Reports hit the Inter-Google Friday afternoon that the New York Giants were planning to host former Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Don Connor for a free-agent visit. Connor is the latest in a string of free-agent linebackers the Giants have either had in to East Rutherford for a visit or been connected to since free agency began on Tuesday.
That list has included Japser Brinkley, Rey Maualuga and maybe Karlos Dansby. What has been the common thread among all of these players? Well, other than the fact that they are linebackers? It's really simple. They are all better run defenders than they players they would replace with the Giants -- Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn.
The defensive formula the Giants have won the Super Bowl with twice in six seasons is relatively simple. Terrorize quarterbacks with a fearsome pass rush that creates offensive mistakes and covers any perceived coverage weaknesses you might have. The flaw in that plan? You can't turn the pass rush loose if you can't stop the run and force teams into long-yardage situations where your pass rushers can go full-speed ahead. For most of the last two seasons the Giants have been horrific against the run. In 2012 they surrendered 4.6 yards per carry (26th in the league) and in 2011 the Giants gave up 4.5 yards per carry (24th).
Much of what they have done thus far -- or at least tried to do -- seems aimed at improving the run defense.
Brinkley, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals, and Maualuga are both far superior in run defense than vs. the pass. Dansby's numbers vs. the run are superior to Blackburn's. So are Connor's.
Since the Giants are bringing in Connor for a visit, ostensibly to replace Blackburn at middle linebacker, let's focus on those two. I'm not going to look at Connor's 2012 numbers with Dallas because he was playing in a 3-4. In 2011, playing 4-3 middle linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, he graded +3.2 vs. the run and -2.5 vs. the pass. Blackburn was -7.1 vs. the run last season and -10.9 overall.
If you look at the recently re-signed Keith Rivers as a replacement for Michael Boley that again is an improvement vs. the run. Boley has always been a "chase" linebacker, making plays down the field and not at the line of scrimmage. His PFF score vs. the run in 2012 was -4.5. Rivers was +0.2 vs. the run in 2012 and in 2010 (he missed the 2011 season) he was +5.9 vs. the run and +6.8 overall.
So, what the Giants are trying to accomplish is really simple. It's about stopping the run.