Earlier this week Dan Graziano of ESPN wrote a piece about the Giants defense, and its consistency issues. I thought this brought to life the exact problems the Giants have faced the past two seasons.
The talent is there. I know we lost Steve Smith, Kevin Boss and Barry Cofield in the offseason, but that doesn’t change that fact. (honestly, I think everyone is freaking out WAY too much about this. Aside from Steve Smith I don’t think we lost any player that was above average. And in Steve Smith’s case, we lost a player at a position that we have an abundance of talent)
Focusing on the defense, I think we can all agree that the Giants showed how dominant of a unit they could be at times last season. Remember, for a while they were ranked as the number one unit in terms of total yards allowed, and they finished the season with the most takeaways in the league. So why don’t we remember how dominant they were? Because they choked down the stretch and gave up a billion points in the time it took to blink. (those numbers were only slightly exaggerated)
This season the Giants will have the same defensive system and coordinator for the first time in three years. A system and coordinator that the players like and respect. If they can keep themselves motivated they have a chance of replicating what the Ravens did back when they terrorized Kerry Collins for 60 minutes. (and subsequently made us forget how magnificent he was against the Vikings a game before)
Now I could bullet the reasons why the defense should be dominant, but I think they showed that at times last year. Instead let’s look at the reasons this defense could fail to live up to these lofty expectations.
1. Poor depth in the secondary
This is something that troubled me last season, as I thought they only had three starting caliber corners (Webster, Thomas, and Ross) and a single injury would leave them exposed. Luckily the Giants did not have a single significant injury in the secondary last season. The problem is, with Prince injured the Giants are in the same predicament. Bringing back Deon Grant helps stabilize the safeties, but the corners are once again an injury away from getting torched on a weekly basis.
2. Lack of talent at linebacker
Right now the three starting linebackers are Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff and Mathias Kiwanuka. While Kiwi spent some time at linebacker before, he is more a defensive end than a linebacker. Boley has been with the team for two seasons and has failed to make a big impact. Finally, Goff was average at best in his role, and did so little to impress the coaches last season that his spot hasn’t even been guaranteed.
3. Without Osi and Cofield the defensive line won’t be as dominant
Osi recently elected to have surgery (so he gets a second opinion, is told he is cleared to play. tells everyone he is going to play so he doesn’t let his teammates and coaches down, then has a surgery that will keep him off the field for weeks, and let his teammates and coaches down. I don’t get it. Either say right after the second opinion I’m going to have the surgery, or don’t have the surgery. Don’t claim you are going to be the bigger man, then a few days later act like a child in a pissing match with your parents) and Cofield left in free agency. Those two players were two of the most productive players on the line, how do the Giants replace their production?
Now that we’ve outlined the three biggest problems surrounding the Giants defense why don’t we show why they aren’t a big deal. Let’s start with the easiest one. The Linebackers:
This is another issue I think is talked about way too much. With the way the Giants like to play defense, the linebackers are not impact players. For starters, teams almost always trot out three wide receivers, which means three corners and two linebackers. Keith Bullock was the third linebacker last year and he barely saw the field. Secondly, the Giants prefer to play with three safeties than three linebackers. For those two reasons, it is rare to have more than two linebackers on the field, and there are plenty of formations with just one. But what about the lack of talent? Michael Boley is a better player than people give him credit for. He was hurt his first season, and actually played pretty well last year. Boley, combined with the play of Grant and the safeties, were the reason why the Giants defended the tight end position so well. For Kiwanuka, he looked fantastic in this same role early last season. He had four sacks in the first three games before getting injured. I remember I was so excited about his development last season, and it was a huge blow when he was injured. I am not worried about his play at all. For Goff, he had a solid season. I’ll admit it wasn’t great, but it was leaps and bounds better than what I thought he would do. With a season under his belt I expect him to play even better than he did last year. In short, I am not saying the Giants have amazing linebackers. What I am saying is I don’t see the position as this great weakness that will hinder the Giants potential to be a dominating defense.
Now the second easiest question, the defensive line:
Yes, Cofield and Osi played well last season. No, their contributions won’t be impossible to replace. For one, I don’t see Cofield as being anything special. He is a good player, but good players are replaceable. Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin are more talented than Cofield was. Will they be able to showcase those talents on the field? We’ll see. I strongly believe at least one of them will, and let’s not forget, we still have Chris Canty, who has played well for the Giants. For Osi, he will be back with the team probably before the midpoint of the season. In the meantime, JPP has looked great. (While I say this I am terrified he is going to have some freak injury that costs him the season. It seems to happen every year with a player that is about to breakout. Kenny Phillips, Victor Cruz, Kiwanuka…twice) While it would be ideal to have Osi in the rotation, I don’t think it will destroy the team to be without him for part of the season.
Finally the hardest question, the secondary depth:
This is probably the thing that worries me the most. If there is an injury to Corey Webster or Terrell Thomas, I have no idea how the Giants will fare. I guess we’ll have to watch the rest of the preseason to see if someone emerges, but for now it worries me. Prince should be back at some point this season, so hopefully he can come back and add some much needed depth. (or perhaps his injury appeased the sports gods enough that we don’t need to lose another player to injury?) I am worried about a corner coming in without any training camp and having a screw in his foot, but on the bright side, how well do you need to know the playbook to play man-to-man, and if he is cleared to play hopefully that injured foot isn’t bothering him. Still I can’t help but think of this issue as the biggest problem the Giants face.
Still, looking back on these issues and last year’s performance, I think it is fair to say that if the Giants can stay motivated, they can be a top 5 unit in the NFL. Basically, just like Dan said in his article, the biggest thing keeping the Giants from being a top unit is themselves. So this season will tell us one of two things: the coaching staff is incapable of motivating these players, or the Giants have a bad locker room and need to completely overhaul their roster. Something tells me the coaches will go first.
Tags: Aaron Ross Barry Cofield Corey Webster Deon Grant Jonathan Kenny Phillips Kerry Collins Kevin Boss Linval Joseph Marvin Austin Mathias Kiwanuka Michael Boley Osi Umenyiora Steve Smith Terrell Thomas