The 2021 NFL season has passed the first quarter pole and one of the major disappointments has been the play of the New York Giants defense. You get the impression this situation will not change unless there is a vast upheaval of the team’s defensive philosophy.
Patrick Graham is in his second year as Giants defensive coordinator and drew praise for his work in turning the unit into a very promising group. Graham developed a defense that created havoc in the backfield and challenged quarterbacks with an outstanding man-to-man coverage scheme. What was supposed to be a team strength heading into 2021 has turned into a major deficiency.
The Giants Defense is a Hot Mess
Quite frankly, the Giants defense has been a hot mess. Busted coverage, missed tackles and no penetration into the backfield can best describe the unit’s play this season. Opposing offenses execute their game plan without much of a pushback from the Giants defense.
Currently, the unit is ranked 29th in the NFL. The Giants defense has given up 401 yards per game (264 passing yards and 137 rushing yards) and 171 points in six games played this season. All told, the G-Men made hefty investments in re-signing their top defensive free agent (Leonard Williams) and bringing one of the most desired targets (Adoree Jackson) into the fold. And neither player has played to their potential thus far.
Giants Cannot Generate a Pass Rush
So, what is missing? The Giants defense cannot generate a consistent pass rush. Last season, Graham was creative with blitzes (27 percent of the snaps) as he used every player on the field to get to the quarterback. Often, sending them from all areas of the defensive alignment. The Giants defense sacked the quarterback 40 times with 165 pressures. It earned them a ninth-place finish in the NFL’s final team defense rankings for 2020.
In the first six games, Graham has blitzed (30 percent of the snaps) more than last season. But it has generated only 10 sacks and 40 quarterback pressures. The lack of production has allowed opposing quarterbacks to utilize a “tic-tac-toe” offensive attack against the Giants defense. They systematically go downfield to put points on the scoreboard. Often, gaining large chunks of yards on the ground or through the air.
In their loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Giants generated their best pass rush (two sacks and six quarterback pressures) of the season. Unfortunately, the unit still gave up 38 points that afternoon.
Graham must develop better schemes that generate a consistent pass rush. The goal is to force the quarterback into an errant throw that could be converted into an interception. Through six games, the G-Men have recorded five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. It puts them at -1 differential in the takeaway/giveaway category for the season. Graham must emphasize to his players to get their hands on the football. Hopefully, winning the turnover battle gains some momentum on the Giants sidelines.
Secondary Troubles are Correctable
Are all of the defensive secondary troubles correctable? The answer is yes, but it will take plenty of hard work. First, the unit must cut down the number of (22 on the season) pass plays that gain 20 or more yards. The Giants have allowed 756 yards after a catch (YAC) this season. Each week, receivers have weaved through the defense untouched for big gains. Despite all the struggles, Graham must raise the expectations expected from the secondary. The unit has too much talent to be wasted.
The defense rarely gets a “three and out” on crucial series, especially when the Giants need to keep or change the momentum in the game. The unit ranks 21st in opponent third-down conversion at 43 percent. Plus, they’re 20th in opponent red zone touchdown percentage at 67 percent.
The Giants defense is tough to score upon when it’s generating a pass rush, stopping the run and creating havoc in the secondary. Returning to the level of last season would be an accomplishment for Graham and his players.
Giants fans have waited long enough.
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