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Giants’ players defend defensive coordinator Wink Martindale

Kayvon Thibodeaux says defense is “the right everything,” and Martindale is a “great coach”

Syndication: The Record
Wink Martindale

Do New York Giants’ defensive players still believe in defensive coordinator Wink Martindale?

Is Martindale the biggest problem on a defense that has underperformed during the first three games of the season?

Could Martindale lose his job if the Giants don’t play better defense during the remainder of the season?

These are some of the questions that landed in this week’s Big Blue View mailbag.

I defended the veteran defensive coordinator in print, calling the idea he can’t coach anymore and should be replaced “ridiculous.”

I also defended Martindale, and other Giants’ assistant coaches, during a recent podcast:

What I think, though, doesn’t matter. In the Giants’ locker room on Friday, I asked a number of defensive players for their thoughts on Martindale. I made clear to each of them the type of questions about the defensive coordinator that had come to the Big Blue View mailbag.

Here is some of what each of the players I was able to speak with one-on-one told me regarding Martindale and the performance of the defense, which is 31st in points and 24th in yards allowed so far in 2023.

Kayvon Thibodeaux

Thibodeaux, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, is in the eye of the storm when it comes to angst over the defense. Is he dropping into coverage too often? Why hasn’t he been more productive when he has had opportunities to rush the passer? Is he going to justify having been selected so early in the draft?

Martindale has always been a vocal supporter of Thibodeaux’s, including on Friday when he said this:

“I think we’re going to be just fine with Kayvon ... There is no panic [with Thibodeaux]. Is there concern? No. I just think he’s a good football player and it’s going to work out.”

On Friday, Thibodeaux went to bat for the coach.

“If I’m being honest he’s a great coach, he’s a great person,” Thibodeaux said. “All these people giving these opinions, do they have a Super Bowl? Wink’s got a Super Bowl. When you talk about is he equipped, is it the right defense, yeah, it’s the right everything.”

The second-year edge defender knows Martindale is in his corner.

“It’s just about knowing football. I would say yes, he’s defending me in the sense that I’m the one being asked about or that they’re questioning him about. I think it’s more of just understanding the game and the situations and circumstances,” Thibodeaux said.

“Granted, I haven’t played to the best that I want to play, that I think I can play, that I know I can play, but I don’t think I haven’t contributed to the game. I’ve played a decent game, but it can always be better. I’m not patting myself on the back by any means.”

Thibodeaux knows Martindale, who has been clear about this, expects more from him.

“He’s not patting me on the back, either. He’s not saying OK you did great, things like that. I think it’s just understanding that things will come,” Thibodeaux said.

“If I wasn’t equipped to do the job he asks me to do I wouldn’t be out there. That’s the truth. I think he believes in me, I believe in us, I believe in the defense, I believe in myself.”

Thibodeaux believes things will get better for the defense.

“Football is a game of life, and I say a game of life because you don’t really know what you’re going to get thrown at or the situation or the circumstances that you’re going to be in,” he said. “We weren’t dealt the best cards this first part of the season but it’s up to us to make the ship go the right course.”

Hear the full audio of my chat with Thibodeaux below:

Bobby Okereke

The 27-year-old linebacker signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Giants in the offseason. He was a big part of the Week 2 comeback vs. the Arizona Cardinals, but has thus far missed 18.5% of his tackle opportunities this season. His previous season-worst missed tackle rate was 7.7% with the Indianapolis Colts in 2021.

“I think Wink’s a great defensive coordinator. He’s a great teacher, a great coach and he has an aggressive mindset. That’s the way he calls the game, and he’s had a lot of success in his career,” Okereke said.

“He coaches with a lot of wisdom, especially for us linebackers just giving us a lot of good nuggets. He’s coached a lot of good linebackers. He’s obviously had a very good career.

“We all love Wink. We love the scheme we’re in. I think it’s just all of us getting a better feel for each other in the scheme so that we can play together more.”

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants blitzed more than 80% of the time in their Week 3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Over three games, the Giants have blitzed 53.1% of the time. Only the Minnesota Vikings (63.0%) have blitzed more often.

“We play aggressively to win. We don’t play passively not to lose,” Okereke said. “We’re going to put the game in the players’ hands, allow us to make plays and aggressively go to win.”

Like Thibodeaux, Okereke believes things will improve.

“Throughout the season you’re going to have adversity, you’re going to have different challenges. You’ve just got to be resilient and keep the faith,” he said. “We all know we’re talented football players, we all work hard. We’ve got great belief, great trust in each other and we’re just going to keep working on the fundamentals and get better every week.”

Micah McFadden

The second-year linebacker leads the Giants in tackles with 26. He has also, though, missed seven tackles (21.2%).

“There’s a lot of plays left on the table,” McFadden said. “That goes throughout our defensive room, for sure.”

In McFadden’s view, that is on the players to fix.

“I think a large part of it falls on the players, right?,” he said. “You can draw up a perfect scheme week to week. That happens all throughout the NFL. There’s a bunch of great coaches and sometimes a team doesn’t perform well, players don’t perform well. That changes on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t think anybody in this building thinks about it in the way that some of those questions might have been asked. I think it’s about how can we collectively all get better and when we are put in position to make a play make the play.”

McFadden said that “without a doubt” he prefers Martindale’s approach.

“I’d rather have it that way than have a passive coach,” he said. “We’re an attacking defense. That’s the mindset. Regardless of who we play that’s how it’s going to be. I think the entire defense likes that aggressive nature.”