We've been over how horrific the 2013 season was for the New York Giants. We've been over it again and again. However as horrific as that season was for the offense and special teams, the defense was that good.
In fact, the performance put forth by the 2013 Giants defense was arguably the best since Steve Spagnuolo left to try his hand as a head coach.
Despite not generating nearly as much pressure on the quarterback as Giants teams are used to, they still finished eighth in total defense (332.2 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (15.75 points per game, not counting points allowed off turnovers).
A large part of this defensive performance was an impressive cornerback pairing of Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride.
However as good as their secondary was in 2013, the Giants went to great lengths in Free Agency to improve their secondary. They added a bevy of corners, resigning McBride, adding Zackary Bowman (formerly of the Chicago Bears), Walter Thurmond III (formerly of the Seattle Seahawks), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
DRC has generally been considered the crown jewel of an unusually active free agency by the Giants. Last year with the AFC Champion Denver Broncos DRC proved himself to be one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. He used his unique blend of length and athleticism to give opposing offenses fits and turn in his best year as a pro.
And as it so happens, the Broncos played all four NFC East teams last season. While teams didn't test him often, there is still enough tape to see how DRC played against new hated division rivals.
*Note: I will be structuring this a bit differently than I usually do. Rather than examine individual plays, I am going to look at how Rodgers-Cromartie played against each team.
DRC vs. the Dallas Cowboys
Of the three NFC East teams, Dallas comes first alphabetically so, we'll look at how DRC played against the Cowboys first.
Rodgers-Cromartie was rarely targeted In his game against the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the game with a single tackle.
In the first gif, we see DRC is matched up on Dwayne Harris at the top of the screen. He is in off-man coverage giving (roughly) a two yard cushion. You can see Romo's head swivel as he scans the field, looking to Harris twice before he is sacked. Despite being a couple yards off the receiver, DRC's length and quickness means that he is still a threat to break up the pass or come up with the interception.
In the second gif DRC is matched up on Dez Bryant in man coverage. Despite being in tight coverage, Rodgers-Cromartie doesn't press Bryant, which negates a lot the receiver's advantage in physicality. After waiting out Bryant's shenaniganry trying to fake a route, DRC sticks with him through his route. Rodgers-Cromartie's positioning forces Romo to throw out in front of Bryant, which turns out to be an over-throw.
Finally, there is one of DRC's rare poor plays from last season. He starts out the play well. He is in tight coverage on Bryant and in good position to defend the pass. However, the two start hand-fighting as they go down the field. DRC happens to land the last slap and grabs Bryant's hand as he goes up for the catch. It's a subtle thing that only really shows up on a close-up replay, but it happened. Yes, Bryant is big, quick, and fast, but so is DRC. Getting into the slap-fight was probably unnecessary, and Bryant would have had a hard time making the catch even without the contact.
DRC vs. the Philadelphia Eagles
After spending two years as an Eagle, this looked to be an interesting match-up, and it didn't disappoint. The Eagles tested DRC more than the Cowboys would the following week, with Rodgers-Cromartie notching two tackles and two passes defensed.
Rodgers-Cromartie is matched up on the right side of the offense (left side of the defense) with DeSean Jackson in each of these gifs. As the Giants (and the rest of us) well know, Jackson is one of the quickest and fastest receivers in the NFL. This is a tough draw for any cornerback. However Jackson finishes the game with two catches for 34 yards.
In the first one the Eagles run a play-action pass to Jackson in the end-zone. DRC is matched up on Jackson in off-man coverage, giving him a small cushion. Rodgers-Cromartie shows some very nice fluidity and speed to be able to flip his hips and run with Jackson, even if it is only about 15 yards. The reactions and agility to recover from his slip to still be able to bat the ball away are impressive as well
Jackson gets the better of DRC in the second gif. He plays a tighter coverage than in the first play. However, the combination of timing between quarterback and receiver, and Jackson's quickness make this a very difficult play to defend against. Rodgers-Cromartie reacts just a bit slow to Jackson's cut and isn't quite able to make it back to the ball by the time it gets there. This play happens to account for half of Jackson's catches and the bulk of his yards for the game.
In the final gif DRC is once again matched up on Jackson in off-man coverage, though before the snap it appears to be a zone coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie gives Jackson a big cushion here, roughly 10 yards. He initially uses outside leverage to defend the sideline and deep pass. Rodgers-Cromartie quickly realizes that Jackson is running a crossing route and breaks inward at the same time as Jackson. He does a great job of using his length and speed to accelerate and break up the pass.
DRC vs the Washington Redskins
While the 2014 off season saw the Giants pick up DRC, the Washington Redskins added former Eagles' receiver DeSean Jackson. They also still have Pierre Garcon, a talented receiver in his own right.
This was a good game for DRC. He finished with a staggering (for him) 5 tackles in addition to three passes defensed and an interception returned 75 yards for a touchdown.
The first play is so good there really isn't much to talk about, but this play could have been much worse for the Broncos if it wasn't for DRC. The Redskins' blockers get out in space well, and could have had the play blocked up well, but DRC reacted to the screen quickly. He read Griffin's eyes before exploding upfield to make the tackle for the loss.
In the second play the Broncos run man coverage, with Rodgers-Cromartie in tight man coverage on Pierre Garcon. He does an excellent job of staying with the quick Garcon. He gets an arm in to knock the ball away as it arrives. This is the kind of play that has killed the Giants' defense over the last couple years.
Finally, we get to see the physical side of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC winds up taking on a block by the 220 pound Josh Morgan. He does a nice job of not getting controlled by the blocker and stays in position to play off the block to slow down Pierre Garcon until help could arrive. Okay, so maybe that isn't the level of physicallity Giants fans have come to expect from Prince Amukamara or Andrel Rolle. However, for a player who isn't known for his physicality, that's pretty good.
It is basically impossible to argue that DRC can't be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. He went out and proved he can be last season. The big question is how will he fit in the NFC East. Every team the Giants face twice has at least one dangerous receiver.
Well, at least based on what he put on film last year, DRC can handle himself. He played against the Cowboys, the Eagles, and the Redskins, and held up very well.