The New York Giants were historically bad on defense during the 2012 NFL season. The Giants Giants surrendered more yards and more yards per game than any defense in the history of the franchise, and finished second-to-last in the league overall for the first time since 1966.
Even the 2009 defense with the vilified and quickly run out of town Bill Sheridan at the controls wasn't this bad, at least in terms of yardage allowed. That group surrendered 324.9 yards per game (13th in the league). It is less the numbers of yards and more the fact that Sheridan's group was 13th, while this year's team was 31st in yardage allowed.
The deeper you look at the numbers the uglier the picture gets. Here are some numbers that confirm the stark, ugly truth. The Giants' defense was atrocious in 2012.
From Team Rankings:
Yards Allowed Per Game -- 383.4 (31st)
Opponent Yards Per Play -- 6.0 (30th)
Opponent Third Down Conversion Percentage -- 42.42 percent (30th)
Opponent Yards Per Rush Attempt -- 4.6 (27th)
Opponent Completion Percentage -- 63.86 percent (26th)
Opponent Passing Yards Per Game -- 254.2 (26th)
Opponent Avg. Team Passer Rating -- 88.2 (20th)
Opponent Yards per Pass Attempt -- 7.6 (31st)
Sack Percentage -- 5.82 percent (22nd)
Takeaways Per Game -- 2.2 (3rd)
How much blame does defensive coordinator Perry Fewell get for this mess? From this vantage point, probably a considerable amount.
Let's keep in mind that this season's performance really was not an aberration. The Giants' defense really wasn't very good in 2011, either. Yes, they had the six-game stretch at the end of the season where schemes were simplified and they performed at a championship level, and ultimately won a Super Bowl. Yes, they had 48 sacks in 2011 to 33 for this season. The 2011 group still finished 22nd in the NFL in total defense and surrendered 22.8 points per game, more points per game than it did this season.
There are three fundamental issues, and all have been present for most of the past two seasons.
- Inconsistent pass rush
- Inability to stop the run
- Surrendering too many long passing plays
Let's examine all three areas, and where Fewell may or may not be culpable.
Inconsistent Pass Rush
In 2011 you could simply pin most of the early-season inconsistency on injury. Osi Umenyiora played only nine regular-season games, and Justin Tuck was not healthy, either. When Umenyiora and Tuck returned to form late in the season, joining a dominant Jason Pierre-Paul, the pass rush became what the Giants expected -- and needed -- it to be. That never happened in 2012.
The question is why?
Tuck had another down year. Pierre-Paul was lost in a maze of double teams and too often lined up on the left side instead of his more natural and productive right side (where 5 of his 6.5 sacks in 2012 came from). The one thing I can't find is anything that will tell me how often the Giants sent more than four pass-rushers, and whether they do it more or less often than the NFL average. I would guess less.
There were times this season when teams simply used quick throws to thwart the Giants' pass rushers and other times when Fewell admitted he hadn't put his pass rushers in great positions.
Without blitz stats this is really anecdotal, but the entire NFL knows the Giants' defense is predicated on rushing the passer. It seems to me that the Giants, under Fewell's direction, too often rely on four pass-rushers to plow straight ahead and try to defeat five, six or seven blockers. Obviously, those odds aren't very good.
Inability To Stop The Run
The Giants surrendered 4.6 yards per rush this season (27th) in the league, In 2011 they gave up 4.5, which put them 24th.
The Giants have good defensive tackles in Chris Canty and Linval Joseph, though going forward they could use more depth there. Pierre-Paul is an incredible run defender. Diminished as a pass rusher, Tuck is still a good run defender.
Perhaps the use of the three-safety package Fewell likes can at times make the Giants susceptible to the power running game. In reality, though, my belief is that the run issue isn't really about Fewell, scheme or defensive line play. It's mostly about the fact that the Giants are not good enough at the linebacker level. They don't have linebackers who can shed blocks, who can stuff the line of scrimmage, who can make dynamic plays that put defenses in long yardage situations.
You can kick about Fewell's schemes on occasion, but I can't kill him for the run issue. I see that more as personnel.
Surrendering Too Many Long Passing Plays
In 2012 the Giants allowed 60 passes of 20 or more yards (the NFL's fourth-highest total), 29 passes of at least 30 yards (led the NFL) and 13 passes of 40 or more yards (second in the league).
In 2011 the Giants allowed 60 passes of 20 or more yards (again 4th-worst in the league) and seven passes of 40 or more yards (25th).
Taken as a whole, that number of big plays allowed by a mostly veteran secondary can only be described as ridiculous.
Fewell can't be held responsible for injuries to Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara. It's not his fault that Corey Webster seemed incapable of covering anyone in 2012. I think you can hold Fewell accountable for the consistent communication breakdowns and assignment errors. You can probably, at times, also hold Fewell accountable for not turning his pass-rushers loose often enough to cover for some of the issues in the secondary.
Is the coverage scheme too complex? Does Fewell not allow players to play to their strengths often enough? I don't know the answer to that. It just seems that the same problems keep occurring over and over, and it is on the coordinator to find a solution.
Fewell hasn't done that.
Fewell is a smart, passionate coach. He preaches turnovers, and in that area the Giants have succeeded. Fewell isn't going anywhere. No one is knocking on his door for a head-coaching job, and Giants' coach Tom Coughlin has already said Fewell will return in 2013.
It is obvious that the Giants need to make some personnel changes defensively, especially at the linebacker level but also likely within their front four.
Fewell, though, also needs to make some adjustments in his approach. This is a defense built on pressuring the quarterback, yet it does not always play an aggressive, attacking style. That needs to change. It's a team that makes too many mistakes in the secondary. The obvious answer? Simplify the coverage schemes, especially since it seems injuries cause the Giants to have different safety/cornerback combinations nearly every week. Make the communication easier by making it less complicated.
If the Giants' defensive coordinator was to ask my advice -- and he has no reason to do that because he knows more football than I ever will -- I would tell him one simple thing. Play more to the strengths of the players you have instead of making the players try to fit into the system you want to use.