How NY Giants can carry late-season momentum on defense into 2021

The NY Giants’ defense improved dramatically down the stretch in 2020, thanks to a scheme adjustment by coordinator Patrick Graham, that could unlock success in 2021

Despite losing three of their final four games of the season, the NY Giants’ defense found its footing over the second half of 2020 campaign and just might have the pieces in place to build momentum on its strong finish.

Over the final month, the NY Giants held opponents to 20 points or fewer six times, as coordinator Patrick Graham’s group got strong contributions from all three levels, and very nearly powered a run to the NFC Playoffs and a home game on Wild Card Weekend.

While Graham has developed a reputation for utilizing multiple fronts, and moving his personnel around to exploit mismatches against opposing offenses, it was another strategic adjustment that fueled the Giants‘ defense’s second half surge, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Giants’ third-down defense improved by leaps and bounds in [the final eight weeks], going from 23rd to 10th in EPA allowed per play. Graham cut down on some blitzing and played a ton less Cover 1, with the unit’s third-down rate dropping by 11 percentage points. Instead, he opted to sit in zone coverage and let everything play out in front of his defense.

How NY Giants’ defense can pick up where it left off in 2021

This season, after signing Adoree’ Jackson, Graham has a pair of cornerbacks — along with Pro Bowler James Bradberry — capable of playing man on the outside, and young slot cornerbacks with upside that opens up all kinds of possibilities when it comes to coverages against some of the league’s top receivers.

Moreover, this could be the first time in recent memory that the NY Giants have a secondary that leaves Graham comfortable and confident enough to leave on an island and blitz more often.

Rookie outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is viewed by many as a steal as a second-round pick, and if he makes an immediate impact, along with Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, the NY Giants might have a symbiotic defense in place that allows Graham to send extra blitzers because the secondary is stout enough not to get beat over the top without much help.

The talent is there. Graham’s versatility in terms of a play-caller is there. Now, it’s up to the players to execute at a high level if the NY Giants’ defense is going to build on last season’s success and hit the ground running in 2021.

Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Matt.Lombardo@FanSided.com, Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL