Photo courtesy of Saturday Down South
By: Brendan Schick
I am back with my second installment of breaking down the eventful offseason for the New York Football Giants. My last blog, titled “NY Giants Offseason Offensive Breakdown,” separated the offense into position groups and analyzed the role that each player will play in the upcoming 2018-2019 NFL season. There were many offensive changes made from last year’s roster, obviously highlighted by Saquon Barkley’s arrival to the big apple, but it may be the defensive changes that may be the changes required for the New York Giants to be competitive this year. In January, Pat Shurmur, the ex-Vikings’ offensive coordinator, was hired to the role of head coach. Shortly after, Mike Shula, the son of legendary coach Don Shula, was appointed by Shurmur to the role of offensive coordinator, and James Bettcher, the former Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, was hired to fill the same role with the Giants. The coaching staff is brand-spanking new entering this season, and the defensive scheme Bettcher is bringing to New York is as well. The New York Giants, having run a 4-3 defense under Steve Spagnuolo for the past several seasons, will be introduced to Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme this summer. It remains to be seen how the players respond to the new system, but for now, let’s analyze the state of the New York Giants defense.
The Defensive Line: DT Damon Harrison, DT BJ Hill, DE Dalvin Tomlinson, DE Kerry Wynn, DE Josh Mauro, DE Jordan Williams, DT RJ McIntosh
The 3-4 defensive scheme will lay the defensive line out with one defensive tackle sandwiched in between two outside defensive ends. It seems pretty obvious that the starting defensive tackle job will be manned by the incumbent starter, Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Harrison has been an absolute force to be reckoned with on the field over the past few seasons, and his size and athleticism will continue to cause offenses problems up the middle. The Giants selected Dalvin Tomlinson with the 55th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Alabama, and Tomlinson performed exceptionally well in his role on the 2017 Giants. He will look to be slated in as one of the Giants’ starting defensive ends in the 3-4 scheme, as he has shown he excels in the five technique spot during his time at Alabama. 2018 draft picks BJ Hill (69) and RJ McIntosh (139) will look to add depth to the defensive tackle position and compete for snaps this season. Preseason superstar Kerry Wynn figures to get some looks this season, however, the experienced Giants fan knows what Wynn brings to the table; flashes of brilliance but the inability to sustain it over the course of a game. Nonetheless, it would be great to see Wynn seize control of one of the other starting “end” positions in Bettcher’s offense and help solidify what should be a line of very large, imposingly strong men. Jordan Williams and Josh Mauro round out the depth guys on the defensive front, with the latter receiving a 4-game PED suspension in March. Mauro played for Bettcher in Arizona, but his suspension allows other players to compete for his job early in the season. All in all, this defensive line will continue to stuff the run and cause problems for opposing guards and centers. Snacks will continue to eat, as he has shown that he can perform in a 3-4 scheme during his time with the New York Jets.
The Linebackers: ILB BJ Goodson, ILB Alec Ogletree, ILB Mark Herzlich, OLB Olivier Vernon, OLB Kareem Martin, OLB Lorenzo Carter, OLB/ILB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OLB Romeo Okwara
A victim of a bad contract and the salary cap, Jason Pierre-Paul was jettisoned to Tampa Bay via trade this offseason. His pass-rushing teammate, Olivier Vernon, will slide into the prime pass-rushing role that JPP had held for the past several seasons. Viewed as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, Vernon will shift over to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, where his athleticism and power pass-rushing moves will play a huge role in James Bettcher’s scheme. Paul Schwartz of the NY Daily News wrote that Bettcher sees Chandler Jones potential in Vernon for this upcoming season. Jones played in a 4-3 scheme previously, was acquired by the Cardinals, integrated into Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme, and dominated as one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers in Arizona. The Giants traded their 2018 fourth and sixth round selections to the LA Rams this past offseason and acquired LB Alec Ogletree. Ogletree is twenty-six years old and brings speed and play-making ability into a linebacker core that has been outstandingly underwhelming recently. Ogletree will start, and if BJ Goodson can stay healthy, Goodson will assume the other starting inside linebacker role. Goodson is very talented, yet it remains to be seen if he can withstand a whole 16-game season. Kareem Martin followed Bettcher from Arizona to New York, and while he has had a quiet NFL career, Martin broke out in 2017 to the tune of 10 starts, 24 tackles, one sack, and three pass breakups. OLB Lorenzo Carter was selected with the 66th pick in the 2018 NFL draft out of the University of Georgia, and is expected to provide athleticism and speed towards pass-rushing this season. Ray-Ray Armstrong, Romeo Okwara, and Mark Herzlich will fill out the linebacker depth for the Giants. Linebacker has been considered one of the weak spots for the New York Giants the past several years, but the additions to the linebacker core that GM Dave Gettleman has so far accrued, show that this Giants regime values the linebacker position. Lorenzo Carter was a steal in this draft.
The Defensive Backs: SS Landon Collins, SS Michael Thomas, FS Darian Thompson, FS Andrew Adams, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Eli Apple, CB William Gay, CB Curtis Riley
SS Landon Collins and CB Janoris Jenkins have been all-stars for the New York Giants, however, both players are coming off of season-ending injuries last year. If these two players remain healthy, the Giants have a very strong 1-2 punch in their defensive backfield, but if they cannot remain healthy…the Giants are in trouble. CB Eli Apple had a 2017 to forget on the field, let alone the off-field issues he had. A bounce back season from Apple would go a long way towards overall success of the defense, as the NFL continues to evolve into a passing league. I respect the Giants for giving Apple a second-chance with a new coach, it remains up to him to justify his roster spot now. Safety Michael Thomas was signed in free agency, and his solid play in Miami justifies that he will provide valuable veteran depth behind Collins. The free safety battle should be one to pay attention to, as both Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams have shown flashes of brilliance on the field. Consistency remains key between the two, and that will determine who wins the starting job. But in reality, the Giants have two plug-in guys at free safety. William Gay signed with the Giants this offseason, and although he was declining on the Steelers from his dominant days, Gay still offers valuable corner experience and a depth-role in his 33 year-old season. Curtis Riley rounds out the depth for the Giants. Health remains key for this defensive backfield, but there is talent here, and the Giants will be need this unit to be good to compete against a tough schedule this year.
I am excited to see how James Bettcher will implement the 3-4 scheme and how the players transition into it. The 2017 Giants defense was lackluster, but the 2016 Giants defense was dominant, and for the most part, both defenses were composed of many of the same players. You have to blame a significant portion of that blame on ex-DC Steve Spagnuolo, and hopefully, James Bettcher comes into the locker room like a breath of fresh air and turns the Giants defense back into the 2016 defense that imposed its will on its opponents. All around, the Giants defense is balanced, but it is still not fantastic. Realistically, players like Olivier Vernon, Alec Ogletree, Landon Collins, and Janoris Jenkins need to stay healthy for an entire season for the Giants to return to the top of the league, defensively. The offense *should* put up some serious numbers this year, but the old adage “offense wins games, defense wins championships” applies very much to this Giants squad. The offense is hyped-up due to players like Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram, but it will truly be the defense that determines how the Giants rank against the rest of the NFL.
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