New York Giants
Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel |
When the New York Giants lost starting left tackle Will Beatty to a torn pectoral muscle back in May, the unit that was initially thought to be a strength of the team's suddenly became the Achilles' heel in the minds of many pundits.
While countless NFL analysts were quick to bury the unit, the five projected starters at the time - left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Justin Pugh, center Weston Richburg, right guard Geoff Schwartz, and right tackle Marshall Newhouse - just went about their business, shut out the outside opinions, and focused on become a unit that quarterback Eli Manning would be proud to stand behind.
So far so good. New York's starting five has allowed just four sacks in the first quarter of the 2015 season, the third-fewest allowed by a team in the league so far. In addition, Manning has only been under pressure on 35 of his 150 drop-back attempts this season (23 percent) according to Pro Football Focus.
Against the Bills, the Giants offensive line allowed just one sack - that to safety Corey Graham.
"That was a real positive," said Richburg, who was masterful in deciphering the Bills' various stunts and twists and then countering with protection calls. "We handled their really different looks pretty well and obviously they have good talent. I think we, for the most part, blocked them well. They did have one sack we'd like to have back, but I think we did a good job at pass protection for the most part.
"I will say this: they did perform well," head coach Tom Coughlin added about his offensive line. "We pass protected well. We did have some occasions to run the ball - we rushed for 92 yards, they rushed for 55 yards, so we had more yards there. Again, we prepared well. There was an awful lot that went into it from a cerebral standpoint in the game. The guys did a good job with it."
While most of the Giants rushing yardage came behind the left side duo of Flowers and Pugh, the right side combo of Schwartz and Newhouse, the side that created the most concern going into this season, also held up well, blocking for Rashad Jennings' longest run of the game as well as holding up well against the likes of Bills passing rushing specialist Mario Williams.
In particular, Newhouse, the veteran free-agent journeyman who had stops with Green Bay and Cincinnati, has been surprisingly solid in games after a shaky start in this, his first season with the Giants.
"He's done a good job," Coughlin said. "He's come in and he's worked hard and he's been very good up front in terms of communication. He's a smart guy. So he's worked himself in very well."
Despite the production by the offensive line, there are still critics who believe that it's the Giants' focus on the short passing game and not so much the blockers which has been the big difference in helping to keep Manning's uniform clean.
"I'm sure there will be people that say things about us, but that's not for us to really worry about," Richburg said. "It's up to us to continue to work hard and continue to come together as a unit, try to get better each week."
Several years from now when people talk about the 2015 Giants defense, chances are there won't be any one particular name that sticks out as a Hall of Famer/difference-maker caliber of a player.
That's not necessarily a bad thing for a Giants defense that, pending the results of the Monday Night Football matchup featuring Seattle and Detroit), finds itself ranked first against the run (69.8 yards per game) but last against the pass (316.2 yards per game).
"The imprint of a great defense is the guys playing fast, physical, being relentless and swarming," said linebacker Jon Beason. "We don't really care about stats - as long as we're doing it together, I think that's what makes us special. You don't know which guy it's going to be, but everyone is playing hard, getting to the ball, and good things are happening."
In addition to their rising rankings, the Giants defense is fast rising up the charts in terms of points allowed to opponents. Currently ranked 11th in the league, the Giants have allowed just 20.5 points per game to opponents, the weekly total primarily decreasing from 26 in the first week to 10 this past week.
That's not bad production from a unit that barely had all of its key components together at one during the preseason and into the regular season.
"I think guys are embracing their roles," Beason said of why things have been clicking so well for the Giants. "We have multiple packages where we are getting guys on the field who do things well and we're creating a niche for those guys.
"You go out and play four or five different personnel groups and all the linebackers are involved, and all the secondary guys are involved. You don't see that happen much. We thought we have a unique skill set; coaches are doing a great job recognizing what guys do well, and putting them in position to make plays."
Speaking of coaches, credit must certainly be given to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, now in his second stint with the Giants, for breathing new life into a giants defense that last year finished 29th in the league.
Beason has, in the past, characterized Spagnuolo's system as complex yet challenging. Still, in watching it all come together, he said it's been fun to watch guys getting after plays and orchestrating the on-field activity.
"First off, I think he's aggressive, I think he enjoys scheming, studying guys, getting tendencies, and he's very prepared for everything," Beason said of Spagnuolo.
"We go over the situations that may come up once or twice in a career, let alone in a game, but they happen. With that, you can appreciate a guy like that, so we try and go out there and execute at a high level, and know that he put us in a position to make plays. That's all you can ask as a defensive coordinator."
That and the ability to make in-game adjustments, something that really wasn't much of a strength for former defensive coordinator Perry Fewell but which Spagnuolo seems to excel making.
"I love when a coordinator comes up and pulls the defense together on the bench and says, 'Hey, we're going to come up with this call. This is what we're going to do, you're going to go here, you're going to go there, and let's go and do it on the next series,'" Beason said.
"It's great because you're taking away what their game plan was. We call it 'flavor of the day,' meaning you can watch film if you want, but you're going to have a run that's going to be different, you're going to have a passing concept that's different, and we're going to have to be able to take care of it and we did that."
With the defense on the upswing, Beason believes that there is still much more room to go before the unit hits its ceiling, a process that the defensive captain, who missed the first two games of the season, begins with him continuing to get on the same wavelength with Spagnuolo.
"I think we're just developing an overall relationship, as friends, and as co-workers. He's a great dude," Beason said. "For me, you get out there and you're thinking a lot when you miss time. It doesn't become second nature, and yeah, it's one thing that I want to do better.
"For the most part I feel good about it but there is a little bit of a learning curve, so to speak, based off missing time and in a live situation."