Analytics-drive studies of NFL defenses increasingly push the idea that pass coverage rather than pass rush is more important when it comes to slowing down opposing passing attacks.
It’s an idea that Dan Pizzuta looked at in trying to determine why the New England Patriots, with the same number of sacks as the New York Giants in 2018, had a better defense and won a Super Bowl while the Giants went 5-11 and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Pro Football Focus, originator of the content linked to in the opening paragraph, says coverage over pass rush is an idea that “seems to upend everything we think we know about football.”
The Giants, with old-school GM Dave Gettleman, would seem to be a team that would value pass rush over pass coverage. That has been the Giants’ way since the days of George Young as general manager.
Yet, whether they intended for it to happen or the value on the 2019 draft board just caused it to happen, the Giants in 2019 look like a poster child for the “pass coverage over pass rush” philosophy.
Let’s look at how the Giants might utilize all of their young cornerbacks and what the keys to success or failure will be.
Projected Depth Chart
Starters: Janoris Jenkins, DeAndre Baker, Grant Haley (slot)
Reserves: Sam Beal, Julian Love, Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett, Corey Ballentine, Henre’ Toliver, Ronald Zamort
Beal, Baker, Ballentine, Love, Zamort and Toliver are all players who do not have a single regular-season snap of NFL experience. As many as four of them could be on the season-opening roster. Haley, an undrafted free agent, has all of 10 games of experience.
The only cornerback with more than cursory NFL experience who is certain to make the roster is Jenkins, the seven-year veteran. Should the Giants’ season go south quickly it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not Jenkins, with all of the guaranteed money paid on his five-year, $62.5 million contract, will finish the season as a Giant.
What does it all mean? In my view, it means there is a lot of young talent to be excited about. How that talent will develop, and how many costly mistakes might be made while the Giants figure out which of their young corners they can actually depend on, is worth fretting over.
The Giants are relying on Jenkins to mentor the youngsters, but the 30-year-old is coming off a poor season in which his 109.3 passer rating against was third-worst in the NFL among 23 corners who played 555 or more coverage snaps and at times in the past has had his effort and attitude questioned.
The Giants went all in on Baker, giving up picks No. 37 (second-round), No. 132 (fourth-round) and No. 142 (fifth-round) for pick No. 30 to choose Baker. Defensive backs coach Everett Withers said Baker is “talented enough to go over there and be a factor over there opposite Janoris.” Baker did have a good spring and could emerge as an excellent player, but he remains a question mark until he proves his mettle in games that count.
Beal, after a year on IR, profiles as the third corner. Love and Haley are in a competition for the role of primary slot corner. The view here is that Love should eventually win that competition.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants fill out the depth chart. Could Ballentine end up on the practice squad? Will they keep Hamilton for special teams? Will Lippett, a former starter with the Miami Dolphins now fully recovered from an Achilles injury, be kept for depth? Could someone like Toliver or Zamort surprise and earn a spot?
There are, right now, far more questions than answers with the Giants’ cornerbacks.