Kiwanuka clutch at two positions for Giants

By TOM CANAVAN - AP Sports Writer
    2012-11-28 16:41

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - When Mathias Kiwanuka signed a contract extension with the New York Giants earlier this year, he understood his job was to be a wild card in the defense.

Kiwanuka is somewhat of a rarity in the NFL. A two-position player, the seven-year veteran is listed on the roster as a linebacker, but he plays as much on the defensive line, his natural position.

This past week in the Giants' impressive 38-10 win over Green Bay, Kiwanuka spent the entire game on the line because coordinator Perry Fewell wanted a little more pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Kiwanuka led the charge, snaring two of the five sacks for the NFC East-leading Giants (7-4).

Where Kiwanuka plays Monday night against quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins (5-6) remains to be seen. Even the 29-year-old doesn't know where he will be.

``I want to be able to be on the field, be prepared, and be effective,'' Kiwanuka said Wednesday in a conference call. ``That's my main thing. If I'm out there helping the team, then I'm good in that spot. I said all along that defensive end, that's my natural position. That's where I feel most comfortable, but when we get all four pass-rushers out there on the field and we can go up and down the line and mix and match, that creates favorable matchups, so I have no problem with that either.''

The constant shifting has not been a problem for Kiwanuka, who was drafted as a defensive lineman in 2006. He talked with general manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin after signing a three-year extension in April, so he knew what was expected.

There are weeks where Kiwanuka plays both positions. He's a linebacker in the normal 4-3 front and switches to the line in passing situations. The hard part is preparing for the dual role. It means splitting practices with the linebackers and linemen and alternates meetings with both groups.

``When I have to go back and forth, there's just a lot more preparation that goes into it, but I seem to always be able to get it done. Even though you don't think there's enough hours in the day, somehow we get it done,'' Kiwanuka said. ``The coaches are pretty good about it. When you're playing a team, and they say, `This is how we're going to use you, just as a defensive lineman,' it's a lot less preparation involved and really just going out there and playing ball like I've always done.''

Kiwanuka plays both the end and tackle positions, so that means the Redskins line will have its hands full. Washington left guard Kory Lichtensteiger expects to go against Kiwanuka on - at least - a couple of plays.

``It's a pretty rare thing that you can move a linebacker to a three-technique and have him be effective,'' Lichtensteiger said. ``He's just so big, I think his length and his agility inside presents a little bit of a different matchup for us. But they're so big and long everywhere on defense, it's hard to say he's any more of a problem than any of the other guys they've got inside.''

Right guard Chris Chester described Kiwanuka as elusive.

``It's something you expect out of a defensive end, and as an interior lineman you don't necessarily see a lot of those types of rushes,'' he said. ``So it's going to be a unique challenge.''

Kiwanuka didn't do much in the Giants' 27-23 win over Washington at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 21. He had three tackles, including one for a loss. And it's hard to say how the Giants will approach the Redskins this week because Griffin is so tough to defend with both his ability to throw and run. So, who knows where Kiwanuka will be.

If safety Kenny Phillips is healthy - he aggravated an injury to his right knee in Sunday night's win - New York might use three safeties and two cornerbacks. That would allow one of the safeties to shadow Griffin and might limit Kiwanuka's playing time in the base defense.

Whatever defense the Giants use, they can't afford to play like they did last year in their second meeting with Washington. It was a no-show effort in a 23-10 loss that dropped New York to 7-7 with two games left in the regular season.

Remarkably, the Giants beat the Jets and Cowboys to win the division and then stormed through the postseason to win a second title since 2007.

The loss to Washington was their last.

``The lesson we got out of that was, when you're playing a divisional opponent, it doesn't matter what the records are, or what you're ranked in the conference, or anything like that,'' Kiwanuka said. ``We're two teams that have seen each other a lot. We know what each other is capable of, and it's going to come down to desire more so than the Xs and Os. When you throw that option package in there, that may be something you have to focus on, but whenever you're playing somebody in your division, you have to be prepared for anything.

``It's always going to be a rivalry game.''

If the Giants win it, they can take a major step toward a second straight division title.


Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL


AP Sports Writer Joseph G. White in Auburn, Va. contributed to this report.

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