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Giants’ pass rush: Better or worse than last season?

There appears to be more depth, but can the Giants be more productive getting to opposing quarterbacks?

Markus Golden

With Markus Golden back in the fold, the New York Giants’ new pass rush looks a lot like the Giants’ old pass rush.

That pass rush, of course, wasn’t good enough. The Giants finished 22nd in the league in total sacks with 36 and sack percentage (6.08). As a whole, Pro Football Focus graded the Giants 25th in pass rush last season. That contributed to the Giants being 30th in the league in takeaways.

We recently did a position-by-position “better or worse” series. Let’s apply the same standard to the pass rush, which can involve a multitude of positions on any given play.

Why the Giants could be better

Believing the Giants will be better rushing the passer in 2020 than they were in 2019 requires a leap of faith. It takes believing that some positive combination of the following will happen:

  • Golden, coming off a 10-sack season, makes the Giants’ rare use of the unrestricted free agent tender, pay off with another solid season.

“I know one thing I’m going to do and that’s come out and compete. I’m going to come out and compete. This offseason I worked really hard to get better. I’m working hard in these workouts to get better and that’s what I am going to do every day,” Golden said while refusing to put any expectations on his performance. “At the end of the day, it’s football. You are going to pad up, you are going to put your helmet on, go out there and go to war, that’s what football is. I look forward to getting out there and competing, that’s what I do. I look forward to getting out there and competing.”

  • Edge defender Kyler Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks in 2018 but only 6.0 in his other three NFL seasons, plays closer to the 2018 version of himself.
  • Lorenzo Carter makes a Year 3 leap that many were hoping for last season, finally turning his incredible physical tools into matching production.
  • Oshane Ximines, who flashed as a rookie with 4.5 sacks and 25 pressures in 269 pass-rush snaps, takes a step forward.

They’re working hard. Zo and X work hard, that’s all those guys do,” Golden said of Carter and Ximines earlier in the week. “Since they were young last year, they have always been working hard. You have to respect those guys and the work they put in.

“Me, myself, I expect big things from them. I know they are working hard. They expect things from themselves, but at the end of the day it’s another year in the league and you can always come back better.”

  • Leonard Williams, who had the highest Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade among Giants’ front-seven players, highest pass-rush productivity rating among the down linemen, and finished third on the team in pressures with 31 despite playing only eight games and getting only a half-sack, can turn some of his near-misses into big plays.

“He’s a big body who has athleticism, plays with his hands, affects the passer and plays in the run game. He can move up and down the line, so right there is a big smile that comes on my face when you are dealing with someone like that,” said new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. “You can’t wait to get your hands on him and just get out to the field and see what he can do and be able to coach him. I’m excited to be around him and work with him.”

  • Dexter Lawrence, a guy the Giants believe can be a pass-rush presence despite being a 342-pound defensive tackle,
  • Graham can find ways to generate pass rush by creating advantageous matchups or free runners to the quarterback with his pressure schemes.

Right now, Graham is just trying to learn what his players can do, a process he admitted will take some “trial and error.”

“They all have unique skills sets. We have to figure out, is this guy a better rusher if we stand him up on the inside, is he a better rusher on the outside, is he better on the left, is he better from the right. I think it’s going to be some trial and error and getting everybody on the same page. Trying different packages, different schemes and seeing how it plays out,” Graham said. “Whether it’s going to be a rotation or not, it’s too early to even talk about that stuff right now. Everybody is going to get an equal opportunity and whoever ends being out there, it’s going to be based on they earned it during camp. It’s going to be interesting and it’s going to be fun to work with these guys.”

  • Carter Coughlin or Cam Brown give the Giants more than they should probably expect from rookie late-round picks.

Why the Giants could be worse?

This is a “what if?” exercise.

  • What if Golden, an incredibly hard worker and competitor, can’t equal or exceed last season’s production?
  • What if the “real” Fackrell is the one who has shown up every season of his career except 2018.
  • What if Carter and Ximines don’t take steps forward as pass rushers?
  • What if Lawrence doesn’t develop as a pass rusher?
  • What if Williams is what he’s been the past few seasons? That being a guy who just doesn’t make many plays on his own.
  • What if Graham, with such limited exposure to his players, can’t figure out how to maximize the players he has?

Final thoughts

I am optimistic. The return of Golden. The idea that I think the Giants will get more production from Williams, Ximines and Lawrence. The idea that Graham doesn’t seem likely to get married to one way of playing.

I think this is going to take time. It’s not going to be easy. The Giants want to be versatile, but they haven’t yet had a chance to really evaluate what their players can and can’t do. It’s not fair to ask Graham to have the skill sets of each of his players pegged by mid-September. Not when they haven’t held a padded practice yet.

Graham, who seems like a cerebral sort, said Tuesday it will be “interesting” figuring it all out. It certainly will be.

I think in the end, though, that the pass rush will be more effective than it was a season ago.