In preparing his 2-6 New York Giants to take on one of the best offenses in the league in the 4-3 Dallas Cowboys, defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s confidence comes from his players’ self-awareness.
“The thing I love about the group is when we come in after a game, our guys are aware,” Bettcher said. “Sometimes it’s hard to overcome adversity when you look at things and you don’t see the facts in them, the truth in them, and the areas that you need individually to get better.”
The Giants enter the Monday Night Football matchup ranked fourth-worst in the league in points allowed with 218 and sixth-worst in points allowed per game with 27.2. But for Bettcher, the emphasis on individual improvement among players in practices is reassuring.
“They’re working on the things individually and we’re being very intentional on improving those things,” Bettcher said. “These guys continue to work extremely hard, they continue to run to things instead of running away from it and pointing fingers. We’ve had two really good days of practice and I think all of us are excited to get to Monday and have a chance to play in front of our home crowd.”
Here are three other takeaways from Bettcher’s post-practice media availability.
Protecting the deep passing game
After a 49-yard touchdown by Marvin Hall of the Lions last week, the Giants are tied with the Green Bay Packers for worst in the league in allowing passing plays of 40 yards or more. Both the Giants and Packers have allowed nine such plays so far this season. The Giants are third-worst in the league in allowing passing plays of over 20 yards with 35.
For Bettcher, the deep passes are the most disappointing part of his defense up to this point.
“The explosive plays because you change two explosive plays a game or one explosive play a game and then all those things that you’re talking about, whatever those numbers are ranked, they all change,” Bettcher said. “And it changes field position, and in close games, which we’ve played some close games, field position is points. Those have to continue to get erased. We all know that and there’s no hiding that, there’s no hiding the emphasis we’re putting on it, there’s no hiding the emphasis. We’re trying as a coaching staff to take the ownership of what those things are and why they’re happening.”
Bettcher said that the solution involves better execution all around and learning from past mistakes, such as Hall’s 49-yard touchdown.
“We have to play more complementary,” Bettcher said. “When something happens in the back end with a guy not doing what he needs to do, there’s guys up front that need to beat someone, and we need to win in one-on-one, and we need to create some pass rush, and I think you see that on Sundays sometimes where someone in the back might not be perfect, but someone up front makes them right. Or vice-versa, someone up front’s not right and someone behind them makes them better.”
The immediate impact of Leonard Williams
The Giants believe that defensive lineman Leonard Williams can make a quick impact on their defense. The 6-foot-5, 302-pound lineman was the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Giants acquired him in a trade with the New York Jets this past week for a 2020 third-round draft choice and a 2021 fifth-round selection that can become a fourth.
“Over the last two years he’s played in two different schemes with the Jets and played nose, played three technique, played five, played on the outside, played over the tight end, so you see the versatility of the player, and he plays hard,” Bettcher said. “He’s gotten here and you can see he’s an extremely hard worker. He gets in here at the beginning of the week, and here I guess we’re three quarters of the way through the week and he’s not making mistakes, he’s locked in on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and he’s working his tail off.”
In his time with the Jets this season, Williams recorded 20 tackles and no sacks. Last year, the five-year veteran racked up five sacks. The Giants are hoping that Williams is able to channel some of last year’s energy and attack the quarterback.
“Sometimes there’s more to rushing the passer than just — we all want the sack number, we all want the quarterback hit number, but there’s something to getting a guy off the spot on the inside and making the quarterback lower his vision and have to move left or right,” Bettcher said. “Whether that counts as a pressure or a quarterback hit or not, you see him doing that on tape.”
Williams will join defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson, second-year B.J. Hill and rookie Dexter Lawrence.
“I think our interior D-linemen are excited to have him with them, too, and those guys have been working well and have been having a lot of great conversations together,” Bettcher said. “It hasn’t at all been an environment where he’s come in and any of our guys have shied away. I think it’s been just the opposite. I think you see guys, they’re circling around each other and having conversations about whether it’s rush or run fits or those kinds of things. So, you can see that from an impact standpoint.”
As soon as Bettcher heard about the potential trade opportunity, he said that he felt excited about the possibilities someone like Williams could add to the Giants defense. In his career, Williams has 240 combined tackles and 17 sacks.
“We have a commitment to keep working to get better in every way we can as a defense, whether that’s coaching, playing, the roster, whatever it is,” Bettcher said. “That just shows you the commitment all the way through to make us a better defense. Tough, physical, plays hard, I think he brings a length aspect, I think he brings an inside quickness aspect for us. He’s running around at practice, he’s working hard in the classroom, outside the building, he’s coming in with questions. He’s really trying to get on the same page and on the same page fast.”
Deandre Baker and Jabrill Peppers
Bettcher also praised the performances of cornerback Deandre Baker and safety Jabrill Peppers. In his rookie year, Baker has recorded 32 tackles, including 25 solo. In his third year in the NFL, Peppers has 53 tackles, one interception, one touchdown and two forced fumbles. Bettcher said that both are part of a defense that is eager to turn things around on the field.
“If you come in our defensive meeting room and you sat with us, you’d feel the same from all of our guys,” Bettcher said. “I think if you’re discouraged, you end up running away from things. I think if you’re upset, if you’re angry, if you’re mad, those are good emotions to have. We just channel them in the right direction. We have to channel them toward the solution, not the problem.”
For Peppers specifically, Bettcher appreciates his physicality.
“He plays extremely hard, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s all those things,” Bettcher said. “Just collectively as a group, we’ve just got to keep working and we’ve got to make the plays that are there to be made for us and not allow one mistake by one person to turn into a 49-yard play. Then, like I said before, on the flip side of it is we have to play complementary. The rush has got to work for the coverage and the coverage has got to work for the rush, and vice-versa.”
As far as Baker’s performance, Bettcher thinks that having played against Dallas during week one of the season will only help prepare him to take on the Cowboys again.
“I think he has played progressively better through the course of the year,” Bettcher said. “I think technique, fundamentals, awareness of splits and spacing on the field, the things in this league that you have to have to be able to not just win the down but to be able to compete on the down, I think he’s doing a better job at all those. I anticipate him playing better, just like the rest of our guys.”