The New York Giants defense has come a long way from the 32nd-ranked unit that hemorrhaged yards and points in 2015.
It hasn’t happened how we envisioned it, though. Before the season former Giant and current analyst Carl Banks predicted that the Giants would be near the top of the league in sacks and takeaways, but would give up yards in big plays. Instead, the Giants’ pass rush has been unable to consistently convert pressure into sacks, and didn’t generate their first defensive turnover until their Week 5 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. However, they have been stingy on a per-play basis, largely locking down opponent’s running games and largely prevented big plays in the passing game.
It seemed as though the defense started to click against the Los Angeles Rams. The Giants came up with a trio of sacks, one each from defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Jay Bromley, while Jason Pierre-Paul and Kerry Wynn combined for another. Landon Collins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also each came up with a pair of interceptions.
The Giants’ offense has been stagnant for much of the season, so it might be up to the defense to step up and give the Giants the chance to win. What do they need to do against the Philadelphia Eagles offense?
Stats At A Glance
Rushing Yards - 109.4 (17th)
Passing Yards - 208.3 (29th)
Total Yards - 317.7 (28th)
Points - 25.6 (10th)
Rushing Yards - 93.6 (10th)
Passing Yards - 267.4 (22nd)
Total Yards - 361.0 (17th)
Points - 20.1 (10th)
No Mistakes On Offense
Perhaps the best thing the Giants can do for their defense is to play competent offensive football. The Giants are last in the league in time of possession, with costly turnovers on the first play of each of their last two games. The Giants’ defense has been playing far too many snaps, and has been put in terrible positions by the offense.
If they want a strong defensive performance, they can start by playing complementary football. Maintain possession of the ball, convert first downs, don’t make any drive-killing mistakes, and score when they have the opportunity.
The Eagles are one of the top offensive teams in the league in terms of time of possession. The Giants’ can’t put their defense behind the 8-ball by handing the opposing offense extra possessions. Scoring will force the Eagles out of their conservative ball-control offense, allowing the defense to bring more pressure to bear.
Stop The Run
The Giants’ front office was well aware of their divisional opponents when they remodeled the defense this offseason. While the pass rush was expected to be better, one thing the defense does well is lock down the run.
The Eagles have had a long line of running backs that are not only remarkably difficult to tackle, but are also capable receivers who have gashed the Giants out of the backfield. The Giants’ defensive line needs to do its part by winning its matchups up front and not allowing the Eagles’ offensive line — which is missing its best player in Lane Johnson — to open holes.
In the passing game, the Giants will likely need to lean on linebackers Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas as well as safety Landon Collins. Collins has come on as one of the Giants’ best players in his second year, while Casillas and Robinson have combined to provide the Giants with the best coverage at the second level they’ve had since Michael Boley’s prime.
It still won’t be easy, Darren Sproles’ size makes him easy to lose behind the line of scrimmage and he has made a career out of making defenses pay for underestimating him.
Bring The Pressure
The Giants’ defense hasn’t gotten the sack numbers we would all like to see from them. They’ve gotten pressure, but for one reason or another it hasn’t translated into pressure.
That isn’t to say that it hasn’t affected quarterbacks. Outside of the Minnesota Vikings, the Giants have the lowest passer rating against when the opposing quarterback is under pressure (35.4). But on the other side of the equation, Carson Wentz started the season as the best quarterback in the league against the blitz. Not only is he an intelligent QB who already has a reputation of being well prepared, but his center, Jason Kelce, is smart and experienced. He plays a vital role in identifying and calling out blitz protections while the Eagle’s quick-passing offense helps keep pressure from bleeding through to Wentz.
Not only will the Giants need to win their battles up front — JPP and Olivier Vernon have been dealing with injuries, but they should be healthier after a week of rest — but Steve Spagnuolo will have to be both smart and aggressive with his blitz schemes.
In this area, the Giants could really use safety Darian Thompson. He works very well with Collins, and has already impressed the coaches with his ability to communicate and coordinate the secondary despite being a rookie. Early in the season, before Thompson was sidelined by a foot sprain, his presence, as well as that of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins, and fellow rookie Eli Apple, let Spags call some gutsy bltizes. Former NFL DB Domonique Foxworthy had this to say about the Giants blitz packages against the New Orleans Saints.
“Many times quarterbacks know the exact defenses before the play. When watching film, I can almost always tell the coverage before the snap. But not this time. The Giants safeties’ disguises were very risky. There was one play where the safety appeared as if he was down to cover the slot receiver, I assumed it was cover 1. I thought there was no way he could get back and man his deep cover 2 zone, but at the snap of the ball he sprinted out and got to his position.“
Unfortunately, Thompson suffered a setback during practice this week and is doubtful for Sunday's game. Fellow rookie Andrew Adams has been the Giants' starting free safety since Nat Berhe was lost to a concussion. The Giants' confidence in Adams seem to be growing, as they have expanded their blitz packages in recent weeks. He will need to continue to justify that trust and play a good game in the back end of the Giants’ defense.
Once again having the ability to call such audacious blitzes could throw the Eagles’ rookie QB off his game, bating him into making mistakes or taking drive-killing sacks.
The Eagles have done a great job of winning despite having a rookie quarterbacking their offense. However, Wentz’s numbers have taken a hit the last two weeks. Despite completing more than 70 percent of his passes against the Dallas Cowboys, he only averaged 4.7 yards per attempt, down from 4.9 the previous week. That week he only completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 138 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions.
The Giants can’t take anything for granted — not against the Eagles. However, this is a winnable game for them, and the defense could be in good position to step up and give the offense the opportunity to win the game.