The New York Giants defense has not had the season it had hoped it would back in September.
Between a bevy of new players, a number of young players playing crucial roles, and some coaching mistakes, the Giants have struggled with breakdowns. There have also been positive plays and flashes of what they could be, but they haven’t been able to play at that level consistently.
Looking ahead to the Detroit Lions, James Bettcher knows his defense has to get off to a better, more consistent, start than it did against the Arizona Cardinals.
Bettcher said, “It comes down to at the beginning of the game it was first and ten, it’s second and eight, it’s third down, it’s first and ten, it’s second and long, it’s third down. That cycle repeated to another fourth down again, the theme is win on third down and get off the field. I have to call it better, we have to coach it better and we have to win a matchup on one of those early third downs to get off the field.”
But despite the struggles, Bettcher believes the Giants’ defense can get to where it needs to be. “I love coaching this group,” he said. “They love to work, they come in and they are open minded about corrections, they are very self-aware. You have no chance to build anything and get better if guys aren’t self-aware and I love that about this group.”
On Deone Bucannon
The Giants did what many had been expecting this week and signed safety linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon. Bucannon played for James Bettcher from 2015 to 2017 when Bettcher was the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. The two have a history, which includes some great play from Bucannon in Bettcher’s scheme.
Bettcher said about Bucannon, “My history with Buc, the things I know for certain about him, he loves football, he plays fast, he’s a guy that was always much more physical than the frame and the stature of the guy, that’s really what stick out to me. I think just getting him out here the last couple of days, getting back into our system and our scheme, we are able to have some of the conversations reflecting back to Arizona and some of the things we did. He’s working hard and he wants to try to earn some time.”
The Giants hoping that Bucannon will be able to get up to speed quickly and contribute on defense this Sunday against the Lions.
“It’s progressing that way,” Bettcher said. “I think the plan of how much, and what and if he’ll play, that will reveal itself on game day. He’s working his tail off, in terms of that stuff he’s working just like the guy I know.”
Bucannon was the original “moneybacker” in Bettcher’s scheme. He was drafted as a safety in the first round out of Washington State, but his size and physicality translated well to a hybrid linebacker position at the NFL level. That position is actually widespread at the college level (though it’s called a variety of names by different teams) to try and counter the speed and spacing of the Spread and Air Raid offenses.
The position has also become increasingly common at the NFL level as those concepts have crept into the professional game. Bucannon was one of the first, and the Giants hope he will give them a counter to the concepts the Cardinals used to give their defense fits last week.
Bettcher said, “I think that the game has become enough, I don’t want to use the word spread, but horizontal where people space you out, even in bigger personnel groupings. You saw Arizona try to do it one time, they had three tight ends in the game and they had empty. They had a penalty and didn’t get to run what they wanted but they went three tight ends and went empty, that’s the game. The game is big people to go smaller looks and space people out.”
“From a matchup standpoint,” he added, “when things become horizontal, even if you are playing zone defenses, you have to tackle in space and you have to play and manipulate your body in space to play the zones in space. It goes hand in hand, whether you are matching up in man or playing zone defenses.”
On Sam Beal
There has been speculation about cornerback Sam Beal since the Giants bid their 2019 third round pick to acquire him in the the 2018 supplemental draft. At the time the Giants’ secondary was a major question mark behind Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple and Beal was seen as a potentially great addition. The hope was that Apple and Beal could form the core of a future secondary after Jenkins’ time as a Giant was over.
Now Apple is gone and, thanks to a series of injuries, the Giants have yet to see Beal on the field.
But last week the Giants designated Beal for return from the injured reserve, freeing him to return to practice and putting a timer to return to the field or finish the season on the injured reserve. The Giants have yet to commit to when or if Beal will play in a regular season game, but he will be eligible beginning in week 9.
Beal has been practicing with the team since last week and the Giants believe he is making progress. Most importantly, according to Bettcher, is that after a year and a half Beal is finally able to watch himself on tape.
“Young players need as many reps as they can to get on tape,” Bettcher said, “so that you can coach the fundamentals and techniques. Obviously, beyond that is the scheme and the calls, he just needs as many reps of those as he can get.”
Going back to the summer, before Beal’s latest injury further delayed his debut, there was some question which position Beal would play. It was thought that he might be in competition with Grant Haley for the slot corner role. Bettcher confirmed that he is an outside corner and not a slot.
“Sam is going to be an outside corner when he comes back,” Bettcher said. “It’s just going to be a day to day how he progresses, how he is fully healed, not where he’s at.”
“Sam hasn’t practiced a ton, as we know,” he added, “so every day is great for him, every meeting is invaluable for him. He’s been able to watch tape but he hasn’t been able to watch himself on tape and so that’s why the meetings are so important. It’s a great self-evaluation, sit and watch every bit, watch individual, watch his scout team reps, watch his defensive team reps, watch his special teams reps, all those things are key for him to try to build until that decision is made next week.”
Hopefully we will be able to see Beal on a regular season field sooner rather than later.