EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The blitz is a choreographed art form, performed in unison by 11 players with one goal in mind: get after that quarterback. Pressure is the panacea for all defensive warts.
The New York Giants maestro is defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He calls the blitzes that confuse quarterbacks and help his team keep offenses out of the end zone.
Spagnuolo has called for blitzes on 24.7 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps this season, 19th-most in the league. On those plays, they haven’t allowed a single point, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“That’s awesome,” starting linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said when informed of that stat. “I feel like when you pressure people, their timing is off. A lot of these quarterbacks -- especially the one we’re playing this week, great quarterback who is playing really well -- it’s all about timing. If you get him off his spot, make him move his feet, it’s good for us.”
Spagnuolo’s multiple blitzes, which he has used at close to perfection this season, will be integral Sunday when the Giants host quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions' pass-first offense. Stafford is one of the league's best against the blitz, having not thrown an interception and with a passer rating of 109.9 in those situations. But he is dealing with an injured finger and will be seeing a wide variety of looks, many of which Spagnuolo has called with great success this season.
The Giants (9-4) are the only team that hasn’t allowed a point this season when they’ve brought more than four rushers. They’ve allowed the second-fewest yards (602), the lowest completion percentage (41.1 percent) and the fewest yards per pass attempt (5.26).
“That surprises me,” safety Landon Collins said. “That’s crazy. That’s nice, I mean.”
Collins knew the Giants were a good blitzing team. He just didn't know they were that good.
Collins, who has three sacks, is among Spagnuolo’s favorite weapons because he can come from almost any spot on the field.
But he’s hardly alone. That’s what makes the Giants’ blitzes so effective. They come from different sides, different players, different positions. It makes it difficult for quarterbacks -- especially rookies such as Dallas’ Dak Prescott -- to operate efficiently and effectively.
Prescott completed 17-of-37 passes for 165 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on Sunday night in the Giants’ 10-7 victory over the Cowboys.
“We’re multiple,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “Spags has a lot of different guys he can send, and I think we do a good job of disguising. When we are in base coverages, we make it look like certain things so you don’t know when we’re coming or we’re not.”
This is in stark contrast from last year, when Spagnuolo hinted on several occasions the Giants were showing their hand too early. In the first year of a new defense, they were finding their way. In Year 2, and with an influx of talent, they’re more in sync.
The Giants are no longer tipping their hand pre-snap. Instead, they're hitting and sacking the quarterback with regularity following a slow start.
“It’s the second year in the system, and we know how to pair things up and match things a little better in disguise, and make things look like other things,” Kennard said.
The Giants allowed 12 touchdown passes last season when blitzing. They haven’t allowed one this year. Casillas attributes the difference to the players paying greater attention to detail. That has been a focus since the defense first met in the spring. As a unit, they weren’t happy with how it went last year, when the Giants were ranked 32nd in total defense and had three linebackers and defensive backs record a combined four sacks.
So far this season, they’ve had five linebackers and defensive backs combine for 7.5 sacks.
Taking down the quarterback isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all for the blitz. The Giants are forcing quarterbacks into quick -- and often poor -- decisions. Quarterbacks are expecting one thing and getting something different.
Spagnuolo is drawing it up masterfully.
“I think this year is different because we do show a little bit. Some of our blitzes, you can’t block it,” cornerback Trevin Wade said. “You kind of force the quarterback to make the right decision, and they have to figure it out quickly. So we change it up a lot. Somebody is always the odd man out. But it’s the quarterback’s job to find it.”
The blitz has been a major factor for the Giants defense. It’s Spagnuolo’s secret weapon for derailing drives and closing out games. He’s deployed it with increasing regularity late in games this season. It’s been a massive factor in the Giants winning four of five games decided by 3 points or fewer.
And it’s not as if the Giants have added a boatload of new blitz packages and looks. It’s just that they run them more effectively.
“I think we just got better at what we already had,” Kennard said.
So good that nobody has scored against a Giants blitz this season.