The New York Giants defense just has not looked good as we turn the page to Week 3 of the 2019 NFL season.
After a disastrous start to the season, James Bettcher and the Giants’ defense will get another chance to begin to right the ship against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Giants open as 7-point road underdogs to the Bucs, with lingering questions about their pass rush and pressing concerns about their defensive secondary.
However, the risk and turnover-prone Buccaneers offense offers the Giants’ defense a chance to build on some positive notes from the second half of Week 2.
By the box scores
Keep O.J. Howard invisible
We should be concerned whenever the Giants’ defense has to match up against a dangerous and athletic tight end. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are going to be the focus of Tampa’s passing attack, but the Giants’ defense would be foolish to ignore the tight end position.
It’s true that O.J. Howard wasn’t a factor in the Bucs’ passing game last week, not even being targeted once. Likewise, the Buffalo Bills had just two receptions on six targets to tight ends, but that had more to do with the ball bouncing off or slipping through rookie TE Dawson Knox’s hands than the Giants’ coverage.
Head coach Bruce Arians has a history of largely ignoring the tight end position in his vertical, receiver-based offense. However, if he is looking for an opponent against whom he can experiment with working athletic tight ends into that scheme, it would likely be the Giants. This game presents an opportunity for the Giants to look at building a track record of being effective against tight ends, but we have also seen how decent players can gash the Giants’ defense on just a handful of targets.
New York can’t trust the opposing head coach to take one of his best players out of the game for them, they’ll have to use whatever wrinkles they have to do it themselves.
Pressure Jameis Winston — Then capitalize!
The marriage of Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston makes sense, and when it became clear that Arians wanted to return to coaching, Tampa Bay was the destination that made sense. Arians is a coach who loves to stretch the field and attack the defense deep. Winston has plenty of arm talent and has never seen a deep route he didn’t want to throw. Mike Evans has been targeted an average of 17.7 yards downfield, Breshad Perriman an average of 15.1 yards downfield, and Chris Godwin 11.1 yards downfield.
This was a match made in YOLO heaven.
But with all the potential rewards of a vertical offense and a gunslinger quarterback, also come some inherent risks. So far this season Winston has more interceptions (3) than he does touchdowns (2), and has been sacked 6 times.
That is good news for a defense for whom the pass rush is a question mark — the Giants created pressure in the second half against the Bills, but didn’t do much in the six quarters before that.
The Giants’ secondary has been a weakness through the first two games and covering Evans and Godwin will be a challenge. But that’s a challenge that can be made easier if the pass rush is able to build on the second half of the game against Buffalo and force Winston to make mistakes. The Giants’ best bet defensively might be to try and contain Evans and Godwin then pounce on any mistakes Winston makes.
They failed to force Josh Allen into making mistakes and giving the ball away and the defense quickly dug itself a hole. They can’t let that happen against Tampa.
The reunion between Arians and Bettcher
This has less to do with any specific X’s and O’s match-up, but more to do with the relationship between Buccaneers’ head coach Bruce Arians, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and Giants’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
These three men know each other extremely well — not just their schemes, but their tendencies and how they think.
Bettcher came in to the NFL in 2012 when the Indianapolis Colts hired him to be their outside linebackers coach. At the time, Arians was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and would go on to be the Colts’ interim head coach while Chuck Pagano battled cancer. Bettcher then followed Arians to the Arizona Cardinals when the latter was hired as head coach in 2013. There Bettcher again coached outside linebackers, this time under DC Todd Bowles. Bettcher helped implement Bowles’ defensive schemes for two years before getting the defensive coordinator job in 2015 when Bowles was hired by the New York Jets. All told, he watched and coached against Arians’ offense and schemes for five years and Arians will have done the same for two.
“Very similar, scheme wise.” Arians said, when asked how similar Bettcher’s defense in New York is to what he coached in Arizona. “I think they are still putting pieces to that puzzle together. I know how well coached they are.”
“I think it takes time, especially for rookies,” Arians added. “We played a couple of rookies and we had some issues in Arizona. It’s an extremely sound system, but it does take some learning curve.”
While the exact game plans and scheme wrinkles will certainly be a surprise for both opponents, this level of familiarity is something we don’t often get to see. We will have to wait and see if any of the coaches can offer insight that will give their team an advantage, but we could see a game that looks more like a throw down between division rivals than two teams which only meet when their schedules line up.