Articles

Bend Don’t Break Defense: Painful to Watch

By Mike Elwell @SpartanMike96

In 2020, the Giants hired Patrick Graham to take over as the Giants Defensive Coordinator. He replaced James Bettcher, whose tenure was a disappointment. Giants fans did not know what to expect from Graham at first since he was a relative no-name. However, the Giants’ defense is the only unit that is playing at a competitive level as we close out 2021.

For example, the Giants were 30th in points allowed in 2019, before Graham’s arrival. They finished 9th in the same category in 2020.  2021 has been filled with personnel challenges and injuries.

Giants vs Eagles:

Despite the success of the defense in 2020, it’s safe to say that Patrick Graham’s philosophy takes Giants fans on an undesired roller-coaster ride every week with a “Bend Don’t Break” philosophy. This past Sunday, the Giants only allowed 7 points the entire game against the Eagles, who scored 40 points the previous week against the Saints. If you did not watch the Giants-Eagles game, you probably would think the Giant’s defense dominated the entire time. They did not…instead, it was a gut-wrenching back and forth battle.

Although the Giants held the Eagles to 7 points, they gave up 332 yards of offense. Based on statistics from the 2020 NFL season, 332 yards of offense will on average result in 22 offensive points (Based on an NFL average of one point scored per 14.8 yards). In other words, it is absolutely outstanding that the Giants gave up so many yards yet so few points.

Sure, Eagles QB Jalen Hurt and the Eagles receivers made plenty of mistakes that helped the Giants win.

Question still remain:

If the Giants are able to stop opponents in the red zone, can’t they stop opponents earlier in the drive? The most obvious answer is that the Giants defense plays in a Cover 2 defensive base. This means that two safeties are dropped back deep in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks typically play in zone coverage on the sides of the field. Linebacker assignments are generally more dependent on the offensive formation. The zone defense allows for large chunk plays since there are major coverage gaps in the short-to mid-range distance from the offensive line of scrimmage.

While screenplays, tight end cross routes, and quarterback scrambles typically do gain yards against most defenses, opponent offenses can expect massive gains from these plays against the Giants due to a very soft team. But once the Giants opponent gets to the RedZone, it’s a much different story.

The Giants currently rank 8th in red-zone efficiency (lowest amount of touchdowns scored once an opponent is in the red-zone). This is because their defense plays tighter once opponents near the endzone. This is mostly due to the fact that the Giants, like other teams, play tight coverage in the red zone. 

Why Wait Until the Redzone?

The answer is plain and simple. The Giants do not want to allow big plays that lead to touchdowns. Sure, the Giants will give up pass plays that put opponent offenses in the red zone, but rarely do the Giants give up 50-to-70-yard touchdown passes. Perhaps, if the Giants play tighter coverage, there would be more stops early on in drives. However, there would absolutely be more downfield touchdowns. A cornerback tripping could be a death sentence on a play under tight coverage. 

History lessons:

Between 2007 and 2008, the Giants’ defensive coordinator was Steve Spagnuolo. Although Giants fans remember the incredible pass rush the Giants had, they actually were not a blitz-heavy team. They relied on a 4-man rush almost entirely. This is similar to the Giants defense today in that regard.

However, defensive coverage downfield is different. In 2007 cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were usually in man-coverage. The 2007 Giants defense was certainly better than the 2021 Giants defense. However, even back then, the defense would have bad days. The 2007 Giants opened up by giving up 45 points to Dallas, followed by 35 points to Green Bay. There was also a game mid-season where the Giants gave up 41 points to a Tavaris Jackson-led Vikings.

At the End of The Day: 

All in all, as hard as it is to swallow during games, the Giants may have lucked out with Patrick Graham. While it certainly can be frustrating to watch opponents drive up the field with no issue, ranking 12th in points allowed is good enough to compete in the NFL. The Giants’ main issue right now is their abysmal offense.

In fact, if the Giants had a slightly below-average defense, the team might be 1-10 right now. If Patrick Graham is fired at end of the year, it will be because a new GM/HC coach cleaned house.