passes defensed. Since he came into the league in 2015 no other safety has as many tackles as he does (343).
This is a defense that has so far lacked explosive plays in regard to sacks and takeaways. Having Collins in this role surely hinders their quest for such dynamic defense, but coordinator James Bettcher seems pleased with Collins’ contribution.
“There isn’t a highlight around Landon and what he needs to do or doesn’t need to do,” Bettcher said. “Landon just needs to stay within his box and keep working and doing his job and improve each and every week, just like the other 10 guys that are on the field with him.”
It might seem strange for a player with outside-the-box abilities like Collins to stay in the box, but he insists he is fine with it.
“At the end of the day, a play is going to come,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient. I’m not forcing anything. I’m just doing my job, because if they do try me, I’m going to make it count. If they don’t, I hope my other guys do. And they will. And they have.”
There is still a lot of room for bigger plays, though. The Giants have only one takeaway through their first two games, an interception by Janoris Jenkins. That’s the lowest number in the NFL. They also have one sack. Again, fewest in the league. They are one of six teams that has yet to force a fumble, never mind recover one.
“We harp on it,” Collins said. “We harp on stripping the ball out, trying to get interceptions, trying to get them to throw us one. Sometimes, it just doesn’t pan out that way. Eventually, it will. Last week, we could’ve had two, but sometimes it just doesn’t go that way.”
Collins has made comparisons between the Giants’ new scheme and the one he played in when he was an All-American at Alabama. It’s also similar, he said this week, in regard to his having to be patient.
“All the guys ate over there,” he said of his college defense.
It was just a matter of fighting for scraps.
Eventually, Collins should be able to make signature plays within this Giants system. They’ll come either from teams testing him or from Bettcher reaching deeper into his playbook than he already has. That could happen Sunday against the Texans. Or it may have to wait a while longer.
Collins is prepared for either scenario.
“When your time comes and you’re called upon, just make it count,” he said. “When my number is called upon, when I get open to go get an interception or a sack, I promise you, I’ll make it count.”