Pro Football Focus is one of the premier tools that football fans have at their disposal to analyze their team and how they relate to others. So let's use this tool and take a look at how our New York Giants have been doing defensively this preseason.
The defense is clearly the bright spot of the team. They've had their ups and downs, but for the most part seem like a solid group that has had unexpected depth up and down the lineup. In many cases, the second-team players don't seem too far back from the first team. As a group, they collectively scored a +8.6, good for eighth-best in the NFL. They boast the league's third-best run defense, ninth-best pass rush, and 14th-best coverage unit. Not bad. Let's take a look at the individual groups:
The standout: This should be as easy as guessing Corey Washington as the standout for the Wide Receiver group. It is, of course, Damontre Moore, who's +4.6 is not only the best defensive grade on the team, but ranks 4th amongst all passrushers. He's had four sacks, two quarterback hits, and four hurries thus far, but it isn't just his pass rush grade that's been impressive, it's all his work against the run. Not only does he have the league's seventh-best pass rush productivity, but ranks third in run stop percentage as well. A true two-way force.
The disappointment: Bet you thought it was Jason Pierre-Paul, right? Nah. Not even close. Markus Kuhn has a grade of -4.3, mostly for his work (or lack thereof) in the run game. He really needs to get it together because there are some really talented players on this defensive line ready to take his spot.
The surprise: I didn't know what to think of this defensive line, but it's been the most impressive group of this team thus far. It's true, Jason Pierre-Paul has the worst grade of the top four defensive ends on the roster, but that grade is +1.8. JPP has racked up five pressures thus far along with some good work in the run game, while Robert Ayers (+3.8) and Mathias Kiwanuka (+3.0) have added six pressures each to go with Damontre's 10. The Giants even have the league leader in pressures in Kerry Wynn (+2.2), who has 11.
While the defensive ends have been impressive, the defensive tackles have been simply "good." Aside from Kuhn's poor performance, the trio of Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, and Jay Bromley have a combined score of +3.7. Certainly not bad, but not close to the production the team is getting from the defensive ends.
The standout: Spencer Paysinger. There, I said it. What? Really? Yes. He paces the group with a +3.6 grade with equally good work against the run and the pass. He's shown that he can be a solid utility linebacker that can fill in when someone goes down. Is he a starter? No, but that doesn't preclude him from being a helpful player.
The disappointment: Want to hear something kind of crazy? The worst grade of any Giants linebacker thus far has been Dan Fox with a grade of... -0.2. Yes, that's right. He's the only linebacker on the team with a negative grade. Beezers, I just have to ask, is this too good to be true?
The surprise: Well, the fact that the linebackers have been this good I guess should be the surprise in itself. Jacquian Williams has a +1.4 grade that would be even higher if you take away his -0.7 grade as a pass rusher (he got only one hurry in seven pass rushes). Rookie phenom Devon Kennard has a +2.3 grade and has graded out positively in every category. Jameel McClain holds steady at +0.0. What's probably more crazy is the second-team group of Spencer Adkins - Mark Herzlich - Paysinger that combines for a score of +10.0. Wow!
The standout: Nobody really. This has been the one group that overall has been somewhat of a mild disappointment. The best player from the cornerback position according to PFF is Chandler Fenner (+1.3), and he's unlikely to survive the first round of cuts.
The disappointment: Another easy selection here. Jayron Hosley (-3.6) has been terrible in the few games that he has played. Disappointment personified, he's been called out on 4 penalties and given up gobs of yardage. He'll be suspended for the first four games of the season, though that might actually be to his advantage because the Giants probably don't cut him right away.
The surprise: The surprise here for me is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I think he's been virtually perfect thus far in the preseason and his grade of only +0.2. This is kind of an issue for me with Pro Football Focus, they grade plays, but don't really account for "plays not made." Through four games, DRC has been targeted four times, allowing two catches for 8 yards and has two passes defensed. I'd imagine he doesn't get "graded" a lot but there's something to be said for a player that forces the quarterback to go to another option almost all the time.
The standout: With infinite sadness, I must tell you it is Cooper Taylor, who's +4.1 grade puts him third in the NFL among all safeties. Well, he won't be around this year (most likely) to expand upon that, but for 2015, it's good to know that we've got a ball player at the safety position.
The disappointment: Pro Football Focus seems to think that Stevie Brown has been unimpressive for New York with a -3.6 grade. Brown is one player that we actually haven't really talked about much at all around here. They dock him pretty equally from a coverage and run defense perspective. They have him missing two tackles and getting some flak for some of the plays made by the NYJ receivers.
The surprise: The surprise here actually is rookie safety Nat Berhe, who has a grade of -0.1. Why is he the surprise? Coming out of college, he was known as a huge hitter who had trouble keeping up with receivers in pass coverage. Well, PFF has him +1.5 for coverage and -1.5 for run defense. Interesting. He certainly shows up on the screen, flying around everywhere. I can see why they might dock him some for his tackling, he does seem to play a bit wild.
With the defense, we came into the year thinking that the secondary would be carrying the defense and (to a smaller degree) help the defensive pass rush. So far, it's been the opposite. The secondary is giving up some of the bigger plays while the defensive lines and defensive ends in particular have their way with the opposition.
Tackling is a big issue for this team, though. They have 35 missed tackles in only four games. That's unacceptable and obviously something that needs to be cleaned up. Part of the issue they have is not finishing their plays. Defensive linemen will get pressure but miss the sack, the linebackers will shed the blockers but try and go for the arm tackle, and the secondary will come up and miss the tackles. That all needs to change.
Don't get it wrong, this is a defense with talent. Lots of talent. It shows through. It just needs to be refined.