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2012 New York Giants: How Will Perry Fewell Utilize Mathias Kiwanuka?

July 2nd, 2012 at 1:49 PM
By Paul Tierney

'Mathias Kiwanuka' photo (c) 2006, Alexa - license: New York Giants LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka was perhaps the best player on the team that nobody talked about last season. While players like Jason Pierre-Paul and Victor Cruz had breakout seasons and garnered all the media attention, the seventh-year veteran out of Boston College quietly had 84 tackles in his first full season at the strong-side linebacker position, which was good for the fourth highest total on the team.

Although Kiwanuka was drafted as a defensive end, he has long been recognized as the most versatile player on the Giants defense. Kiwanuka is very quick off the edge and has deceptive strength, which allows the team to use him in several different roles. He possesses the unique ability to play linebacker in a 4-3 defense, or as a down linemen on the defensive line. However, with the immense talent and depth the Giants have had at the defensive end position throughout Kiwanuka's career, the team has had issues finding a way to get him on the field.

Last season, Kiwianuka played relatively well at the strong-side linebacker position. But this offseason, many fans have debated whether defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would be best suited shifting the teams 2006 first-round pick back to defensive end. Below, we will examine three reasons why it is imperative that Mathias Kiwanuka plays the majority of his snaps at the strong-side linebacker position in 2012.

Mathias Kiwanuka Would Be the Fourth  Defensive End On the Depth Chart – Out of every area on the Giants' roster, defensive end  is perhaps the most talented and versatile position. Although it is debatable whether Mathias Kiwanuka is the fourth best defensive end on the team, he would almost definitely be the fourth defensive end on Perry Fewell's depth chart.

With a healthy Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka could be the third best defensive end on the team. The argument can be made that because Kiwi is good against the run, while still being an explosive pass rusher, he is a better all-around DE than Osi Umenyiora. However, within the context of the Giants' defense, the third defensive end is utilized as a pass-rushing specialist, mostly on third down.

As explosive of a player as Kiwi is off the edge, Umenyiora is by far a superior pass rusher as a down linemen. With nine sacks in only nine games last season, Umenyiora proved that he is still and elite pass-rusher in this league. So for the purposes of the Giants defense, Kiwanuka would be the fourth defensive end on the depth chart. It would make little sense to take away his responsibilities as a LB to put him in a reserve role elsewhere.

Kiwi Is the Team's Best Strong-Side Linebacker – Even if one could make the argument that Mathias Kiwanuka would be an important asset to the team as a DE, he is unquestionably the team's best strong-side linebacker. Some have made the argument that because of the Giants depth at linebacker, it may be prudent to move Kiwi back to his natural position and let the younger players get a chance to prove themselves.

Many casual football fans see linebacker as one position. However, in reality, linebacker is actually three completely different positions within one category.

The strong-side linebacker (SAM) plays on the strong-side of the offense, generally lining up on the tight end. If there is no TE, the SAM splits the space between the end of the line of scrimmage and the slot receiver. His responsibilities include, but are not limited to, filling his gap on run plays, covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield (in man coverage), or dropping into short zones on passing plays. The SAM gets his initial read from the tight end on whether the play is a run or pass.

The middle linebacker (MIKE) usually lines up directly over the center and his primary responsibility is to stop the run. The Mike linebacker should be involved in almost every tackle when the ball is on the ground. On pass plays, normally he just drops into short zones over the middle of the field, or may have to cover a back out of the backfield on a blitz. The Mike normally reads the guard position to get his initial run/pass read.

Finally, the weak-side (WILL) linebacker is generally on of the more athletic players on the field. He lines up on the weak-side of the formation and his primary responsibility is to contain and plug up cut-back lanes on rushing plays. In the passing game, the Will linebacker is expected to cover anyone from a slot receiver to a back out of the backfield. His initial run/pass key normally comes from the tackle position.

As you can see, in a 4-3 defense, each linebacker position has different responsibilities with different reads on every play. With that, the Giants depth chart is deep at both the weak-side and middle linebacker positions. However, on the strong-side, it could be argued that Greg Jones is the next best SAM on the roster after Kiwanuka. So if defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decides to make Kiwi more of a down linemen in 2012, it would entail putting some of the younger, more inexperienced linebackers in an unfamiliar role. That would most likely be more trouble than its worth.

Continuity – In Mathias Kiwanuka's previous six seasons, last year was the first one in which he had a defined role within the defense. In his previous years, Kiwi was used as a third defensive end (2008 as the exception) and as a linebacker. Kiwi was constantly being moved around and was never able to fully commit himself to either position, which limited his productivity. 

For the Giants to be successful on defense, it is imperative that Perry Fewell retains the ability to move Kiwi around to different places on the field. Kiwanuka is a dangerous player that must be accounted for by opposing offenses, so by moving him around it can create confusion at the line of scrimmage for quarterbacks. Look for him to be a down linemen in the team's NASCAR package.

That being said, there must be some sort of balancing act in how Kiwi is utilized. He can not be moving from DE one week to LB the next and then back to DE after that. He has to have a defined role within the defense that clearly lays out his responsibilities on every play. He should progress nicely in his second season at the SAM linebacker, but for that to happen, he must be afforded the opportunity to see the vast majority of his snaps at that position in 2012.


Tags: Boston College, Football, Greg Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Osi Umenyiora, Perry Fewell, Victor Cruz

22 Responses to “2012 New York Giants: How Will Perry Fewell Utilize Mathias Kiwanuka?”

  1.  kujo says:

    Why do we have to revisit this topic every single offseason?

    Kiwi is going to be Kiwi. He’ll be used the same way he’s been used since he was drafted–all the f’k over the place! He’s incredible versatile and has shored up his deficiencies every single year. He’s now a very fine linebacker, on top of an excellent pass rusher and equally good run blocker. He’s incredible, and can do anything. That’s why they move him all over the place, and that’s why they tied him up. We’re blessed to have this guy to do all that we want and need him to do.

    •  Paul Tierney says:

      I wrote this one because a few commenters in my last article brought it up. I think its important that he’s used all over the place, as long as he has a defined role within the defense.

  2.  Grateful Giants says:

    First of all, Paul great article, I like the way you explained the difference between the three LB spots.

    I think the best thing about Kiwi being able to play/excel at either spot is just as we sit here trying to peg him to one position, and where he will be used the most, imagine what its like for the Jason Garrets, Andy Reids, and whoever the hill runs the offense in DC to try to game plan for the man. Then think of the wave of JPP, Tuck, Osi, Canty, and Joeseph that that given offense needs to get around/over to even get to Kiwi (and we can all see why he may be “forgotten”)…I think Fewell will try everything under the sun, put Kiwi any and everywhere just for that reason. Keep everyone on their toes.

    Its said that you always want your best 11 on the field… Phillips, Rolle, Webster, Thomas, Pierre Paul, Tuck, Canty, Joseph, and that leaves 3 spots for the LBs while leaving Umenyora off completely. I think that alone shows where and why he will play a “majority” of his snaps at LB. And I say that in quotes because even if he’s lined up at a SAM for a given play, I guarantee you he doesn’t stay where he originally lined up too often once the QB starts making his reads.

    He will be moving from DE to LB to DE play by play, so I don’t think labels as a DE or LB are very restrictive and/or ultimate.

  3.  Krow says:

    I do want to take exception to the assumption that Kiwi is a better all-around DE than Osi.

    While it may very well be true we can’t say it with complete certainty. Osi is told to get the QB. That’s his skill … and it’s a very special skill. He sells out the run to rush the passer … which is his job. We don’t know what he would do if they asked him to play a more balanced role. I suspect he’d be at least decent against the run, and not the dumpster fire he’s often portrayed as.

    •  Paul Tierney says:

      I did not assume that Kiwi is better than Osi. I said he COULD be better than him, and that the ARGUMENT CAN BE MADE that because Kiwi is better against the run, but still a great pass rusher that he is a better all around defensive end.

      Again, its not an assumption, just a position that some may or may not take. I personally feel like they are very different players that are both great at different things.

  4.  Sonny Mukhopadhyay says:

    My personal feeling is, that yes, we need to keep Kiwi on the field as much as possible, but my gripe is, having seen him play since he was a college kid, to me, he is a pro bowl caliber DE, but he isn’t going to Hawaii as a LB. He plays the SAM spot very well, and does a very good job at it (though I’m not crazy about his coverage skills), but he plays DE even better.

    In other words, he is a pro bowl style DE doing a very good job playing SAM (to me, thats actually a testament to how talented he is). Do I have a solution ? Not a perfect one, I would just like to see him get more snaps with his hands in the dirt (regardless of how they do it, NASCAR, rotational, etc), it does NOT mean I think he should give up playing LB, I’m just saying allocate his time differently.

    I also wouldn’t mind seeing the Giants at least, on the minimum try out Sintim in that same kind of role (we’re talking preseason and camp) to see what his talent level is there (and if we can salvage any value out of him because right now he is a bust, but his background suggests this might be the ideal role for him). He was 3-4 LB/rusher in college, but if healthy, who knows what he can bring to the table?

  5.  kujo says:

    Kiwi isn’t a Pro Bowl caliber DE–can anyone here ratipenalize giving him a vote over JPP, Tuck, Osi, Julian Peterson, Jared Allen, or any of the litany of 3-4 pass rushers in the NFC???– but he is head and shoulders better and more valuable than the rotational guys on any team in the NFL. It doesn’t matter where he is on our depth chart–he’d be a fine starter at DE on almost any team except the Giants. He’s great, can play 7 of the 11 positions on defense, and is clearly an exceptional locker room guy. That’s not gonna get you to Hawaii, but it’s gonna give you lots of money, lots of respect and a shot at more rings than any of the aforementioned “better” players who earn their living on other teams.

    •  Paul Tierney says:

      I’m assuming you meant Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears. But yeah ,kiwi is capable of starting at DE for almost any other team.

  6.  fanfor55years says:

    I fully agree with Paul and kujo. Kiwi is special and incredibly valuable, and will confound offenses with his versatility.

    I do have to make it clear though, that not ALL of us ignored his incredible year in 2011. I was pounding the table insisting that he was having a great year while many were still lamenting our weaknesses at linebacker. I thought that last season both he and Chris Canty were denied the amount of credit they deserved for fabulous seasons.

    This “debate” is pretty unnecessary. Kiwi will be moved around and will play well at both positions. I believe Fewell is having a great time thinking about all the variations and combinations he can throw at teams this season. Game planning against this defense is going to be very, very, hard.

    Since I was away and hadn’t made any comments lately I may have missed some stuff but just want to reaffirm that it isn’t being a “homer” that makes me say this will be the best defense the Giants have ever put on the field and should wind up considered one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league PROVIDED that they stay healthy, that Thomas is back to at least 95%, that Herzlich is almost physically equal to where he was four years ago, and that Tyler Sash continues his progression. I’d also really like Will Hill to be on the roster. He is going to be an impact player if he can keep his head on straight.

  7.  fanfor55years says:

    As for Wahlberg, like most actors he’s been in some crummy movies and some really good ones. Word is that he’s in one coming out next January/February with Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones that is really getting great advance buzz.

    I like Matt Damon, and Affleck was great in The Town, and both are big Red Sox and Pats fans. Apparently they are just afflicted with bad judgment.

    •  fanfor55years says:

      Ah, name of the coming Wahlberg movie is Broken City. Should have added that.

    •  Paul Tierney says:

      The new Mark Wahlberg movie Ted was atrocious, yet hilarious.

      •  kujo says:

        I would rather jump out of a 13 story building onto a seatless bicycle than view anything Seth McFarlane is involved in.

        Sad, because Mila Kunis is in it and I would drag my c*ck through a mild of broken glass just to **** in her shadow.

      •  kujo says:

        I would rather jump out of a 13 story building onto a seatless bicycle than view anything Seth McFarlane is involved in.

        Sad, because Mila Kunis is in it and I would drag my c*ck through a mile of broken glass just to **** in her shadow.

  8.  kujo says:

    Just want to state that my above comments about Kiwi being great but not Pro Bowl great shouldn’t be read as an insult. I’m a car carrying member of the Kiwi fan club, so much so that I’m trying to convince Amanda that our first son–when that time comes–should bear the middle name of Mathias. She’s resistant but not adamantly opposed. Guess I should be lucky that she told me she intends to have a son named Eli.

  9.  Dirt says:

    Here’s a crazy thought. I could be out in left field on this but:

    If Kiwi were ever a better DE than Osi, he’d have supplanted him in the rotation. But he didn’t in 2006, 2007 before getting hurt, 2009, 2010 before getting hurt or 2011. In his lone year as a starting DE, in a passing league, he had 8 sacks (still his most ever). Osi had 9 last year. As an oft-injured, reserve player.

    Would you rather have Kiwi over Mario Williams at DE? If the answer is no, then he’s not better than a guy with as many tackles per game, more sacks per game and more forced fumbles per game over his career than Mario Williams (yes, that more disruptive DE is Osi Umenyiora, if you weren’t following where this was going. And for effect, yes, that horrible pass rushing specialist, no run defending Umenyiora has as many tackles per game as Mario Williams, who just signed for a Brinks truck).

    An interesting comparison is Harry Carson, DE, South Carolina State. Who knows how well he would have done in the NFL with his hand down. He ended up being pretty damn good with the switch. And I like the hell out of Kiwi at SAM.

    Carry on.

    •  Dirt says:

      Actually Osi has slightly higher tackles per game than Mario Williams (2.9469 to 2.9390) – I should have gone with my original thought…

  10.  kujo says:

    Fun counter-factual game to play–if Osi and Eli weren’t Giants, what would Dirt and Benton do with all that pent up homoerotic tension that drives them to defend their beaus against any and all criticism, real or perceived?

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