When Steve Spagnuolo left the New York Giants after the 2008 season to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams (then in St. Louis), he had the reputation of a flexible defensive mastermind who would never shy away from attacking an offense.
A bad run on a St. Louis team that is still looking to rebuild, and a disastrous season as the defensive coordinator of a New Orleans Saints team that was almost utterly bereft of talent and suffering a leadership void after the punishment for “Bounty Gate” almost destroyed Spags’ reputation.
His first season back with the Giants, a season where the defense was wracked by injury, did little to help restore the luster. But the Giants stuck with him and made a major investment in the talent on that side of the ball.
“If we were going down, we were going down swinging.” Spags said, “Well, the guys did a nice job executing it. I don’t think that is always the thing to do, to be quite honest with you, because you can overdo it. To the Eagles’ credit, the second to last play, they were trying to sneak Sproles out and because the players were as aggressive as they were, JC [Jonathan Casillas] got there before Wentz could get it out. Otherwise, they are going to look like they made the right call, so it was the guys executing. But when we do that, it is to make the quarterback make the mistake or throw it quick. We can’t put all kinds of pressure on our coverage guys to be hanging back there too long and on that particular play, they did. I was happy for Trev for that, he won that down. We got a little bit of pressure on them and that was the guy they were going to, but he won it because he was inside leverage, he was where he was supposed to be, it forced the ball to go a little higher than they really wanted to and it went incomplete, so it was good to see.”
When fans see that kind of aggressive play be successful, the question always bubbles up ‘Why don’t they do it more?’ Well, Spags has an answer for them.
“I think the ones that are forgotten are when we do blitz and it all gets picked up and it ends up being a pretty good play for the offense because again, no matter who you have out there covering, you can only cover for so long against these guys, and teams are smart. The really good quarterbacks will see things coming, get rid of it, sometimes they can turn into big plays for the offense. You have to pick your spots and that is what we have been doing, but we would like to do it as much as we can.”
The other major story line to come out of the Eagles game for the defense was the poor play of rookie corner Eli Apple. Spags explained that Apple wasn’t benched, and he is bouncing back. “[Apple is responding] Really good and I wouldn’t call it a benching. As a matter of fact, he was struggling a little bit, we went over and said, ‘Look, let’s just take a series off and see what happens.’ Then our guys just got in a groove and we just kind of left it like that, but no one has lost confidence in Eli. He is a good football player and he will bounce back.
“I am a big Eli Apple fan. I have said that from the beginning. He is going to help us win football games, he has – I talked with him two weeks ago and told him that one of the things in this business when you are a young guy is that you have to make sure that your body is all right. He has had the unfortunate experience, he has been up and down, like he has practiced and then he hasn’t practiced. He hasn’t built the calluses to get through a season like this, so he is struggling a little bit with that. But he is going to be fine. He is on the rise, has had a great week of practice. I just watched the tape with the defense of today’s practice and he had a really good day, so I expect him to bounce back.”
He also mentioned that Apple’s role in the defense won’t change going forward.
Speaking about another rookie, fourth-round linebacker B.J. Goodson, Spags said that they are actively looking for situations to get him on the field on defense.
“Well, we want to get B.J. oiled up, just as a football player,” Spags said “I liked him as an aggressive guy, but he is a young guy. Putting him in the middle of the defense is a lot to ask, but if you don’t start to do it and then at some point you have to do it, so we are going to kind of build on that. He has gotten reps here during the week. We are looking for certain situations to slip that particular package in. If we get it, then he is going to get in there again. But we would like to play as many guys as we can. Right now, I think every one of the linebackers that is out there plays more special teams and all of the defensive backs, the D-line is sprinkling in there. We like to try and get Owa and Romeo some more reps as we go. I like to get as many guys playing as possible.”
Spagnuolo also said that the most productive players will play, and gave some insight as to how the Giants make those decisions.
“We do it a little bit differently. Everyone knows stats, you have tackles, assisted tackles, pass break ups, interceptions, we put a point value to each one of those, but what I look at is how many points are they producing based on the number of plays they play. So if a guy plays 100 plays and he has three tackles versus a guy who plays 10 plays who has two tackles, the more productive guy is the 10 plays two tackles. You follow me? So based on that, Landon and Andrew were the most productive guys in this past game.”