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Why Giants safety Landon Collins is thriving early in second season

There are many areas where the New York Giants defense has been improved through two games this year. The improvement of second-year safety Landon Collins is among them.

It might be attributable to Collins being more comfortable in the Giants defense. He has a better understanding of where he needs to be and when. It might also be in part because defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is now able to have Collins play more to his strengths.

“The players around me allows it,” said Collins, who is also aided by a stronger knowledge of the defense and ability to read rather than react.

This was evident against the Saints, when Collins was near the line of scrimmage on eight of the first 12 snaps. He was used as a blitzer on three of those plays and produced a sack, run-stuff and incomplete pass in which he seemingly disrupted the vision of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

The supporting cast around Collins allows the Giants to use him in this manner more often than his rookie season, when he was actually the better of the two safeties in coverage playing next to Brandon Meriweather. Now the Giants have rookie Darian Thompson, a natural free safety. This has allowed Collins to play closer to the line of scrimmage and leave the deep portion of the field to his partner.

Thompson’s not the only reason. Veteran defensive back Leon Hall’s presence has also helped. The play shown below is Collins’ sack, where Hall is lined up as the safety opposite Thompson and is responsible for covering Saints tight end Coby Fleener on the play. Collins was across from Fleener at the start of the play.

Collins recorded his first career sack on this third down in the first quarter. It was one of four Collins blitzes in the contest as Spagnuolo consistently used his defensive backs -- way more than linebackers -- to help get after the quarterback.

Blitzing is familiar to Collins. He was used consistently as a blitzer (and near the line of scrimmage) at Alabama.

The Giants’ game plan in general against Brees and the Saints was to bring pressure from their defensive backs. The Giants blitzed on 35.4 percent of the pass plays on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. The NFL average last year was under 30 percent.

Collins, Thompson and Hall all were used as blitzers. So were cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins. They had some success.

“We were definitely getting Brees off of his spot, so that he doesn’t see those open receivers if he has any and just make a play when he throws the ball,” Collins said.

The Saints managed just 288 yards of offense. Brees averaged more passing yards than that in each of the past six seasons.

It wasn’t perfect for Collins and Co. On the fourth-quarter touchdown, Collins and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard admittedly had miscommunication and neither picked up Willie Snead down the seam.

It might not have been perfect for Collins, but so far it looks significantly better.

Other observations:

The Giants didn’t take a shot downfield until there was 5:44 remaining in the third quarter. A big part of that was the way the Saints were playing defense. They were sagging off the Giants receivers while protecting against the deep pass.

It wasn’t until late in the game when the Saints mixed up their defenses and the window opened for the Giants to take some shots.

“They changed up a little bit on how they were playing. They were playing a lot of zone converge. Whether it was Tampa 2 or a one-high zone, a buzz coverage or a sky weak coverage. They were playing a little bit soft on us, giving us opportunities to complete the ball underneath.

When the opportunities presented themselves, Giants quarterback Eli Manning took advantage. Four of his last six passes were deep downfield, including this 34-yard completion to Cruz that set up the game-winning field goal. A look at the formation:

  • Left tackle Ereck Flowers had one of his better games against the Saints. He’s shown some improvement from a rough rookie season. But the real test comes Sunday if Flowers faces Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Flowers hasn’t faced a pass rusher of that caliber yet this season.

  • The offensive line as a whole was average against the Saints. Right tackle Marshall Newhouse had his struggles before getting injured. He was replaced by Bobby Hart, who was on the field for that late-game pass to Cruz.

  • Hart had some success. So did the rest of the line. This is the pocket Manning had on that play. For the second straight week in a clutch situation, it was close to perfection.

  • The Giants run game was hurt badly again by their tight ends’ blocking. Larry Donnell had some really rough snaps and Will Tye didn’t fare much better. They’re going to have to find a solution.

  • Nickel linebackers Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas both had strong games. They were a big part of the Saints running backs and tight ends having just 71 yards receiving on 17 targets. This after their running backs and tight ends combined for 18 catches 217 yards and two touchdowns when the Saints and Giants met last year.

Robinson and Casillas will need a repeat performance Sunday against the Redskins and dangerous pass-catching tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson.