Landon Collins playing huge part in N.Y. Giants' defensive rise

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  • By NFL.com
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With Week 12 of the NFL season upon us, NFL.com's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

» Don't worry, DeAndre Hopkins -- the NFL is looking into permanent sideline cameras.

» The hottest team this side of Dallas still has more work to do.

» A potential QB controversy in Seattle???

But first, a look at one of the breakout stars of 2016 -- and his impact on a much-improved defense ...

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Landon Collins' remarkable rise in his second NFL season headlines a rebuilt and restored New York Giants defense. But as important as what he has done is who he is: a safety.

Landon Collins is a safety.

As Collins was learning on the fly as a rookie, starting every game, logging 1,100 snaps, dropping an easy interception of Tom Brady and hoping the defense would become instinctive any day now, his weight was an issue.

"We talked about him moving to linebacker if he got too heavy," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. Pause, slight smile. "And he didn't want to hear that."

Out of Alabama, Collins objected to being called a box safety. You can imagine how he felt about linebacker.

"I don't want to think about playing linebacker," he told me. "I do not. I don't like it. I don't want to do it. I've always been a safety, around the ball to make plays. That's how I always want to be."

Collins shed 10 pounds or so in the offseason and has settled at a lean 216. He's not only playing faster, he is faster. As for Spagnuolo's tough love?

"Yes, he was harder than any coach has ever, ever been on me -- even Nick Saban," Collins said. "But I'm very grateful. That's how I wanted him to be."

Collins' latest interception preserved last week's 22-16 win over the Chicago Bears. With five picks, he is tied for the NFL lead with cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Marcus Peters.

"He's on fire right now," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.

Collins leads all safeties in tackles (80), sacks (3.0) and passes defensed (10). Teammates and coaches say he has been intent on improving his ball skills, becoming more assertive and eliminating mental errors.

"Last year, I was really hard on him," Spagnuolo said. "For a reason."

Oh, yes -- last year.

What a nightmare. The Giants lost five games when the defense blew late leads. Even now, when asked about his current defense -- one that has closed out five of the team's seven wins -- Spagnuolo shakes his head.

"When you ask that, I'm not thinking of the ones we won this year," he said. "I'm thinking of the ones we didn't win (last year)."

Importantly, his current players bear no such scars. With as many as seven new starters -- including three high-priced free-agent additions (Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins) who are prideful and haven't missed a start -- the defense hasn't had to answer for the futility of 2015. That's been big in East Rutherford.

These Giants allow 20 points per game, a full touchdown less than last year. In one-score games, they've allowed only three points -- compared to 44 points last season -- in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

As linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said: "We believe."

Is it that simple?

"I believe what goes on between the ears plays a big factor in the outcome of everything that we do," first-year head coach Ben McAdoo said.

The Giants play with little margin for error. Their wins are by a total of 27 points, the slimmest margin of victory over a team's first seven wins in NFL history. They have won five straight games for the first time since 2010, three games after trailing by 10 points and two others by a single point. They beat the Eagles when Spagnuolo dialed up four straight blitzes to rattle rookie QB Carson Wentz. They rallied past Chicago when he told players at halftime to stay the course.

"He believes in us," Rodgers-Cromartie said.

After a slow start, the Giants have 14 sacks and eight interceptions in their last five games. Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul have persevered. Vernon broke his hand in Week 1, has played through it and never makes an excuse. JPP has adjusted to life after his July 4, 2015 fireworks accident. He told me he plays for his young son, Josiah, and to inspire others who face obstacles.

As for those who doubted him? "No," JPP said. "I already proved them wrong the day I walked back in."

Harrison marvels: "He makes jokes about it himself, which lets you know he has all the confidence in the world. JPP's out there dominating games and offensive linemen with one hand. He's beating people in Madden with one hand. He's taking Snapchats with one hand. It's just a testament to how strong-willed and strong-minded he is. He won't let anything hold him back."

The Giants have work to do if they are to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The defense still gives up too many big plays; Tyler Eifert and Zach Miller are the two most recent tight ends to burn New York deep.

But these Giants seem different. "Resiliency," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Whatever the situation, we stick together, believe in each other, keep fighting.

"Yes, it feels real different."

-- Kimberly Jones

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NFL: Sideline cameras could become reality: The Texans' seven-point loss to the Raiders on Monday night was especially stinging for what might have been: The potential DeAndre Hopkins touchdown that was instead whistled dead when officials said Hopkins stepped out of bounds. The play could not be reviewed, but it did reignite the question of why the NFL does not make use of all available technology and install fixed cameras on the sidelines and goal lines of each stadium.

Three people familiar with the workings of the Competition Committee said it has spent considerable time over the last few years on the very issue. (The Patriots put a proposal forward in 2015 mandating the cameras, but it did not have enough support from other owners to get approval.)

"It's a big project, as each stadium is configured differently, but it's something we want to try to implement at some point," said one of the people on Tuesday. "It will come up this offseason."

Another one of the three said he did not yet have a sense if there would be enough support to add the cameras. Aside from the different stadium configurations is the question of who would pay for the cameras -- the league or television networks?

-- Judy Battista

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MIAMI DOLPHINS: Playoffs still in sight. The hottest team this side of the Dallas Cowboys is the Dolphins (6-4), on a five-game winning streak with the lowly 49ers up this weekend. Still, the Dolphins are on the outside looking in on the AFC playoff picture -- they are currently the seventh seed, even though they have the same record as Houston (No. 3 seed) and a better record than Pittsburgh (No. 4).

Even tougher news for the Dolphins: Of their remaining six opponents, four of them are likely to have legitimate playoff aspirations of their own when the teams play (the 49ers and Jets are the exceptions), and even New England -- the Dolphins' opponent in the season finale -- might still be playing for home-field advantage.

Critical to the Dolphins' surge, and to their future playoff hopes, has been the health of their offensive line. They are 4-0 when the starting line of left tackle Branden Albert, left guard Laremy Tunsil, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja'Wuan James has taken the field this year. That's four first-round picks on the line. Last week, when Albert and Pouncey were inactive and Tunsil left the game with an injury, the offense struggled against the Rams -- Ryan Tannehill was sacked more times by Los Angeles (4) than in the previous four games combined.

-- Judy Battista

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: QB controversy unfolding?? Doug Baldwin had been lobbying for three weeks -- actually, four years -- for Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call his number and have him throw the ball.

"They doubted my arm strength," Baldwin said after last Sunday's win over Philadelphia.

On first-and-10 from the Eagles' 15-yard line, Bevell finally called the play. But after the huddle broke and before lining up, Baldwin gave the Seattle sideline a one-fingered salute. No one in football has caught more touchdown passes over the last two years than Baldwin, and, in the red zone, he wants to catch touchdowns, not throw them.

"In the red zone, I'm a selfish player at times, so I want the ball. I don't want to throw the ball to another person," Baldwin said with a smirk and implied he was obviously joking.

Sunday's touchdown was actually the exact same play the Seahawks ran against the Broncos in Week 3 in 2014. In that game, Jermaine Kearse hit Russell Wilson for a 17-yard gain. Last Sunday, when Baldwin found Wilson for the score, it was the first receiving touchdown by a quarterback in franchise history -- and, perhaps, a signal to the league that Wilson is finally healthy.

Baldwin said the play had worked about 75 percent of the time in practice since it was installed three weeks ago. In fact, the play actually had been called several times before in the past, but the Seahawks had checked out of it at the line each time because they didn't get the defensive look they wanted to see.

"We're not throwing anymore, ever again," Baldwin, who finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, said after the game. "I'm retiring."

Baldwin joked he is a better quarterback than Wilson is a receiver, but added, "He's got some hands. I'll give him that." Even though Baldwin holds his passing ability in high regard, he said he's allowing the emergency quarterback duties to remain with safety Kam Chancellor.

-- James Palmer

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