Approximately a year ago, Steve Spagnuolo was unleashing a fearsome defense upon the league. The New York Giants were dominant run defenders who could shut down opposing wide receivers, and lock offenses out of the endzone.
This year, that just isn’t so. While the talent on the defense is basically the same as a year ago, the level of play isn’t. The most obvious problem with the defense is their maddening inconsistency when it comes to tackling.
“A little bit of a disease,” Spagnuolo replied, when asked to describe the ‘epidemic’ of poor tackling from his defense. “I was very, very disappointed in our tackling this past game and it’s been like that the last three. The guys know that I’m not a believer in block tackling when you try to get a guy on the ground by just blocking him. We believe in wrap tackling. You see us every day. It’s called the tackle ring and it makes you wrap and that’s the reason for it and when you don’t go out there and do that, that’s disappointing to me. The guys know I feel that way and they have responded greatly out here on the field. Now, we can’t do that here because we don’t tackle people. That’s what’s kind of a lost art in this game right now, but we have to find a way to make sure that we tackle better or the defense won’t change.”
The Giants won last year based on their offense doing just enough to get a lead, then their defense closing out a game. With the defense, shockingly, unable to hold a lead at the end of games this year, there has been talk that perhaps Spagnuolo’s voluminous defense needs to be scaled back a bit, simplified.
“To me, defensive football when it’s simplified is simply running to the football and tackling. Running to the football and tackling,” Spagnuolo said. “Now tackling takes a little bit of talent, but running to the football, being 11 getting there, being hungry and aggressive – that doesn’t. That’s just desire. So, to me, that would be the simplifying part.”
Part of the problem may be players trying too hard to make a big play and giving them up instead of soundly doing their jobs. Spags mentioned that with All-Pro safety Landon Collins, saying that he might be pressing to try to ascend and push his game higher. He also acknowledged that it might be a factor in the sloppy play from other players. He said, “That’s a good point. That’s a good point. And, I think there is a little bit of that and look, we allow them – allow is not a good word – but I can see it on the sideline if you knock a guy out. But, for the most part, running backs in this league, wide receivers in this league, if you don’t wrap they’re getting extra yards that leads to the leaky yardage and our guys understand that. I just wish we could do it for real in practice, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense right now.”
Spags finally reiterated that he didn’t believe that effort has been lacking on the defense. Instead he believes the problem lies in not paying enough attention to the technique — the art — of tackling.
After that disappointing performance in Tampa Bay, Spags made the decision to let the players run the film review, to let them critique their own play, without him talking at them.
“It’s not a bad idea to change it up once in a while anyway,” he said. “They get sick of me talking. I’d get sick of me talking. I mean, look it, that’s human nature, right? The same person telling you over and over. So, I think sometimes it’s good to change it up.”
“I told them what I saw on film,” he said, when asked about the player-run film session. “I shared that with them, but I told them how I felt we could fix it and I was willing to do anything to fix it. The important thing wasn’t what I saw or what I was willing to do. It was what they saw and what they were willing to do and the only way I knew whether we were on the same page or not was to let them run it and hear what they said. It was a great meeting and I think we got a lot out of it.”
The Giants’ defensive failures all go back to their lack of discipline tackling and the resulatant “leaky yardage” as Spags called it. But for all that, he still has faith in his players, who were so great just a year ago.
He said, “There were a number of guys that did it and they would tell you. They know, look it, they know. And, I have all the faith in the world they’ll get it ironed out, squared away.”