In our series of New York Giants position-by-position breakdowns, we have arrived at the really critical stuff. It is time to begin breaking down the team's disappointing defense.
We are going to start with the defensive tackle position. We know all about the horrid safety play in 2009, and we will get to that eventually. It is my belief, though, that if the Giants are going to return to being a top-flight defense in 2010 they must first and foremost be able to play the run effectively.
If you recall Tom Coughlin's press conference the day after the season ended, the Giants head coach agrees with that assessment.
"We have lost our identity in terms of who we are. We are a football team that has always prided itself on the physical aspect of the game, which is running the ball and stopping the run. ... we are having difficulty running it, we are having difficulty stopping the run."
Let's toss out a few of the disturbing numbers to illustrate Coughlin's point, and to really reinforce what we already know.
Using Football Outsiders Defensive Efficiency Ratings, we see that the Giants were ranked 21st in the league against the run.
Contrast that with the Giants four-year playoff run.
- 2005 -- 8th; 2006 -- 11th; 2007 -- 9th; 2008 -- 12th
I also have to turn to Pro Football Focus for a little more data. In 2007, PFF had the Giants at a cumulative +13.0 against the run. In 2008, an amazing +46.0 In 2009? Try, a -12.7. Yep, -12.7. an astounding drop of nearly 59 points in trying to defend the run.
So, what the heck happened? Age, injuries, bad personnel decisions and some poor work by defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan all happened.
It is my belief that solid run defense starts with stout, physical defensive tackle play. And it is painfully obvious the Giants did not have that in 2009.
So, with all of that as a very long preamble, let's look at the Giants defensive tackles individually and see what needs to be done to give new coordinator Perry Fewell an effective group in 2010.
Fred Robbins -- A 10-year veteran, Robbins has been a Giant since 2004. During that time, he has been a terrific player. An excellent run defender, and a force rushing the passer from the inside as well. From 2006-2008 Robbins had 5.5 sacks in each of those seasons. Sadly, micro-fracture knee surgery and age are catching up to him. He will be 33 next season and is just a shell of what he used to be. He posted just two sacks in 2009, and had just 25 tackles -- easily the fewest of his career since becoming a starter with Minnesota in 2001.
In 2009, PFF graded Robbins -6.2 against the run, which is completely unacceptable, and -4.1 overall. In 2008, Robbins was +5.9 against the run.
Robbins contract has expired and it is time for the Giants to replace him with a younger, more athletic player.
Barry Cofield -- The best of the defensive tackles on the current roster. Unfortunately, that isn't saying a whole lot. Cofield is an average run defender, graded at -0.5 by PFF for 2009. He had 35 tackles this season, and his 23 unassisted stops were the fewest of his career. He doesn't get much push as a pass rusher, either, and has just 6.5 sacks in four seasons.
Also unfortunately for the Giants Cofield's contract is up and he is a player they pretty much have to try and keep. New CBA or not, they simply have too many other question marks at the position. And that means they are probably going to have to overpay him. Unless they want to completely blow up the position and start over.
Chris Canty -- A huge disappointment in the first year of his six-year, $42 million free-agent contract. The Giants paid all that money for 13 tackles (8 solos) and a half-sack. I am not ready to give up on Canty just yet. He was hurt quite a bit, and was transitioning from 3-4 end to 4-3 tackle. He came from Dallas, though, with a reputation as a guy who looked great in the uniform and showed a lot of athleticism but never really performed on game day. Cowboys fans told us the Giants had overpaid, and so far it looks like they were right. I think he probably gets another season to prove that Jerry Reese did not waste money on him. But, the Giants need to see him as part of a rotation and not as a dominant guy.
Rocky Bernard -- Another guy Reese brought in as a free agent hoping to bolster the run defense. Another huge disappointment. Bernard was a good player for seven seasons in Seattle, and had a 55-tackle, four-sack season in 2008. That earned him a nice, fat free-agent deal with the Giants. His 2009 disappearance, though, has probably earned him nothing but a ticket out of town.
Bernard had just 22 tackles, one sack and an overall rating from PFF of -4.7. Bye, bye Rocky. Go take someone else's money.
Jay Alford -- There is no denying the loss of Alford to a knee injury. He was outstanding in training camp and the first part of the exhibition season, and looked ready for a breakout season. If you are looking Alford to be a dominant player in 2010, though, I think you had better lower your expectations.
He has never been more than a role player, and he is coming off a knee injury. We saw with Osi Umenyiora that players do not always come back at full strength in their first season following knee surgery. So, Alford could be a useful part of a defensive tackle rotation. I would not look at him as a savior, however, at the position.
Conclusion -- If you really want to, you could argue that not one of the guys who played this season really performed well enough to earn a spot on the Giants roster in 2010. There has simply got to be some change in personnel here, whether that be via the draft, dipping back into the free-agent pool and trying again, or both. I am not going to say the Giants 'must' take a defensive tackle with their No. 1 pick. I will say it would be deeply disappointing if a defensive tackle is not chosen in the first three rounds.
Keep: Cofield, Canty, Alford
Dump: Robbins, Bernard
Draft/Free Agency Priority (1 being the highest, 5 the lowest): 1