The New York Giants hired Don “Wink” Martindale as their defensive coordinator under new head coach Brian Daboll. Martindale was brilliant in Baltimore from 2018 to 2020, but the Raven’s 2021 season was problematic due to several injuries in the secondary.
Martindale runs an attacking/aggressive defense akin to Rex Ryan’s style. Martindale comes from the Buddy Ryan coaching tree, and he believes in exotic pressure packages, crowding the line of scrimmage, and a lot of man coverage on the backend of defenses. These are the Pro Football Focus Ravens’ 2021 coverage percentages:
- Cover 0: 8 percent
- Cover 1: 24 percent
- Cover 2: 6.9 percent
- 2-Man: 2.4 percent
- Cover 3: 29.5 percent
- Quarters: 9.6 percent
- Cover 6: 13.6 percent
- Bracket: 0.5 percent
These coverages don’t account for match principles, simulated pressures, or blitz percentage (Ravens’ ranked sixth in blitz percentage in 2021), but it gives us a glimpse into tendencies. The high amounts of Cover 1 and Cover 3 mean Martindale likes to run middle-of-the-field closed (MOFC) looks. In Cover 1 specifically, the defense needs a true centerfield safety with range to assist cornerbacks over the top and cornerbacks in trail technique. The Giants have the perfect player for that in Xavier McKinney.
Some of New York’s current defensive personnel have a chance to thrive in Martindale’s scheme. Martindale and former Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham are excellent defensive minds, but their philosophies are different. Here are five players currently on the Giants’ roster who benefit from the hiring of Martindale.
McKinney has the talent to be successful in various roles, but single-high coverage safeties with range, processing, and an ability to fill in run support are rare - McKinney has these capabilities.
McKinney broke his foot during training camp of his rookie year (2020). He didn’t return to the lineup until Week 12. His playmaking ability jumped off the screen by Week 17 when he played 74-snaps against the Dallas Cowboys. Mckinney had the game-winning interception in the end zone - an interception that could have put the Giants into the post-season, if not for the infamous Nate Sudfeld decision by former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. McKinney also had an interception called back on a Darnay Holmes holding against CeeDee Lamb that seemed inconsequential to the play.
After Week 17 in 2020, it was apparent that McKinney’s potential as a possible single-high safety was real. That was verified throughout the 2021 regular season. McKinney had five interceptions and several pass breakups at the catch point. He takes good angles of attack, baits the quarterback when necessary, and does an excellent job over the top of receivers who release inside the divider line in Cover 1.
Xavier McKinney came away with two huge interceptions against the Raiders.— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) November 8, 2021
McKinney showed impressive traits on both of these plays
McKinney had a significant impact on this 23-16 #Giants win. pic.twitter.com/b8nHYksSYi
McKinney comes away with an interception coming downhill to cover the slot and a pick from the single-high alignment in the second clip.
McKinney is in line to possibly wear the green dot in Martindale’s defense - a responsibility typically bestowed on safeties in his system. If that doesn’t happen this year because of Logan Ryan’s presence, it will eventually happen in time. The sky is the limit for McKinney, and Martindale can give him wings.
Adoree’ Jackson has excellent man coverage ability because he’s an incredible athlete (for an NFL CB), he has solid discipline at the line of scrimmage, and he possesses excellent recovery speed. Jackson missed weeks 13-16 with COVID-19 and a lower-body injury. But, when healthy, he was consistently in phase on film.
According to Pro Football Focus, when analyzing corners who played more than 50 percent of their team’s snaps, Jackson was the fourth-highest ranked cornerback in coverage. He had the 15th-lowest completion percentage rate in that same category at 55.7 percent. He’s a good piece to the Martindale puzzle, as he enters his second year of a three-year contract at only 26 years old. Here are a bunch of plays from 2021 where Jackson shows his unique upside in both man and zone coverage.
Adoree is having a good year for the #Giants.— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) December 3, 2021
.@DanSchneierNFL discuss this often on the #BigBlueBanter podcast
Here's 10 underrated plays from AJ through the season.
✔️recognition of OFF concepts
✔️man coverage near GL
✔️click & close pic.twitter.com/99WIekQOld
Robinson played 268 snaps during his rookie season. He started his time with the Giants injured; he dealt with a core muscle injury and didn’t see the field until Week 8. His film shows his ability to play man coverage at all three levels. Robinson allowed 16 receptions on 28 targets (57 percent completion rate) while only surrendering 153 yards (63 that were YAC).
Like Jackson, Robinson is an outstanding athlete with excellent hip fluidity to assist in effortless transitions. Robinson can play in the slot, in the box, or out wide, and Martindale will more than likely use him in all of those roles at some point. Robinson should be a big part of the defense in 2022.
Martindale loved using outside linebacker packages with Baltimore. He would, at times, use four outside linebackers in passing situations, with all of them aligned on the line. Some would bail, some would blitz, sometimes they all would pressure - it harassed quarterbacks and was unpredictable.
Ojulari figures to be a key part of that strategy in Martindale’s exotic pressure packages. Martindale’s personnel with the Ravens had as many SAM linebackers as possible. A SAM is a “strong side” linebacker that has the strength to anchor down against the run, the ability to drop and cover while also possessing pass rushing upside.
Ojulari has the potential to play SAM. He dropped into coverage 57 times in 2021; he’s solid against the run, albeit he could improve in that area. He was only a rookie last year, so it’s safe to assume he can continue to develop as a run defender and a coverage player. Ojulari’s short-area quickness and explosive nature will help on stunts and slants - something Martindale employs.
The Ravens consistently had a 3-T cross the face of the guard with the OLB bending the edge to force the tackle out wide; this combination would open the B-Gap, due to the alignment of other defenders occupying the attention of the offensive protection. Ojulari has the quick first few steps to get to the tackle’s outside shoulder. His best pass-rushing move (chop/rip/bend) is in that direction, so I expect its usage within the construct of this defense.
Martindale typically looks for OLBs in the 250- to 255-pound range, so Ojulari at 249 with 34½-inch arms meet the criteria of weight and length. He won’t just be a pass-rushing specialist; his game will have to become more comprehensive, but Ojulari could be a significant impact player for New York under Martindale.
Lawrence has rare size at 6-foot-4, 346 pounds, but he’s not just a space-eater. Lawrence can move laterally well, change direction, and shows impressive flexion in his lower half. Like Graham, Martindale uses some ODD front looks. He would align Brandon Williams over the nose and have him eat the A-Gap. Lawrence can do that: hold blockers in place, read and react, allow the linebackers to flow, but Lawrence also has a rare first step for someone of his size.
Martindale can get creative with Lawrence as a penetrator if he so chooses. He can also use Lawrence as a quick hammer on stunts to allow a looper like a second-level defender or even Lenard Williams to come through the desired hole. Lawrence could act as the 3-T mentioned above to help clear the blitz-side guard and center. He could succeed in this defense as both a run defender and a pass-rusher.
I did not list Leonard Williams as one of the five because Williams, in my opinion, can have success in every defense (other than maybe Gregg Williams, of course). Williams will probably slide into the Calais Campbell role - versatile defensive linemen who can wear many hats and fulfill many responsibilities. I’m excited to see what he can do under the tutelage of Martindale.
One Giants’ free agent would be a great fit in Martindale’s scheme. That is, of course, Lorenzo Carter. He is much more of a SAM linebacker than Ojulari, and I won’t be shocked if Martindale makes a strong push to keep Carter as a Giant. Price will be the issue with his retention.
The Giants are entering a new era of defensive football under an aggressive play-caller. The personnel still needs tinkering, and the draft should be an excellent source for new talent. I look forward to seeing Martindale’s vision play out into 2022 and hope he can get the most out of a lot of these younger players.