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Big Blue View mailbag: Explaining James Bettcher’s defense, Ryan Connelly, more

The mail’s here!

The Fourth of July is only days away. Still, there is always football to talk about. So, let’s open up the BBV mailbag and see what questions you have about the New York Giants this week.

Andrew Stewart asks: There have been lot of references to James Bettcher’s “system” in articles about the Giants’ defense on the internet. I understand generally that it involves rushing from various formations to disguise blitzes (for example, having defensive linemen rush from a standing position). Could you please explain what the system involves in some more detail? I really would like to understand it better.

Ed says: Andrew, to begin understanding the defense that defensive coordinator James Bettcher employs is to realize that, at its core, it begins with three down linemen instead of the four that the Giants had used for a couple of decades before Bettcher arrived.

As part of our ‘Summer School’ series, Chris Pflum did an outstanding breakdown of what a 3-4 defense — and how it has evolved since the days Bill Parcells ran a 3-4 with Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks. Read that to understand the different types of 3-4 defenses.

Bettcher uses the modern 3-4 approach, which Chris also delved into. In the traditional 3-4, down lineman controlled two gaps in the offense with their job being to occupy blockers so the linebackers could make plays. Modern 3-4 defenses, including Bettcher’s, ask defensive linemen to shoot into one gap, penetrate and cause disruption by getting into the backfield.

The image below from Chris’s post illustrates that:

Bettcher’s defense is pressure reliant, and as coordinator of the defense with the Arizona Cardinals he was known as a guy blitzed creatively, and blitzed often.

SB Nation’s ‘Revenge of the Birds’ used Pro Football Focus data in 2017 to conclude that “The Cardinals are easily the most aggressive team in the NFL when it comes to blitzing.”

That reliance on scheme, on the blitz, to create pass rush is perhaps part of the reason the Giants drafted Dexter Lawrence at No. 17 instead of a pure pass rusher like Montez Sweat. It is undoubtedly part of the reason the Giants drafted so many cornerbacks and revamped their safety spot.

If you are going to be blitz-reliant, which Bettcher is when he has the type of defenders he was successful with in Arizona, you will be asking your cornerbacks and safeties to hold up alone in man-to-man coverage.

I could probably give you a more technical, long-winded explanation of what a “Bettcher scheme” is, but that is pretty much the layman’s explanation and should give you a solid idea.

Thomas Hall asks: I agree with you that we are in the position we’re in because of the terrible Reese drafts, especially in Rounds 3 and later.

Let’s assume for the moment that Jones is a bust, but the Giants hit on most of their subsequent 2019 picks. That event, together with the initial quality of last year’s draft, should give anyone pause before throwing Gettleman off the boat.

Therefore, think it would be useful to analyze Dave Gettleman”s first two drafts in Carolina, especially how he did after Round 3 and how his prior record bodes for the future. Thank you for considering this question.

Ed says: Thomas, let’s be realistic. If Daniel Jones is a bust, Gettleman’s eventual retirement to Cape Cod — where yours truly is vacationing in July, incidentally — will be forced rather than voluntary.

When it comes to drafts, the most important players are the ones selected in the first three rounds. If you don’t get first-, second- and third-round caliber play out of the guys you pick in those rounds the great majority of the time you simply won’t be consistently good.

Day 3 picks are sketchier, and hit far less often. Here is an old chart from Football Perspective that illustrates this. The data is a few years old, but the point remains valid. The deeper you get into the draft the less value, or production, you can expect from a player.

That said, finding a late-round player who exceeds expectations can be a huge benefit. If, for example, the Giants get above average play out of fifth-round picks RJ McIntosh and Darius Slayton or sixth-round pick Corey Ballentine those would be major bonuses.

Pro Football Reference has a metric it uses called ‘Approximate Value,” used — as its name implies — to try and put an approximate value on players. It’d flawed, but can still give us some useful information.

You asked specifically about Gettleman’s late-round picks in 2013 and 2014.

In 2013, Gettleman picked linebacker A.J. Klein in Round 5. Only four players from Round 5 of that draft have a higher career AV.

In 2014, Gettleman chose safety Tre Boston in Round 4. Only six Round 4 picks from that draft have a higher career AV.

To go one further, Gettleman took right tackle Daryl Williams in Round 4 of the 2015 draft. Only four players have a higher career AV despite Williams nearly all of 2018 with a knee injury.

Who knows how Gettleman’s picks with the Giants will develop, but those picks do indicate an ability to find quality Day 3 players.

Bruce Frazer asks: Read another article in the Post about the state of the Giants linebacker position. What is your take on Ryan Connelly, he seems to have received a lot of good press as far as skill level. Is it possible that the Giants might have found a diamond in the rough like they did when they drafted Jessie Armstead? It has been a long time since the team had a “home grown stud” at the linebacker position. Is the next Carl Banks in the building?

Ed says: Bruce, I think it’s way early to go comparing Ryan Connelly to Carl Banks. One was the third overall pick in the draft and had a 12-year career. The other is a fifth-round pick who hasn’t even played in a preseason game yet. So, let’s slow down just a little bit.

That said, linebacker is a question mark for the Giants and Connelly is a potential answer.

In a film study of Connelly Chris opined that the former Wisconsin Badger “will have to rely on his football IQ to secure a spot on the defense.”

We have compared him to Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich, guys who were backup linebackers and special teamers most of their careers with the Giants. A long-time scout, though recently told me that his career could end up more like that of Zach Thomas, who was a five-time All-Pro in a 13-year career. Like with Banks, I’m not going there yet. That same scout predicted that Connelly’s pass coverage skills, not thought of that highly by many analysts, could eventually lead to him taking B.J. Goodson’s job. That I could see.

Chris Laureys asks: People keep talking about whether to play Eli Manning or Daniel Jones as though it’s an either-or proposition. I wonder what your thoughts are on the idea having them share time under center this coming season the way Norm van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield once did for the ‘50s Rams.

I think that each quarterback has skills the other lacks and that together they could be a perfect complement and keep defenses off-balance as a result. Jones brings speed and athleticism that Eli lacks. Eli’s understanding of defenses around the league, the speed of the game, and how to manage a game, are things Jones still needs to develop. So why not alternate the two for a while if/when the season goes south and see what happens? I think having two QBs to game plan for would be very difficult for opposing defenses. Just as it was with Waterfield and Van Brocklin. And if dueling QBs works this year, we could see some combination of it next year that extends Eli’s career while allowing Jones to ease into his.

So what do you think? Am I crazy? Or could it be just crazy enough to work? Also, why is it that no teams have thought to try a true two quarterback system in so long?

Ed says: Chris, I will try to say it nicely. YOU’RE CRAZY! See, told you I would be nice.

Listen, you don’t see two-quarterback systems in the NFL because they don’t work. A team needs to know who it’s on-field leader is, and if you are shuffling two quarterbacks you a) don’t really have a quarterback and b) don’t have a leader of your offense. You just can’t look at a way of doing things that worked 70 or 80 years ago in the NFL and think “yeah, that’ll work.”

There is a limited amount of practice time in the NFL and most teams give almost all regular season practice reps to one guy so that he and the offense are adequately prepared for game day. If you’re splitting reps, neither guy is really getting enough.

I can’t remember the last time something like that actually worked in the NFL. I honestly can’t even remember the last time a team tried it on a large scale.

You see Taysom Hill run some specialty plays with the New Orleans Saints. The Ravens did that a little with Lamar Jackson last year before giving him the job outright. Jones can run, but I don’t think he does it that well for the Giants to implement those types of packages for him.