I have come not to praise Perry Fewell, because that would elicit laughter and undermine whatever credibility I might have amongst Giant fans. But I am not going to bury him either which puts me in a minority since the shouts of “Fire Perry Fewell” have become so pervasive they have rendered similar cries for Tom Quinn’s departure as merely background noise.
I championed Perry Fewell as a good choice to replace Bill Sheridan even before his name was on the radar of the team’s beat reporters, so I feel that I should be the one to make a defense for the man now. Even the Devil has an advocate, so Fewell deserves one as well.
This isn’t to say that he has done a great job. He hasn’t. But he has had a lot of circumstances turn against him which makes the bad look worse than it is. Barring a collapse in the last three games of the season, he deserves another season. Here’s why…
HE ALREADY SHOWED WHAT HE COULD DO
In 2009 under first year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, the Giants gave up 26.7 points per game (third-worst in the NFC), the team only had 13 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries, both towards the bottom of the pack. He was sent packing.
In 2010, Fewell’s first year, with largely the same personnel, the turnovers were way up (16 picks, 23 fumble recoveries) and the defense gave up the third least yards in the NFC. And those numbers would have been better if it wasn’t for the offense’s propensity to turn the ball over and the special teams’ inability to help out with field position. Most Giant fans agreed that the defense was a lot better.
He made improvement without major personnel changes, he can do so again – especially with more talent.
We all like to say that using injuries as an excuse is… well, an excuse. To be sure, the other teams won’t feel sorry for us. But we have seen how teams will fall off with the subtraction of just one important cog. Here is a projected Depth Chart from Bleacher Report from before the season began. Let’s see how that panned out:
· Osi Umenyiora (Starter) – Missed five games, still injured
· Justin Tuck (Starter) – Missed three games, still injured; not impactful remainder of the time
· Marvin Austin (Premier Backup) – Missed Season
· Michael Boley (Starter) – Missed two games
· Jonathan Goff (Starter) – Missed season
· Clint Sintim (Key Reserve) – Missed Season
· Terrell Thomas (Starter) – Missed Season
· Prince Amukamara (Premier Reserve) – Missed nine games
· Bruce Johnson – Waived after Injury
· Kenny Phillips (Starter) – Missed one game, still injured
The replacements in many of these cases were unproven rookies who, despite upside, played poorly enough that the likes of Chase Blackburn – a likeable enough guy whose limitations were well known to all – was able to jump right in and start for us midseason despite being a Free Agent all year.
NFL defenses are as complicated as the offenses they are supposed to contain. Having your personnel be a jigsaw puzzle week-to-week (sometimes play-to-play) with players taking on different responsibilities is a recipe for failure. The worst problems with the defense have been big plays caused by miscommunication. That shouldn’t be a huge shock.
Starting with the offseason, the work stoppage shortened training camps and kept rookies at bay for months. While this was problematic for all teams, it would have a greater effect on a team that would go on to suffer major injuries at key positions and then have to fill a lot of those minutes with rookies.
Then the season started: We have played five games out of 13 against the four top offenses in terms of yards per game (Green Bay, New Orleans, New England and the Eagles twice). We also played Dallas, who is 7th in total offense (and have to play them again). That’s nearly half our games against the elite offensive teams with the best quarterbacks in the league. Teams with better statistical defenses have not had to deal with this juggernaut. Sometimes you have to take this into account.
Nobody is going to complain that the Giants offense is explosive, though many of us have complained about the team’s lack of a running game. But both of those factors have led to the defense being on the field a lot longer than would be ideal. Yes, if they did better on third down, they could help themselves in this regard. But with an offense that has trouble sustaining drives and seems to do best with quick strikes, they keep the defense on the field (the Giants offense TOP is 29:53, good for only 19th in the league).
Additionally, our Special Teams, while not the debacle they have been in recent years, is still not a strength: We are around the league average in kickoff and punt return yardage allowed. Lawrence Tynes only has 6 touchbacks (21st in the league, his TB percentage is 25th) and he is only 23rd in kickoff yards. The other team returns more kicks and gets less starts at the 20 than others. These shortened fields don’t help the defense at all.
Overall, the Giants opponents start their drive on average at the 28.25 yard line, which is 18th in the league. Improve that below average number and the defense has their backs to the wall a lot less often. (To compare, the 49ers have the best defensive starting position. You don’t think this helps their top-ranked defsne?)
So a lot of the defenses bad numbers comes about from an offense that is frequently all or nothing and special teams which are at best average. Improve the running game and the Special Teams and the defense will have an easier job. Don’t and don’t be shocked with less than stellar statistics.
EVEN THIS YEAR
As bad as things have been with regard to points, yards, an inability to get off the field on third down, we still manage to be tied for 5th in the conference for takeaways (ahead of hyped defensive teams such as Dallas, Atlanta and Philadelphia) so when we have guys in position to make plays, they are doing it.
While the play of many of our young players thrust into many more NFL minutes at this stage in their careers has not helped the defense, it will probably help them. They are developing, they are learning. We were all impressed with the raw talent our linebackers had. They might not be ready for prime time but next year, with their accelerated learning curve, they should be ready to step up.
Combine that with the fact that we just cannot have those kinds of injuries again (I mean, really, this has to even out eventually, right?) means that if we can have some continuation that Perry Fewell can also up his game and return the Giants Defense to the source of pride that Giants fans have become accustomed to.