Why New York Giants defense will thrive under James Bettcher
By Henry Buggy
Big Blue fans will forever be grateful for Steve Spagnuolo and New York’s 2007 Super Bowl run under the two-time defensive coordinator but a change was needed.
The New York Giants finished the 2017 season with the league’s 31st ranked defense. In his second stint with Big Blue, Spags posted the league’s 32nd, 10th, and 31st ranked defenses in terms of yards allowed.
Many hoped the G-Men would retain Spagnuolo under the franchise’s next head coach, and once Pat Shurmur was named to the position the idea became plausible. Shurmur spent two seasons under Spagnuolo as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator before getting his first head coaching gig with the Cleveland Browns.
But reports have since surfaced that the Giants will not retain Spags, and that they plan to hire former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first broke the news on Tuesday. Just three days after a report surfaced that Jack Del Rio would be the favorite to become New York’s next defensive coordinator.
The Giants have yet to officially announce the move. But ESPN’s John Weinfuss reports the Giants agreed to hire Bettcher after meeting with him at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday.
Bettcher, 39, also reportedly received the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator position after an interview but elected to join the G-Men instead.
Shaking Up Big Blue’s Defense
The Giants ran 4-3 defensive front under Spagnuolo. They are expected to change to a 3-4 front under their new defensive coordinator.
While the change may not necessarily fit Big Blue’s current personnel, Bettcher actually used a nickel defensive package more than his 3-4 base front during the 2017 season, according to Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.
The Giants new defensive coordinator is known for using multiple sub-packages and for getting after opposing quarterbacks. Arizona’s defense held the NFL’s second highest blitz rate during Bettcher’s three seasons as defensive coordinator, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
The G-Men struggled to create any consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2017. They posted the league’s third fewest team sacks (27) despite paying Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon top dollar.
Adapting To Personnel
Bettcher will look to get the most out of JPP and Vernon. But he has already helped multiple veterans adjust to his defensive scheme.
Bettcher made a name for himself in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts. He helped All-Pro defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis switch to a 3-4 defensive front. Mathis was quickly impressed with the young outside linebackers coach, via Sports Illustrated.
"“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I played defensive end for the better part of a decade. I needed a little more coaching. James was a chameleon. He could adapt. He did such a tremendous job, my learning curve was taken care of really, really fast. I owe him a lot.”"
Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones was the next veteran to benefit from Bettcher’s defensive coaching style.
"“He knows his X’s and O’s. He knows. He knows how to formulate and contort the defense so that his best players can get the best matchups possible. He really knows how to highlight players.”"
Jones earned first-team All-Pro honors in his second season in Bettcher’s system and led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017.
General manager Dave Gettleman made clear in his introductory press conference that there will be a focus on getting after the quarterback. The signing of Bettcher could be the start of bringing back Big Blue’s once-dominant pass rush.
New York’s new defensive coordinator will not only improve the team’s pass rush but will also surely utilize New York’s greatest strength, their secondary.
New York Giants
DBs Excel In Bettcher’s Defense
The Cardinals are stacked with talent at the defensive back position but so are the Giants.
Pro Football Focus gave Big Blue the No. 1 ranking on their secondaries list ahead of the 2017 season. Injuries, poor play, and questionable coaching led to the NFL’s 31st ranked pass defense.
Arizona’s defense, on the other hand, ranked 14th against the pass in 2017. Cornerback Tramon Williams arguably had the best season of his 11-year career in his first season under Bettcher.
With the Cardinals running their nickel defense on almost half their snaps, Bettcher was able to take advantage of Arizona’s secondary. Williams, Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch, and Antoine Bethea all thrived under Bettcher’s tutelage.
The Giants undoubtedly have talent in their secondary. It will be up to Bettcher and the rest of New York’s defensive coaching staff to get the most out of the players.
It will also be exciting to see what New York’s next defensive coordinator does with Landon Collins. Big Blue’s two-time Pro Bowl strong safety is one of the most versatile defensive backs in the league.
Consistency Despite Turnover
While the linebacker position is likely still a cause for concern under Bettcher, Arizona’s defensive consistency should have New York fans smiling.
The Cardinals lost starters Calais Campbell, Kevin Minter, and Tony Jefferson in free agency last offseason and still posted a top 10 defense. In fact, Bettcher’s defenses in Arizona have finished sixth, second, and fifth during his three-year tenure.
Giants fans can only hope Bettcher brings the same consistency to New York. But based on his track record, there’s no reason Big Blue’s defense shouldn’t thrive under its new defensive coordinator.