Money has made Gi­ants de­fense bet­ter

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Tom Cana­van

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.

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