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Have the Giants improved their defensive front seven?

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The Giants have been very active in remaking their front seven, but does that mean they’ve improved?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants have gone through tremendous changes over the last five months. A new general manager has been hired, and he in turn hired a new head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and special teams coordinator.

To remake the roster to fit the new philosophies, the Giants have been very active in free agency and their draft has been well regarded.

But, to quote coach John Wooden, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” So we wanted to use this relatively quiet period in the NFL calendar to take a deeper look at the Giants’ roster as it stands now and see if they have really gotten better.

Defensive Line (base)

2017 - Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Olivier Vernon

Backups - Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, Robert Thomas, Jay Bromley, Avery Moss

2018 - Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, Kareem Martin

Backups - Romeo Okwawra, Kerry Wynn B.J. Hill, Robert Thomas, Josh Mauro, R.J. McIntosh

Linebackers (base)

2017 - Devon Kennard (SAM), B.J. Goodson (MIKE), Jonathan Casillas (WILL)

Backups - Keenan Robinson, Mark Herzlich, Calvin Munson, Curtis Grant

2018 - Olivier Vernon (OLB), Alec Ogletree (ILB), B.J. Goodson (ILB), Lorenzo Carter (OLB)

Backups - Avery Moss, Mark Herzlich, Curtis Grant, Calvin Munson

Raptor’s Thoughts

There are has been a lot of movement among the Giants’ front seven over the previous five (or so) months. The most noticeable difference is the move from a 4-3 (under) base defense to a one-gap 3-4 defense.

But while that is the difference that is most talked about by fans, it might just be a difference without a distinction. At their cores, there is very little difference between a 4-3 under front and a 1-gap 3-4 front.

4-3 Under

1-Gap 3-4

In both fronts, there are (generally) five players attacking downhill, and the majority of them are attacking a single gap. The primary difference is simply how many players have their hands on the ground. And given that nickel packages (which generally feature four down linemen) are played a majority of snaps, and James Bettcher’s defense frequently uses two or even one down lineman, it’s almost pointless to get caught up in.

The personnel changes, however, are another matter entirely.

The biggest change up front is that neither Jason Pierre-Paul nor Olivier Vernon are counted among the defensive linemen. JPP because he was traded to Tampa Bay, and Vernon because he has been moved to outside linebacker in a “Chandler Jones” role. The fact that the defensive line still features Snacks Harrison and Tomlinson suggests that it will remain stout. Harrison is, simply put, the best nose tackle in the NFL, and Tomlinson was the best rookie defensive tackle in 2017.

The linebacking corps looks much improved over the 2017 iteration. Moving Vernon, adding Ogletree, and drafting Carter represents a much-needed infusion of talent. The depth at the position is still scary, but the top of the depth chart is almost completely transformed from the 2017 version.

The biggest mystery of it all, to me, is how Kareem Martin and Romeo Okwara will be used. Physically, they are very similar to Wynn, Mauro, and McIntosh, all five of whom measure roughly 6 feet, 5 inches, and 270 pounds and possess limited movement skills and flexibility. To me, that suggests they should be 5 or 7 - technique defensive ends (depending on a particular play’s package and alignment). However, they both practiced with the linebackers in the Giants’ voluntary mini-camp. It remains to be seen whether that is just a trial by the coaches as they prepare for training camp and pre-season or if it will be the normal state of things in the new defense.

Or, perhaps, they will be “rovers” who play different alignments based on down, distance, and package. It’s something to keep an eye on as the defense takes shape over the coming months.

But as for the original premise of this post: Has the Giants front seven gotten better?

To that I would offer cautious optimism. James Bettcher consistently produced strong defenses in Arizona and the new defensive scheme should allow the linebacking corps to play faster and more aggressively. No position was weakened, and while Devon Kennard and Jason Pierre-Paul are both talented players, more talent was added than left.

Hopefully the Giants’ defensive front will once again be a unit that is feared.