The New York Giants closed out a second consecutive season with more than 11 losses with their loss against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. By head coach Pat Shurmur was fired, while general manager Dave Gettleman retained his job. Giants ownership must once again evaluate their roster and decide which players are talented enough to be part of the future. But, if John Mara and Steve Tisch are serious about restoring Big Blue’s glory days, they must make one important move. The defense must be fixed. The New York Giants defense must switch back to the 4-3 scheme next season.
New York Giants Defense Must Return to a 4-3
Gettleman and defensive coordinator James Bettcher vowed to improve the Giants defense. But, in his first year (2018) as Giants coordinator, Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme ranked near the bottom of the league. The Giants decided to bring in players from the Arizona Cardinals who were familiar with the coordinator’s playbook since Bettcher’s defense ranked in the top 10 for three consecutive seasons while he was with the Cardinals (2015-2017).
That defensive unit was led by All-Pros Chandler Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, and Patrick Peterson. This Giants roster does not compare. The acquisitions of former Cardinals Markus Golden, Antoine Bethea, Olsen Pierre, and Deone Bucannon have not paid off. Plus, the team’s reliance on Cardinals veterans has stunted the development of the team’s younger defenders.
Ronde Barber, now an analyst for FOX, who played in a 3-4 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told the New York Post in November, “The structure of the defense was the same there [Cardinals] as it is right now.” “It’s year two and you expect a lot of the players to take [a step]. To a degree they have, but they don’t have the players they had there. The simplest answer is it’s personnel driven.”
The Giants Defense Doesn’t Measure Up
Markus Golden will finish this season with double-digit sacks, but he will be the only Giants defensive player with six or more sacks for the year. That’s a far cry from the rotation of defensive ends from the Coughlin era. Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Jason Pierre-Paul contributed to the Giants 4-3 “NASCAR” pass rush during the last decade. For instance, Tuck and Umenyiora had double-digit sack totals during the 2007-08 Super Bowl year. Strahan, during his last season before retirement, added nine. The Giants were a terror to quarterbacks all season while running the 4-3.
True, Big Blue has successfully run a 3-4 defense in its history. Bill Belichick ran his 3-4 scheme as Giants defensive coordinator in the ’80s and early ’90s. But those Giants defenses featured Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Pepper Johnson, among others. The current Big Blue linebackers are not Pro-Bowl caliber and the organization has failed to develop their next “LT.” But the good news is there’s enough talent for the core of a solid defense, with upgrades. Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, Oshane Ximines, and Lorenzo Carter would benefit from playing in a 4-3 scheme.
The Best Formation
When the Giants traded Olivier Vernon to the Browns in the off-season, they pinned their pass rush hopes on second-year defensive lineman Lorenzo Carter. In Bettcher’s 3-4, Carter plays weak-side linebacker as an edge rusher. But in 2019 he had only 4.5 sacks.
SI.com wrote in October, “at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Carter sure looks the part of an edge rusher, but he’s missing three crucial outside linebacker skills: He has no bull rush, he cannot bend the corner, and he’s not physical.” Bart Scott, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and current broadcaster on WFAN, compared Carter to Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. In a revamped 4-3 scheme, Carter could be a more effective “WILL” linebacker and won’t be a liability in coverage. The remaining starting linebackers should be Ryan Connelly at middle linebacker, and Golden as the “SAM” linebacker.
Upfront Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson have the potential to make a dynamic defensive tackle duo. Between them, they had six sacks and can shut down the running game. Oshane Ximines should be allowed to compete for a starting defensive end spot during next year’s training camp. Ximines played the position at Old Dominion and had 11.5 sacks as a senior. This season, he had 4.5 sacks as a Giants situational pass rusher. Dave Gettleman may have acquired former Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams to be a foundation piece of the defense, but he’s not a game changer. The Giants should allow Williams to become a free agent.
Big Ticket Item
With their win over the Washington Redskins in Week 16, the Giants most likely lost the chance to draft Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. As a result, Big Blue should use a portion of its estimated $63 million in cap space to acquire a dominant edge rusher. The free agents to watch in the off-season are Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquil Barrett, and Yannick Ngakoue.
A revamped front seven would take pressure off of the Giants young secondary. But between Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine, Deandre Baker, and Sam Beal, there’s the start of the next Legion of Boom. The New York Giants returning to a 4-3 scheme next season could help that unit improve.