The New York Giants started their 2022 season with a preseason 23-21 victory over the New England Patriots. New England did not play its starters, but the Giants dressed most of their primary contributors for two drives, which meant the first sighting of No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux against another team.
According to Pro Football Focus, Thibodeaux played 14 defensive snaps. His only statistic was an assisted tackle, but there are details that we can glean from his brief inaugural NFL experience on Thursday night. Here are all of his plays against the Patriots:
All of Kayvon Thibodeaux's snaps from last night— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 12, 2022
Number 5 on the left side of screen pic.twitter.com/lhCNGlCm6g
I wanted to highlight five of Thibodeaux’s snaps and break down his responsibilities, technique, and the result of the play.
Kayvon Thibodeaux is No. 5 (mostly on the left side of the screen)
The Patriots motioned a wide receiver to the closed side of the formation (away from Thibodeaux) in an 11-personnel package. The run is away from Thibodeaux, but the fifth overall pick is isolated against Justin Herron (75). Herron leans and fails to bring his feet with him upon contact. Thibodeaux does a good job fitting his hands on the breastplate, staying low, and keeping a strong wide base. Herron attempts to position himself between Thibodeaux and the run, but the former Oregon Duck anticipates the lean and quickly disengages from the poor block attempt.
Thibodeaux’s hands are very quick and efficient here. He sees through the blocking attempt, stays calm, and easily sheds to help the defense out from the backside.
There’s nothing too crazy about his play; Thibodeaux is unblocked against a stretch-zone type of run. Defenders have to be disciplined with their run fits against these zone runs that exploit aggressiveness and over-pursuit. Thibodeaux stays to the outside and doesn’t lose contain; he watches the mesh point and flashes his eyes at Brian Hoyer (5) to ensure the quarterback doesn’t have the football. He waits for the running back to commit to his hole before crashing down and picking up an assisted tackle.
Here’s the first play of the game for the Giants’ defense. Hoyer was quickly getting the football out of his hand all game. Herron does a good job aggressively setting and framing his block against Thibodeaux. The young pass rusher’s speed outside will force offensive tackles to compensate which could set up inside countermoves. Herron gets to Thibodeaux’s outside shoulder, so Thibodeaux presses the inside shoulder of Herron and attempts to use power to penetrate. The tackle concedes some ground but does a good job readjusting his feet/hips, anchoring down, and positioning himself in a manner to control Thibodeaux.
Herron quickly gets out of his stance and 45-degree sets Thibodeaux. The Patriots’ backup tackle gets aggressive with an outside hand punch that Thibodeaux anticipated; if we look closely, Herron doesn’t land the outside hand, and Thibodeaux side steps and makes firm contact on Herron’s breastplate with his outside hand. The tackle quickly gets his inside hand on Thibodeaux to halt the potential danger, but the young pass rusher disengages with a swat. Thibodeaux appears poised to go inside until Herron steps in that direction which is when Thibodeaux dips the inside shoulder and bends the edge through contact. It takes a bit too long for Thibodeaux to win the edge, and Herron did enough to slow him down.
End man on the line of scrimmage, top of the screen
Thibodeaux will be most effective in pinning his ears back and rushing the passer. However, Wink Martindale’s defense is predicated on deception and he uses simulated pressures to disguise and manipulate protection packages. The Patriots motion No. 82 towards Thibodeaux which may - or may not - have prompted a switch in pressure. Nevertheless, Thibodeaux doesn’t bring pressure and he sticks to the tight end’s hip before fluidly pivoting inside once he realizes the screen. The Giants defenders mostly dropped towards the receiving threat, leaving the screen open to the backside, but the takeaway is Thibodeaux dropping into coverage.
Thibodeaux dropped into coverage 98 times in college - 37 last year. He is a fluid athlete who can drop, and he will do so a handful (or slightly less) of times a game. Tyus Bowser was a SAM OLB for Martindale’s defense last season; it’s a similar projected role to Thibodeaux, albeit Martindale’s defense is fluid and the roles won’t be so structured. Bowser had 40 pressures and eight sacks; he dropped into coverage 218 times. Thibodeaux is too gifted at pressuring the quarterback to drop him into coverage that many times. He’ll likely drop into coverage in a similar manner to Odafe Oweh, who was used in coverage 26 times. It’s projection, but it makes sense to scheme disguised pressure by taking advantage of the offense’s attention that will be geared towards Thibodeaux’s ability to harass opposing offensive tackles.
Thibodeaux did not dominate with highlight reel plays in his first preseason experience, but he was fine. He was in position, showed discipline, reacted/adapted well, and he displayed his quickness. I wouldn’t look too much into the lack of “production” in the two series that he played. The battle between edge defenders and offensive tackles is partly a mental and physical chess game that plays out over four quarters and not 14 plays with mostly quick-hitting passes.