The question of whether or not the New York Giants could have the best defense in the NFC East this football season is a good one for two reasons. First, New York has made major strides in terms of personnel on that side of the ball. Second, there may not be a good defense to be found in this division.
The Giants themselves are coming off of an atrocious defensive football season. They were dead last in the league in total defense in 2015; allowing more than 6,700 yards. This slotted them behind even the historically inept defense of the New Orleans Saints. That mark was thanks to a league-worst pass defense that allowed 298.9 yards per game through the air. Yes, New York was making every single opposing quarterback look like Tom Brady (298 yards per game).
The rushing defense was below average; the scoring defense put it in the bottom three in the NFL. Pretty much the only redeemable defensive unit for New York was the red-zone defense. Perhaps the old adage of bending but not breaking isn’t so useful after all. The Giants didn’t break in terms of allowing scores inside the 20, but they bent enough to lose a lot of football games.
Enter Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison. Enter rookies Eli Apple and Darian Thompson. Suddenly, New York has added two elite defensive linemen as well as three defensive backs who may slide into starting roles by Week 1 (with Apple as a nickel corner). That is an awful lot of changes, and for good reason. This wasn’t a team worth bringing back. Add to that the depth at linebacker where the team can (hopefully) muster at least three useful pieces, and suddenly this has all the makings.
But whether or not that specific unit can go from one of the worst defenses in the league to the best in the NFC East also has to do with the competition. Fortunately for New York, it isn’t very good.
The Dallas Cowboys are popular picks to go from worst to first in the division overall, yet that sentiment isn’t because of their defense. Dallas was a below average defensive team a year ago and may be worse this season. The Greg Hardy signing for the Cowboys didn’t work out for anyone. Neither did the draft selection of Randy Gregory. The Cowboys will be relying on a lot of very young players in the secondary, and that may be the strength of the unit.
For Washington, a lot of its faults were overshadowed by the surprising division title in 2015. This team’s defense was almost as weak as New York’s. Washington was below average in DVOA and 28th in total defense. The only thing that saved it was a competent pass rush. The addition of Josh Norman can only help, but the rest of this group needs to step up, particularly against the run.
That only leaves Philadelphia, a team rebuilding behind a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. The Eagles’ defense could be very good though, which throws a monkey wrench into this discussion. It underachieved last year but has tremendous talent. Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and company team with newcomers Leodis McKelvin and Rodney McLeod in the secondary. A huge leap from second-year corner Eric Rowe could be coming as well. This talent is good enough to be a top-10 group in football.
Thus, the question becomes whether or not New York has that same ceiling. The answer is a hesitant but enthusiastic "probably." However, there is nothing guaranteed. New York is lurking, ready to improve substantially on the defensive side of the ball. Don’t count the Giants out as a team capable of taking over this division.