Much-maligned throughout all of the offseason, the New York Giants linebacking corps was expected to be the weak link in the defense. Early on this season, that was certainly the case.
The unit lost Dan Connor early and Mark Herzlich appeared not to be ready to be a starting middle backer. But the acquisition of Jon Beason and the development of younger players like Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger has helped strengthen a defense that has given up three points in its last 10 quarters of play.
The Giants defense has been stellar in recent weeks, largely due to the revamped linebacking corps. According to linebackers coach Jim Herrmann, ignoring the criticism and playing with confidence has been the catalyst.
"As a group, I think those guys have done a good job. In today's world it's about wins and losses; you don't win and you lose, somebody's going to take the criticism," he said Tuesday. "In the last couple of weeks with wins ... they build their confidence and keep striving to go out and be better."
Perhaps no one player has made a greater impact than Beason, the veteran who was acquired from the Carolina Panthers. Beason has battled injuries since making the Pro Bowl in 2010 and eventually lost his job in Carolina.
Since joining the Giants and getting playing time in the middle Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, the defense has allowed fewer than 260 total yards per game and forced six turnovers. In contrast, the unit forced seven in the first month of the season. And in the past two weeks, no quarterback has thrown for more than 176 yards and no running back has totaled more 48 yards.
Beason's enthusiasm and ability to be a coach on the field has paid dividends for the defense.
"He's a very upbeat leader. He has an infection personalty; most great leaders are. To be able to walk into the door and play right away, that's not easy. He was able to do it and everybody on the defense was right with him. To me, that's huge," Herrmann said. "When you have a guy like that, that one voice resonates to everyone on the field, and the results are 11 guys on the same page."
Not only has Beason made his presence felt on the Giants D, so has Paysinger, who played a critical role as a leader of the linebacking corps early on in the season.
Paysinger, who has thrived for the Giants on special teams early on in his career, has grown into his role as a starting backer. According to Herrmann, much of Paysinger's development has coincided with Beason's mentorship.
"Spencer has done a great job this year," he said. "He has developed into a good football player and continues to play and get his ankle right. Having Jon will help him, too, because Jon's been in the league for seven or eight years and this is Spencer's third or fourth year. It will help him just to see a different type of guy and personality."
Not only has Paysinger seen an increased role; so has Williams, who finally appears healthy and has been a versatile cover linebacker for the Giants this season.
Like Paysinger, Williams is continuing to grow and learn about the nuances of the position and will improve as the season goes on.
"He's learning the nuances of the game, the nuances of the coverage and covering people man to man," Herrmann said. "You need to touch the oven and feel it's hot to learn not to touch it anymore. You need to learn how to cover a guy and difference nuances of routes and where he needs to be. The more he does it, the better he's going to be."
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