Welcome to the second half of the 2014 NFL season. And as a welcome back to NFL action, the New York Giants play host to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
The Giants had a rocky start to the season that saw a slow, mistake plagued start, a hot streak, and then struggles within the division. And while growing pains were expected as a new offense was installed, the Giants were surprised to see struggles on defense.
After adding free agent corners Walter Thurmond, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jameel McClain, the Giants expected their bolstered defense to -- at least in part -- carry the offense while the new scheme settled in. But even before injuries began to take their toll on the defense, there was a disturbing number of mental mistakes.
And now the Giants face an offense unlike any they have faced yet this year.
The Indianapolis Colts boast a variety of weapons to threaten all levels of a defense -- wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. And helming that offense is Andrew Luck, a young QB fully capable of dissecting a defense before the snap, and picking it apart after the snap with his arm and legs.
All that being said, the Colts are certainly beatable.
Learning From The Steelers
The Steelers' defense has been very un-Steeler-like this season. Ranking toward the middle of the league in most defensive category, and only notching only 10 sacks and four interceptions through their first seven games.
Against the Colts, they Dick LeBeau and the Steelers went back to their old BlitzBurgh roots and opted to blitz early, blitz often, and send a lot of guys.
The result was seven QB hits, two sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Oh, and a win.
This was far from a perfect game plan. The Steelers still gave up a 155 yards and a touchdonw to TY Hilton and 113 yards and a touchdown to rookie Donte Moncrief.
But, the Steelers' hyper-aggressive defense did force Andrew Luck into making some critical mistakes for the Steelers to capitalize on.
Perry Fewell vs. Andrew Luck
Can the Perry Fewell and the Giants learn from the Steelers and get pressure on Andrew Luck? In short: Yes.
But that isn't the real question. The real question at hand is "Will They", and the answer to that is much less clear.
This season the Giants have blitzed on only 22.3 percent of dropbacks. That is significantly below the league average of 29.2 percent. That supports the general observation that the Giants are hanging back in coverage and sending four -- or fewer -- rushers.
That, in and of itself, seems to imply a general disregard for blitzes by the Giants' defense.
However, in 2013 the Giants were actually in the top half of the league in blitz percentage at 31.6 percent. While that might not seem like much, it does put them ahead of blitz-happy defenses like Jets and Saints -- both "Ryan" defenses. In fact, the Giants blitzed nearly half-again as often as the Seattle Seahawks.
So then, will the Giants get aggressive against the Colts? The answer to that comes down to how confident Perry Fewell is in his secondary.
Since Fewell became the defensive coordinator in 2010, a casual "Eye Test" suggests that he calls a much more aggressive defense when he is confident in his secondary -- particularly the free safety position.
The defense was at its best -- and most aggressive -- when the Giants had a healthy Kenny Philips or a not-suspended Will Hill on the field. As Brian Billick points out, the Giants are giving up too many explosive plays.
Per Football Outsiders, the Giants are seeing a greater than league-average number of passes go to No. 1 wide receivers this year, as opposed to a lower than league average last year. One of the jobs of the free safety is to see the whole field and, if necessary, help the cornerback who is in coverage on the No. 1 receiver.
This is something both Hill excelled at, but we have seen breakdowns in coverage from both Stevie Brown and Quentin Demps. And as a result, more passes have been going to teams' big play threats.
The Pittsburgh Steelers brought an almost reckless amount of pressure against Andrew Luck and found success. But does that mean Perry Fewell and the New York Giants will?
Odds are, the answer is "No".
Fewell is certainly capable of calling an aggressive game, just ask Michael Vick. But it really isn't in his DNA to do so when his secondary is hurting. His first instinct is to try and protect his secondary, and by it's very nature blitzing weakens a team's coverage. Either a coordinator is simply taking a defender out of coverage and rushing them, or they are dropping a defensive lineman into coverage to try and create confusion in a zone blitz. Either way, coverage is weakened. And Perry Fewell is unlikely to risk weakening a struggling, injured, or otherwise untrustworthy unit.
It is possible that they could re-work the defensive assignments to rotate Antrel Rolle to free safety and play Demps, Brown, or Berhe as a the strong safety. That could give Fewell enough confidence in his coverage to send extra pressure.
It is also possible that the Giants won't need to send extra rushers to get pressure on Luck. Former first round pick Anthony Castonzo -- who was frequently mocked to the Giants -- is a good but not dominant left tackle. He is much closer to Jake Matthews than Jason Peters or Tyron Smith. Across the line Gosder Cherilus is overmatched at right tackle and struggles mightily with speed off the edge. The interior of their offensive line looked vulnerable as well, and could present a favorable match-up with John Hankins providing a (very) surprising amount of pass rush from his defensive tackle position.
Ultimately, the Giants' defense will have to bring their best game, and Fewell his best game-plan, to contain an incredibly potent Colts offense. It's not terribly likely that the Giants will follow in the footsteps of the Steelers and live (or die) by the blitz, but nobody really expected the Steelers to blitz as much as they did either.