The New York Giants have started yet another season 0-2. Historically speaking, at this point they should be more concerned with whether they will be drafting in the top 10 than if they are playing in January.
The onus for their record, however, is on the offense, not the defense. Over the first two games, the Giants' defense has given up a paltry 33 points, or just 16.5 per game. If your defense is doing that, it is doing enough to win games in the NFL.
Will the Giants' defense once again do enough to put the offense in position to win this Sunday against the Houston Texans?
Stats at a glance
Rushing yards: 157.5 ypg
Passing yards: 223.5 ypg
Total yards: 381.0 ypg
Points: 18.5 per game
Rushing yards: 137.5 ypg
Passing yards: 164.0 ypg
Total yards: 301.5 ypg
Points: 20.0 per game
Containing Deshaun Watson
The Giants can defend the run when it is the running back who is carrying the ball. Despite some missed tackles, Ezekiel Elliott still only managed 74 yards on the Giants' defense last Sunday. However, the team has been repeatedly gashed by quarterback runs. In Week 1, Blake Bortles picked up 42 yards on four carries against the Giants, and Dak Prescott picked up 45 yards on seven runs this past Sunday.
Deshaun Watson is a talented passer who processes information quickly and can put the ball where he needs to, as well as extend plays and throw on the run. That all makes him dangerous enough, but that same athletic ability also allows him to hurt defenses as a runner. Watson typically scrambles to throw, but he is fully capable of running the read-option or picking up yards on his own when plays break down.
So far this season, Watson has picked up 84 yards on 10 carries. His intelligence, as much as his athletic ability, make him dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Defending the read-option is a tricky proposition. It takes away a defense's natural numbers advantage and forces the defense to slow down. There are schematic ways of countering the read-option, such as forcing a desired read by the quarterback. However, even if they are able to force the read, they must be able to secure the tackle so they aren't allowing chunk plays.
The key for the Giants, both in the run game and in the pass game when Watson tries to scramble, will be discipline.
Replacing Eli Apple?
Eli Apple was part of the questions regarding the Giants' 2018 season, and after a disastrous 2017 season, the questions were understandable.
But the young corner stepped up and answered those questions. First with his words with the media in the off-season, then with his actions on the field in camp.
So far both Bortles and Prescott tried to pick on Apple for long gains, but every time he stepped up and denied them. Through the first game and a half of the season, Apple played up to his draft spot, showing off his physical tools and a poised mastery of his craft that he hadn't possessed before. The third year player finally seemed to be maturing and coming in to his own.
Then he left Sunday night's game with a groin injury, putting his status for Sunday's game in doubt (as of this writing). The loss of Apple could be a significant one for the Giants' defense. Not only is the position thin behind Apple and Janoris Jenkins, but the defensive scheme is built around blitzing out of man coverage.
From a straight matchup perspective, the Giants best chance might be to use Jenkins and Curtis Riley to double-cover DeAndre Hopkins, while using Apple's size and speed to try and lock down the fast but undersized Will Fuller.
If Apple is out, the Giants will likely look to B.W. Webb to cover Fuller, but he doesn't have the physical tools that Apple does.
If the Texans are able to force the Giants out of their defensive scheme to account for the loss of Apple, perhaps by playing two safeties deep to counter both Fuller and Hopkins, it will likely spell trouble for the defense.
Where is the pass rush?
Perhaps the defense's biggest Achilles heel has been their utter lack of a pass rush without Olivier Vernon. Vernon suffered an ankle injury in practice before the fourth preseason game, and has yet to get back on the field. Without Vernon, the Giants have been unable to muster any kind of a pass rush or consistently pressure quarterbacks. When they are able to pressure passers, it is usually through some sort of blitz package, which could be compromised if Apple misses the game.
The best option, obviously, would be for a healthy return by Vernon. The Giants could also stand to get rookie edge rusher Lorenzo Carter more involved with the defense as well. Carter is lightning quick off the snap and has speed that not even Vernon can match, as well as length to engage and defeat blockers first. Carter is still raw and developing as an NFL player -- his incredible athleticism allowed Georgia to use him in a wide variety of roles, but that kept him from developing as a more specialized player might. But despite that, his explosiveness needs to be utilized by the defense, even if Vernon does return.
With the secondary possibly weakened by injury, and Curtis Riley still learning the free safety position, the Giants need to find a way to pressure the quarterback, if at all possible without blitzing. Being able to do so might change the entire complexion of the defense.