Predictable. Boring. Uninspiring. Three superlatives that defensive coordinators do not want to hear in their defense's scouting report. However, these three accurately define the 2009 Giants defense, sans one last characterization: downright awful.
Let's rewind to last September. The Giants had just completed a three game run in which they powered through the league's whipping boys, adding three wins to a streak that began with a couple of impressive divisional victories.
Following the dominant start, the Giants experienced a fall from grace that very few in the league's history have replicated.
The 3-8 finish was full of disasters. From Eli Manning's seemingly annual midseason slump to the defense relinquishing 40 or more points in a game five times, a once promising season quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster.
Many are at fault for the collapse, but blame fell squarely on the shoulders of Bill Sheridan. He had never coached a defense before, and took over a defense that generally was a successful unit under Steve Spagnuolo. There was no excuse to fail, and fail he did.
His deficiencies as a defensive coordinator became clear immediately following the first loss—as well as the first drubbing—of the season; a 48-27 debacle in which the score makes the game look much closer than it actually was.
After the game, Sheridan admitted that he should have blitzed more. He explained that since their base defense had so much success in the first five games, he didn't feel the need to blitz the Saints.
There was red flag number one. The basis for his game-planning for the Saints reflected complacency and ignorance. Every sport requires adjustments week to week. In football, alterations are imperative game to game. Just because the Raiders looked helpless against a four man rush a week before doesn't mean the Saints, led by arguably the league's savviest offensive mind and most effective quarterback, will flounder too.
Sheridan did come through on his promise. He blitzed more the next week against Arizona. Then again against Philadelphia.
But as the weeks progressed, the defensive appeared to be dangerously predictable from an outside perspective. I'm no scout, and I don't have access to game tapes, but at too high of a rate did I see a linebacker or safety creep into the box and end up blitzing. Very rarely did they end up backing off and confusing the quarterback.
Without any semblance of disguise, quarterbacks were able to persistently shred through the defense. And the pass rush was virtually non-existent.
In Sheridan's defense, pun poorly intended, the personnel wasn't as good as we thought it was.
Osi Umenyiora clearly wasn't himself a year removed from blowing out his knee. Justin Tuck became ineffective as the rest of the league realized his shoulder injury suffered in week two seriously limited his ability to generate a pass rush. The linebackers looked old and slow. And the issues in the secondary were awful, plain and simple.
In addition to replacing Sheridan with the fiery Perry Fewell, the Giants also re-tooled their defense with speed and size. They spent their first two draft picks on Jason Pierre-Paul, a freakishly talented pass rusher, and Linval Joseph, a big man with a high motor that could be very effective in a rotation at defensive tackle.
As a whole, the performance up front was very disappointing last season. But the talent is there, and these additions, as well as the projected health of Chris Canty, Jay Alford, and Justin Tuck should help elevate their performance to what we have become accustomed to.
After adding size up front, they signed Keith Bulluck to provide leadership, experience, and depth to a linebacker corps that desperately needed all three of those assets.
Lastly, the Giants left their cornerbacks relatively untouched, but experienced an overhaul at safety.
Gone were the likes of Aaron Rouse and C.C. Brown, and freshly minted are Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant, who at a minimum will provide much more stability than either of those former Giants ever did.
Perry Fewell comes to the Giants under a general assumption that the Giants' base defense will be a Cover 2. While that is one of the schemes he operates under, safeties coach David Merritt quickly stymied the theories that all the Giants will run is a Cover 2.
"That’s the last thing you’re going to see us out there playing, is the Tampa 2, because that’s not what he is. I would label Coach Fewell as a multiple front, multiple-multiple coverage defensive coordinator."
Frankly, with the personnel the Giants possess on the defensive side of the ball, Fewell can effectively employ any scheme he wants. As I was watching practice in mini-camp at the new Giants Stadium, I noticed one play in which Tuck and Umenyiora stood behind the nose tackle in a 3-4.
It sounds crazy, but if used in moderation that type of design can cause hell for opposing quarterbacks. Linval Joseph or Barry Cofield can man the fort at nose tackle, and be flanked by former 3-4 end Chris Canty and either Pierre-Paul or Mathias Kiwanuka. Up the middle would be Tuck and Umenyiora. And on the outside would be Clint Sintim, who thrived in Al Groh's 3-4 at the University of Virginia, and Michael Boley.
There is enough speed in that front seven to move around pre-snap too, causing even more confusion for the quarterback.
Additionally, the versatility in the secondary offers Fewell even more tools. Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are both capable of effectively playing strong or free safety, which could lead to more pre-snap disguising.
These possibilities are way more enticing than the zone blitz, the extent of Bill Sheridan's creative schemes, right?
A conventional defense can no longer get the job done in today's NFL. I'm convinced of that. There are too many offensive plays, too many athletic skill players, and too many top-notch quarterbacks to expect to make it to February with a simple defensive scheme.
Barring an inordinate amount of injuries, there is no excuse for Fewell to not throw every type of blitz he can imagine out there. The talent is there on defense to make some plays. It's up to the coaches to make it happen.
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