There aren’t many silver linings to be found in the New York Giants’ 19-3 embarrassment of a game against the Dallas Cowboys. But those that do exist were on the defensive side of the ball. For all their now long-standing offensive ineptitude, the Giants do indeed have a championship-caliber defense. That defense may even have gotten better with the emergence of linebacker B.J. Goodson.
It was almost three years ago that linebacker Jameel McClain humorously shouted to Tony Romo that, contrary to the quarterback’s audibles, he (McClain) was NOT the MIKE.
The Giants have searched for a middle linebacker (MIKE) since Antonio Pierce’s career was ended by a neck injury. They thought they had a replacement on the roster with Jonathan Goff, but his career was promptly ended by a knee injury. Chase Blackburn proved to be a serviceable — but limited — player for them, but they still couldn’t find a long-term answer.
Jerry Reese might have found that in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft with B.J. Goodson of Clemson.
Only starting one year, and without eye-popping athleticism, Goodson was regarded as something of an unknown quantity in that year’s draft and that was part of the reason why he slipped to the third day.
Goodson only played 13 snaps on defense in his rookie year, but the Giants expressed confidence in him heading in to his sophomore season. Goodson took over the starting job and has (thus far) vindicated the team’s faith in him.
Monday marked his first real extended NFL action and, small sample-size aside, he looked like the legitimate starter for whom the Giants have been searching.
The raw numbers are impressive, with Goodson playing 73 of the Giants’ 74 defensive snaps in his first action and amassing a ridiculous 18 total tackles. But, how well did he play?
Several of those tackles were in pursuit, but others flashed the instincts and physicality that has the Giants’ excited for the young second-year player.
This is supposed to be the strength of Goodson’s game, with his ability to stack and shed blocks praised by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. Let’s see it in action.
For our first play we have an interesting blocking concept from the Cowboys that the Giants quickly diagnose and blow up. This is basically an off-tackle counter run, with both guards getting out and pulling.
The Giants’ defensive line is stout at the point of attack, particularly on the (defensive) left side. There, rookie defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson stands up and pushes back right tackle La’El Collins, slowing down both left guard Chaz Green and Ezekiel Elliott as they ran to the edge. Jason Pierre-Paul controls Jason Witten’s block while Landon Collins does good enough against Zack Martin.
Jonathan Casillas and Goodson recognize the run immediately, and don’t hesitate to go attack the outside gap. Casillas takes on Green, blowing up his block and forcing Elliott back inside. Unfortunately for him, Goodson is right behind Casillas and lays a big hit on the Cowboys’ running back to limit the gain to just three yards.
The play shows off Goodson’s ability to diagnose plays and play with physicality.
This is a simple outside zone run, and while it’s the bread and butter of the Cowboys’ offense, I want to talk about the Giants’ linebackers.
Casillas gets the credit for the tackle of Alfred Morris, but it was set up by Goodson and Devon Kennard.
Kennard does a great job of dealing with right tackle La’El Collins. First Kennard controls his block to set a hard edge and force the play inside, then sheds him to help with the tackle.
Goodson wastes no time diagnosing the run and easily navigates the trash at the line of scrimmage. His prize for quickly and efficiently getting to his gap is having to deal with Zack Martin, the Cowboys’ All-Pro guard. Goodson makes short work of him on this play, uncoiling his hips and delivering a hard shot that drops the guard to the ground. The combined efforts of Goodson and Kennard give Morris nowhere to run and he is tackled from behind by Casillas.
Run defense is the foundation of the Giants’ front seven, but what Steve Spagnuolo’s defense really needs to play at its highest level is a true three-down linebacker to command it.
The NFL is all about sub-packages and match-ups, and if a linebacker wants to stay on the field, he has to be able to cover in the passing game.
This is a clip the Giants have seen all too often from Jason Witten — the future Hall of Fame tight end exploiting zone coverage for a quick gain.
Goodson makes a shallow drop into coverage, keeping his eyes in the backfield to clue him as to the route being run. With the Giants playing with two deep safeties, he has to guard against a potential seam route. Once he recognizes the out-route, he wastes no time making up the ground and securing the tackle.
This is a pretty routine play, but giving up just six yards to Witten is an acceptable outcome.
Here we have basically the same play but from later in the game. Instead of running a 6-yard out route, Witten runs a quick comeback route. But this time Goodson recognizes the play immediately and wastes no time in coming over to the hash mark to cover Witten. His reactions are so fast that he actually gets there as the ball does and was able to wrap up Witten and prevent any yards after the catch.
It has only been one game, and that isn’t nearly enough to go naming Goodson the future of the Giants’ linebacking corps. However, the Cowboys are definitely a tough draw for his debut as a starter. Their formidable offensive line and weapons attacking the middle of the field stress seasoned starters. Goodson comported himself well and it should give the defense confidence heading into their Week 2 game against the Detroit Lions.