Money has made Giants defense better
The days of the New York Giants’ defense giving away games is seemingly over.
A multimillion dollar infusion in the offseason has transformed Steve Spagnuolo’s unit from the worst in the NFL to one that is suddenly finding ways to win games.
Just look at last weekend.
The defense finally got a pass rush against the Los Angeles Rams and intercepted four passes, including one incredible return that Landon Collins turned into a touchdown, in a 17-0 win that gave New York (4-3) a two-game winning streak heading into its bye week.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when the defense was on the field six times either late in the fourth quarter or in overtime and gave up a winning score as the Giants missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
It cost Tom Coughlin his job. Not Spagnuolo though. Ben McAdoo retained him after being promoted from offensive coordinator to coach, and general manager Jerry Reese took care of him with a free-agency spending spree in the offseason.
Pass-rushing defensive end Olivier Vernon was signed to a five-year, $85 million deal. Shutdown cornerback Janoris Jenkins got a five-year, $62 million contract. Defensive tackle Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison got five years and $46 million.
Reese even took a chance on Jason Pierre-Paul a year after his hand injury, giving the defensive end a oneyear $9.4 million contract.
Add in veteran linebackers Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard, nickel back Leon Hall and a couple of draft picks — cornerback Eli Apple and safety Darian Thompson — and the Giants have a whole new look.
“We’re definitely starting to click and play a lot better,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who like Collins had two interceptions against the Rams. “We still have a lot of mistakes that we have to get corrected.
“Once we do that, it’s going to be special.”
After seven games, the Giants are ranked 19th overall in total defense. They are 12th against the run, giving up an average of 93.6 yards, and 22nd against the pass, giving up 267.4 yards.
New York’s 141 points allowed are the sixth fewest in the NFC, and that’s not bad for a team that has a minus-7 turnover differential.
Defensive captain and linebacker Jonathan Casillas believes the defense has gotten more precise in recent weeks in terms of the coverages and the blitzes.
“We blew some coverages early in the season that allowed teams to get big plays on us and get into the red zone and missed a couple tackles and I think we have done a lot better with tackling and we are creating turnovers,” he said.
“That is putting people at the ball, having the right people, at the right place, at the right time, and being detailed and I think that is all coming to fruition right now.”
To be honest, the defense has carried the Giants this season. Eli Manning and the offense have struggled, averaging 19 points. It’s not easy to win that way.
The Giants have won four games by a total of 15 points. The win in London over the Rams came in a matchup in which New York gained 232 yards and had the ball for less than 25 minutes, something that has happened in four straight games.
“I don’t think we have played as consistent as we want every game, but we have made progress every week in certain ways and continually come into our own,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I think this last game was a good turning point for us and we have to keep it rolling.”
If there has been a problem for the defense it is getting off the field on third down. Opponents have had a league-high 118 third-down chances and converted on 43.2 percent, which is too high.
The bye should help. Safeties Darian Thompson (foot) and Nat Berhe (concussion) are both expected to be back for the game against Philadelphia on Nov. 6, the first of three straight home games.
Thompson has missed the past five games and Berhe four, forcing former practice squad player, Andrew Adams, to start.
The break also should help Apple, the first-round draft pick who has been bothered by hamstring and groin issues, and RodgersCromartie (groin) get back to 100 percent.
“We’re starting to get on the same page,” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “It’s remarkable how good we’ve played and when look at the film, there are still plays that we wish we had back.
“Once we continue to work with the communication, and actually do things every single time the way we are supposed to do them, we could be an even better defense.”
If the defense can do that, and the offense finally gets going, the Giants just may be headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.