To the surprise of no one, the New York Giants have elected not to make changes to their starting defensive line for the 2020 season. From left-to-right, it will be Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams. Overall, expectations are low for the Giants defense, but new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham believes the play of this unit will dictate the team’s success this season.
Graham is going to run a 3-4 defense, but he loves using different formations throughout the course of a game. It’s all about keeping an opposing offense off-balanced. However, the defensive line will need to generate a more consistent pass rush before Graham can begin moving his players like chess pieces on the football field.
New York Giants Success Depends on Defensive Line Play
G-Men Trying to Revive Their Pass Rush
It has been no secret for the last two seasons that the Giants pass rush has been non-existent. The lack of production has been very disheartening for long-time Giants fans. They’re very accustomed to having a vaunted pass rush as it was the backbone of the franchise’s four Super Bowl-winning teams.
As a unit, Lawrence, Tomlinson, and Williams can effectively shut down an opponent’s running game. But the jury is still out if this trio can effectively put pressure on a quarterback. Graham hopes the progression seen by this group in training camp will carry over to the regular season.
In the Giants’ first intrasquad scrimmage, Lawrence and Williams were able to get to the quarterback. Granted, their work came against a revamped offensive line, but both players showed power and speed coming off the snap of the football. It gave hope that Lawrence and Williams appear poised to have a breakout season. But the narrative won’t change until production is seen in actual games.
Giants Defensive Line Transforming Themselves Into Pass-Rushers
Lawrence came into training camp in better shape as he appears to have transformed himself into an every-down NFL defender. The slim-down look allows him to line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. To become a better pass-rusher, Lawrence must be quicker through the gaps and make his presence known in the opponent’s backfield. The spotlight might not be shining on Lawrence at the moment, but he could cast the biggest shadow before season’s end.
Tomlinson has been nothing short of being sensational in his three seasons with the Giants. He has shown great discipline as an interior lineman. Often, Tomlinson is taking on two blockers that frees up an inside linebacker to fill the gap and make a tackle. He is a coach’s dream as Tomlinson just goes out and executes the game plan to near perfection each week. And if you wonder what his teammates think of him, Tomlinson was voted as one of the team’s six captains for the 2020 season.
The biggest gamble on the Giants roster is Williams as the franchise will pay him $16.1 million this season. That is a huge financial commitment for a defensive lineman who recorded only a half of a sack in 15 games last season. No question that Williams is an outstanding run-stuffer, but he struggles to put consistent pressure on the quarterback.
The Giants are willing to roll the dice on Williams because he is young (26) and there is still time on the clock for him to become a more complete defensive end. However, that only occurs if Williams can utilize his entire skill-set. The time is now for him to put it all together because a one-dimensional player like himself should never garner a salary of this nature.
Crucial Year for McIntosh and Hill
One of the most underrated aspects of the defensive line unit is the backup performers. None (R.J. McIntosh, BJ Hill, and Austin Johnson) are stars, but each player will play a significant role in the unit’s success. 2020 is a crucial year for McIntosh and Hill as both must show they aren’t the weak link of the unit. This is done by exceeding everyone’s expectations.
McIntosh has never settled into a definitive role on the Giants defensive line. His development was hindered when he missed the first 16 practices of his rookie season due to a thyroid condition. You get the feeling that McIntosh has been playing catch up ever since.
Hill had an outstanding (5.5 sacks in 12 starts) rookie campaign. However, the 2018 third-round draft pick seemed lost and out of sync in last season’s scheme. The inconsistency was puzzling to all. No question, Hill has the potential to rebound from his struggles and become a designated pass-rusher in Graham’s defense.
It’s well-documented how poorly the Giants defense has played of late. If improvement is to be gained in 2020, then it must start with the defensive line. However, their success will be less defined on how they play the run and more on the frequency of pressure put on the quarterback.
Collectivity, Williams, Tomlinson, and Lawrence seemed to have gained enough experience, now it’s time to execute on the field.