The New York Giants have six new starters on this year's revamped D. Four were veteran free-agent acquisitions and two are rookies. That’s more than half the starting unit being new to coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s schemes and system.
The Giants admitted this spring and summer it would take time to jell. And while 11 weeks into the season they’re starting to resemble a dominant unit, they’re still trying to establish an identity. They're getting there.
The Giants are trying to become what they’ve talked about since organized team activities in the spring – a bully defense.
“We have new pieces on defense that are still kind of figuring out our identity,” starting linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said. “I think it’s being established a little more, little more. We want to be a bully team. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think we’re getting there.”
A bully team? What exactly does that mean?
Casillas: “Domination. Physical. Putting the bully feeling out there against that other team where they’re a little hesitant or they might not run up there like they’re supposed to, they’re checking out of plays and running screens. Stuff like that where we’re physically running the ball on them like we were doing [Monday]. That’s a bully. There are teams out there that have done it in the past and it fared well for them.”
DE Olivier Vernon: “We don’t want to be a defense that is a pushover. We have a lot of guys who instead of doing all the talking, we make plays with our actions. That’s what you need. It’s not about who is going to talk the most trash or anything like that. It’s about who is going to make the plays, who is going to make the crucial plays.”
LB Devon Kennard: “It’s something we’ve been talking about since OTAs and this summer. When we’re playing against any team that style of play they see when they watch us on film, they see a physical group who is stingy and you’re going to have to fight for every yard that you want to gain. That is the mentality we take on D.”
LB Keenan Robinson: “It means being physical. Playing fast and physical. Not necessarily being a bully, you know what that word entails, but being a dominant defense. Being a defensive group that is physical, that stops the run. If you’re not stopping the run it means someone is out-toughing you.”
The Giants have one of the better run defenses in the NFL, ranking seventh and allowing 92.1 yards per game. That is not bad, but it is also not quite what the Giants have in mind. They want better. They want a unit that is going to strike fear and intimidate the opponent before they even step on the field.
“That’s part of it. When you stop the run play in, play out, that is probably an intimidation factor for the other team because they’re like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to run on these guys because they’re holding guys to 2 to 2.5 to 3 yards per carry,’” Robinson said. “Teams will see that as an intimidation factor because they’ll probably game plan to where maybe running is not the best option this week, or maybe not inside and only outside runs.”
Admittedly, the Giants aren’t there yet. They’re still working to become not just the defense but also the team that new coach Ben McAdoo envisioned when they first convened this spring.
McAdoo has preached physically. On multiple occasions he’s referenced having “a physical, heavy-handed football team.” His Western Pennsylvania roots define his philosophy.
A bully defense fits right into that mold. And the Giants may be on the verge of getting there, even if they’re ranked 16th in total defense and 11th in points allowed (20.4 ppg). They’re taking steps in the right direction.
“You can never think you arrived,” Kennard said. “It’s something we want to re-prove every practice and every game. There are a lot of defenses that can play a good game. We want to look at it at the end of the year and like the product we put out there.”
They'll only get there if they become an intimidating bully defense that strikes fear into the opponent.