EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Antrel Rolle didn't like my question. It was about the consistently permissive play of the New York Giants' secondary this season, and Rolle responded by asking me how many passing yards Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman had in Sunday's 23-10 Redskins victory. When someone else told him it was 185, he laughed and shook his head, indicating that the number had rendered my question foolish.
Whatever. I don't love being talked down to by football players, but it's hardly the first time and I can take it. What I dispute is not Rolle's understandable attitude but rather his flawed premise. Just because Grossman didn't throw for 350 yards doesn't mean the Giants played a good defensive game. Grossman is not Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo -- the three guys who picked apart the Giants' defense the past three weeks. I guess if you want to get technical, he's not even Vince Young, who got 258 against them the last time they lost a home game to a division opponent they should have handled without any trouble.
Grossman is the quarterback of the Redskins. And when the Redskins' offense is at its best, it's not throwing for tons of yards. It's running and controlling the clock and converting every third down in sight with a smart, not spectacular, throw. Grossman got picked off twice early in the game on deep throws and then he and the Redskins' coaches made the very smart decision to cut those out. And thereafter, the Redskins did absolutely everything they wanted to do on offense the rest of the game. They dominated the Giants, and just because they were low-key about it doesn't mean Rolle and his defensive teammates shouldn't be ashamed of themselves.
The Giants (7-7) had the chance Sunday to step up and win an important game -- they're now a game behind Dallas (8-6) in the NFC East with two to play -- and they failed because they are insufficiently equipped and inconsistently motivated. What's even more maddening about these Giants than their inability to stop opposing offenses is their inability to figure out why they can't.
"They just kind of started bleeding us a little bit," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I don't know how to tell you what went wrong. We just didn't make enough plays, I guess. That was our Achilles' heel all day. We didn't keep them off the football field."
The Redskins played exactly the game they wanted to play, and the Giants could do nothing to stop them. They can do nothing, right now, to stop anyone. Their defense is a sieve, and their only hope of winning a game right now, no matter the opponent, is for Eli Manning and the offense to go absolutely bonkers. On Sunday, Manning threw three interceptions, Hakeem Nicks dropped a sure touchdown pass and the Giants couldn't make one of Manning's patented comebacks. Bad game for the Giants' quarterback? Sure. But everybody's entitled to one, and you'd like to think that, when it happens, the other parts of your team will pick you up. Right now, there's no other aspect of the Giants capable of doing that, and when Manning doesn't play great, they have no chance.
"You just keep working at it and keep trying," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when asked about the problems in pass coverage. "We keep maneuvering around and changing coverages and trying to get people in the best possible spots. We're trying to understand what the opponent will try and do to us. That continues."
But there continue to be no answers. The Giants have been running rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara out there for significant numbers of key snaps. He continues to play like a rookie who missed the first half of the season with a foot injury, still working to learn the communication nuances that are vital to his ability to do his job. And opposing teams are targeting him relentlessly -- enough that Coughlin stuck him on the bench for much of the second half.
"It seemed like they threw the ball in that direction and we were not having a lot of success," Coughlin said. "But it wasn't just him. It wasn't just Prince."
Which is the problem. The Giants could carry a rookie at the No. 3 cornerback spot if starting corners Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were covering better. Or if Rolle and Deon Grant were making plays at the safety position. Or if they had anything at all at linebacker. Or if their pass rush was at full strength. But because of injuries and an initial lack of depth, the defense is too shorthanded at too many places. And the starters who are playing (such as Rolle) seem concerned about the wrong things. Who cares how many yards Grossman had if he was 7-for-10 on third down?
"I don't think they did anything special today," said Rolle, who claimed after the Week 1 loss in Washington that the Giants would beat the Redskins 99 times if they played them 100. "We could have made things a lot more difficult for them than we did."
That right there is the point, Rolle. The Giants' defense is making it too easy for the opposing offense and the opposing quarterback, no matter who it is, every single week. Just because Sunday's game wasn't some epic shootout doesn't make that any less true than it was against the Saints or the Packers or the Cowboys. When the Giants need to make a stop, they can't. And while they still have a chance to win the division by winning their final two games, at some point the fact that they're a very bad defense is going to cost them.