<
>

Giants' defense needs to improve in these two categories to be 'special'

The Giants allowed just 17.8 points per game last season, second best in the league, but cornerback Janoris Jenkins believes they can do better. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The league's second-best scoring defense only wants to get better. That's the goal for the New York Giants this season.

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins used the word "special" last week. What qualifies as special depends on the individual perspective. Jenkins specifically doesn't care about numbers. Even if the Giants allow fewer than 17.8 points per game it doesn't necessarily mean he will be content.

"Define special? As in however you want to define it. You can define it as being elite or whatever," Jenkins said. "It is just being special. Like turning the defense up a notch, whether it is secondary, the linebackers and then everyone is coming together as one in a bun and we are all on one page."

That's what happened defensively for the Giants most of 2016, especially in the second half of the season when they allowed 15 points per game. They finished with the best red zone defense and were top 10 in almost every major defensive category.

In Jenkins' eyes, it still wasn't special. There is still room to reach that hallowed designation this season, especially with nine of 11 starters returning. Only defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard were not brought back this year.

"We were OK. It was our first year, everybody's first year together, and I feel like we have that bond and chemistry where I know how [Landon Collins] plays, he knows how I play. I know how [Olivier Vernon] plays at the D-end and what they expect on the other side of a tight end," Jenkins said. "It is just things like that and paying attention to details."

Coach Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo have made a point to the defense this offseason to not rest on their laurels. Stay humble. Start all over. Prove it all again. Be even better, even if it's just one percent better.

There are areas the Giants defense could certainly improve. The two most significant stats where they did not grade out well last season kind of go hand in hand -- passing yards per game and sacks per pass attempt. They finished 23rd in both categories.

The lack of pressure and inability to keep the opposing passing attack in check came back to bite them in the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns in the Green Bay Packers' 38-13 win over the Giants in the wild-card round. And even though Rodgers was sacked five times in that contest, the pressure wasn't consistent. He had way too much time to find receivers most of the afternoon, especially on one touchdown pass that took almost nine seconds from snap to throw.

That's an area the Giants will have to fix. It helps that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is back with a new long-term deal. He missed the final four weeks of the regular season and the playoff loss with sports hernia and abdominal injuries.

But ultimately for the defense to become special they are going to need someone else to step up as a pass-rusher. Pierre-Paul and Vernon combined for 15.5 sacks. Behind them, nobody else was a consistent threat.

Collins was third on the team with 4.0 sacks from the safety position.

So the pressure is on linebacker/end Devon Kennard, defensive tackles Jay Bromley or Robert Thomas, or defensive ends Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa, Devin Taylor or Avery Moss to develop into consistent rushers. The Giants are going to need more pressure, sacks and collapsing of the pocket to reach their desired goal as a defense.

Collins wants to be the No. 1 overall unit. Jenkins wants to be special. With an improved pass rush, their potential is endless.