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Pro Football Focus Mid-Season Review: Defense

Through eight games, let's take a look at Pro Football Focus' review of the Giants' defense.

Ron Antonelli

The New York Giants defense has clearly had it's ups and downs, both from an individual perspective and a team perspective. There are really some superstar numbers here and there are also grades that make you want to scream.

As with the offense, we're going to go through this by position group. Also as with the offense, you'll find that Big Blue View (for the most part) agrees with a lot of what Pro Football Focus has graded. It seems like the bigger the sample size, the outliers get less burn, and you get nice trends from a macroscopic viewpoint. So let's get to it!

Writer's note: As PFF is a subscription-based service, we cannot give out all their grades. They've got to make a living, after all, so while unfortunate for us, we will respect that.

Defensive Ends

Let's start up front with our edge-rushers. The big name here is Jason Pierre-Paul (+18.1) and he's got a really, really nice grade ranking third in the NFL among 4-3 DEs. Almost all of this is due to his run defense. I've always been of the opinion that while pass rush is mostly about ability, a lot of great run defenders have that mentality. I don't think "heart" really translates that greatly into stats, but it's telling that JPP called a lot of his teammates out because of it. His +17.1 run grade dwarfs anybody else and his run stop percentage is third. He ranks only 23rd among qualifying DEs in pass rush productivity, however, and only has a mildly positive grade in that respect.

Meanwhile the other guy who's really got Giants fans excited is, of course, Robert Ayers (+22.4) who has the best grade offense or defense, on the team and is ranked second in the NFL among 4-3 DEs. His pass rush productivity is the best in the nation among 4-3 DEs, garnering an absurd 32 pressures in only 164 pass rushes. He's the exact opposite of JPP, as while his pass rush grade is through the roof, his run defense is only mildly positive.

So that's right, the Giants possess the second and third ranked DEs in the NFL. Why aren't they dominating offensive lines? Well let's first say it's a shame Robert Ayers only has 259 snaps (39th among 53 qualifiers). The guy who actually starts for the Giants is Mathias Kiwanuka (-10.2) and he ranks 49th among 53 qualifiers. He also has 428 snaps. We've sort of rehashed this over and over again, so you don't need me to say how annoyed we all are about it.

I'm sure you're eager to know how our young stud is doing as well. Damontre Moore (+1.3) hasn't had much of an opportunity with only 140 snaps, but he does rank sixth in the league in pass rush productivity, notching two sacks, five QB hits, and six QB hurries. His 13 pressures come from only 87 pass rush snaps. For reference, Mathias Kiwanuka has one sack, four QB hits, and 12 QB hurries. His 17 total pressures come from 244 pass rush snaps, for a pass rush productivity ranked 43rd/53 qualifiers.

Defensive Tackle

Enough of about the edge guys, let's talk the big guys in the middle. You have to start with big Johnathan Hankins (+18.9) who ranks 2nd in the NFL among all defensive tackles behind only Gerald McCoy. He has a great run stop grade, but we knew that already. It's his pass rush that's really taken us by surprise. He ranks 9th in the league in terms of run stop percentage, and 7th in the league in pass rush productivity with 17 pressures (three sacks, two hits, 12 hurries) in only 149 snaps (and yes, this includes 3 techniques like Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy). Big Hank is a star.

The other guys? Meh. Cullen Jenkins (+3.8) had been a steady contributor as a pass rusher before he went down and Jay Bromley (+1.0) has looked decent in his 28 snaps. Unfortunately Jenkins is hurt and Bromley isn't getting any run. In their stead, we get a heavy dose of Markus Kuhn (-9.4) and Mike Patterson (-6.5). Kuhn is built like a 3 technique, so you expect his run defense to be low (and it is) but in 46 pass rush attempts, he only has two QB hurries. Patterson seems like he's just tired.


Not splitting this up into outside and inside because there are multiple guys that have played both. Jacquian Williams (+1.3) leads the way. He actually ranks 15th among all OLBs (and if we take away his poor game versus the Colts, he'd be much higher) so while many think he's not an NFL starter, PFF disagrees with you. After Williams, there's not much to be excited about. Devon Kennard is slightly negative. Jameel McClain (-4.9) and Jon Beason (-4.2) are essentially carbon copies of each other, as they both score decently in run defense but just don't get the job done in pass coverage.

Mark Herzlich hasn't played enough to earn a really bad grade from PFF, but he's slightly negative as well. I think it's pretty clear the Giants need some new blood here. Kennard was a start, and Williams is holding steady, but the cupboard is bare after that. You already knew that, though.


This is the spot that hurts me the most. The Giants had three guys all go positive while they were playing. Trumaine McBride (+1.4) is out for the year and he was actually a pretty decent slot corner, if inconsistent. Walter Thurmond didn't play enough snaps to warrant discussion on him. Prince Amukamara (+4.7) has been our best player in the secondary, allowing an NFL 7th best QBR 58.2, allowing no touchdowns, grabbing 3 interceptions and 5 passes defensed. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (+3.5) hasn't been too shabby either, and aside from his nagging injuries that have limited him, he's lived up to the contract that we've given him from my point of view.

The replacements are uninspiring. Zackary Bowman (+0.0) has been decidedly average, while Jayron Hosley and Chandler Fenner have graded out pretty awfully. This is going to be a long second half for this group as it's been torn to shreds.


Much like how the Giants' guards on the offensive line were the ugly part of the team, here come some numbers that aren't really going to make any of you happy. The starting safeties Antrel Rolle (-4.4) and Quintin Demps (-6.5) have not played like starters in any sense of the word. The pass coverage has been atrocious, especially from Demps. Meanwhile Stevie Brown (-2.0) was well on his way to joining his comrades in the negative grade club before he got benched. His run defense grade is the only thing that saves him from being in the -5.0 range.

Nat Berhe meanwhile hasn't played enough to warrant discussion at all, but I mean, there isn't really great competition for him to beat out. I'd like to just point out by the way that Cooper Taylor had a +4.1 grade in the preseason, fourth best in the league. I'm crying softly, just a little bit, right now.


Overall, the Giants defense has been surprisingly stout, despite the myriad of injuries, ranking 10th in the league among the 32 teams. What saves them? Unsurprisingly, it's the pass rush and run defense, especially the pass rush. You can thank Robert Ayers, Johnathan Hankins, Damontre Moore, and Cullen Jenkins for that. The run defense grade brought by JPP and Big Hank are somewhat canceled out by Markus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka.