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What will Patrick Graham’s New York Giants defense look like?

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Let’s study what he did with the Miami Dolphins to find some clues

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge has wasted little time proving that his display of encouragement at his press conference wasn’t a folly exercise of an overconfident, yet neophyte, leader. Judge preached about the importance of the fundamentals, attention to detail, and how he was looking for staff to inculcate the sport of football to his team, and not just presenters.

Judge chose Patrick Graham for the key spot of defensive coordinator, with reports indicating Graham may also carry the title of assistant head coach. Graham’s defense did not fare well in his one year stint with Miami; the defense finished 32nd in points, 30th in yards, 29th in yards per play, while surrendering the second-most penalty yards and finishing dead last in sacks with 23 on the season (Giants finished 22nd in the latter category with 36). With all of that being said, the team was devoid of talent and it’s thought of as a successful season that they even won five games.

I’ve watched several Dolphins games recently and concluded that under Graham’s direction they ran a majority of middle of the field closed type of defenses (Cover 1, Cover 3, etc), and they were not afraid to bring pressure with 5+, but I would not consider them a high-pressure team. The Dolphins ran a lot of man coverage concepts and employed a defensive front that was multiple. What I mean by that is they would line up on odd/even fronts, with two down linemen as 2-T’s with four linebackers and five defensive backs. They ran 3-3-5, 3-4 base in a predominantly even front (3-T to the strength), along with one down lineman, four linebackers, and six defensive backs in third and long situations. When they did bring pressure they utilized a lot of stunts focused on the middle of the field in the A-gaps. The Dolphins did this with their linebackers and their edge players coming around either one or two defensive linemen that were tasked to clear out the tackle, center, and guard of a particular side of the line of scrimmage:

The Dolphins used a lot of movement on third-and-5-plus (both plays shown above are third-and-5) which would keep the offense on their toes and would disguise their blitz package. The Giants offensive line had trouble handling these types of blitzes that would mess with their communication. In the first clip above, the Dolphins come out with one down lineman as a 3-T with several linebackers and edge players who are constantly moving. The Giants pick up the blitz and the stunt well because Andrew Van Ginkle (43) is a bit late with his get off. The 3-T’s job is to occupy Hernandez and Solder on the left side, while the blitzing linebacker, Sam Eguavoen (49) attacks that A-gap. Van Ginkle was coming from the opposite side to attack the inside shoulder of Nick Gates (65) and possibly pick the center Jon Halapio (75).

This was a three-man pressure with both end men on the line of scrimmage faking the blitz to hold the tackles in place, while the stunts in the middle creating the havoc. It was picked up nicely by the Giants, but I do like the creativity employed with men dropping into underneath zone coverage. The second clip shows the linebacker Jerome Baker (55) go upfield to engage Halapio, allowing the nose and other linebacker can shift towards his side, which created a void in the line of scrimmage that was taken advantage of by Baker who was stunting to that opposite side. With Taco Charlton (86) bull rushing, and the slant from the linebacker and nose, there was a hole for Baker to run at Baker Mayfield. A well designed five-man pressure that features the linebacker going through the A or B gap with slanting linemen, something that Graham loves to run.

Above, you see another staple to Graham’s pressure package. Here we have third-and-5 and third-and-8 situations. Linebacker Trent Harris (97) is lined up in a two-point stance off the line of scrimmage. At the snap, Harris patiently waits for his 3-T and nose, while linebacker Jerome Baker engages the far side guard. Once that happens, Harris explodes laterally to the open A-Gap. I saw this play design several times from Graham: against the Bills, Patriots, Browns, and Giants in games that I watched. The second clip is similar as Charles Harris (90) is in a four-point stance, wide of the tackle. There is a nose tackle and a linebacker lined up in the 3-T area on the outside shoulder of the near side guard. Harris does the same thing — he starts upfield and waits just a bit for his teammates to get upfield, then explodes laterally to the vacant A-gap. The Browns center does a good job recovering and blocking Harris, but Mayfield was hurried and threw the ball away.

Pay attention to Montre Hartage (41) in the first clip. He utilizes a deceptive blitz to hold the tackle and fool the quarterback. In both of these clips, the defenses are moving around like crazy to disguise their intentions, something I love about Graham’s defense. You see Hartage fake that blitz which allows Christian Wilkins (94) to gain an edge on Nate Solder. Hartage then drops into coverage and takes the crosser underneath to force an incompletion. We saw a similar play like this from Jerome Baker in the Giants game where Manning threw into coverage and was intercepted because he didn’t anticipate Baker to be in the middle hook zone because he faked a blitz. The second clip is a six-man pressure, something I didn’t see too much of, where Van Ginkle twists with the 3-T over Hernandez, which creates confusion and isolates Solder and Saquon Barkley against Baker and Eguaveon.

Final thoughts

I like what I see from Graham with the little bit of talent that he had to work with, but his defensive statistics were brutal, so that must be kept in perspective. With that being stated, let’s not misconstrue the fact that he may call a different defense with the Giants. A good coach formulates his game plan and schemes around the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel and I fully expect Graham to do this with the Giants.

Graham lined up with one defensive lineman several times throughout my film study, although it was mostly on third-and-5+. The Giants strength, though, lay in the trenches with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams if he’s resigned. At linebacker, they have the expendable Alec Ogletree and a rookie coming back from a serious injury in Ryan Connelly (crosses fingers for Isaiah Simmons). Graham’s tendencies could change with the personnel difference, but his ideology and the way he calls plays should be similar with stunts/slants to put players in a position to succeed and using two players to occupy three linemen to allow a player a free rush. I expect these things to continue in New York, but he now has more talent at his disposal (and yes there is more talent with the Giants defense than the Dolphins).

I believe the defense needed to be simplified for the youth that is currently starting, and I feel like that will happen with Graham. Simplification is not a bad thing and I hope Graham can do a good job instructing this defense to limit mistakes with communication that led to so many blown coverages in 2019. Time will tell; now, let’s just hope Judge continues to surround these players with teachers that can instruct the reasons why plays are called, so players can see the big picture. Playing assignment, fundamentally, sound football is the goal for Judge, and it’s up to Graham and the staff he assists in assembling to teach these young defensive players what that is all about.