EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The opportunities were there for the New York Giants to make plays last Thursday night. Third-and-longs, deflected passes, dangerous throws into traffic by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy: It was all on the table in the first half of that 30-12 loss.
They just didn’t take advantage. They haven’t taken advantage this season.
The Giants (1-2) have yet to force a turnover and have just two sacks in three games. They haven’t been good against the run (29th) or stopping the opposition on third downs (28th). This is hardly a recipe for success, especially against quality competition like the Dallas Cowboys and 49ers.
The turnaround needs to start Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks (8:15 ET, ESPN) before this season slips away.
“We’ve just got to be better all around. I think a lot of us know that,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “Individually, we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to have faster starts, and we’ve got to execute a lot better, we’ve got to be a lot cleaner, be a lot sharper.
“I think it's pretty simple. There’s only so much talking you can do about it. We’ve got to go out there and do these things and execute and be able to execute at a high level. So, once we do that, we'll be fine.”
This group thought for sure they would be a playoff-contending team after winning a postseason game last year. Dexter Lawrence, a defensive captain, said he didn’t want to talk about “building” anymore this summer. To him, it was now about “winning.”
But this New York defense remains confident. They appear set to embrace the challenge ahead, which isn’t going to be easy facing three strong offenses in the Seahawks, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
“Just execution and doing our job, that’s pretty much what it boils down to and comes down to,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “Just tighten it up in the week of work and just going after. Like I said, the smaller pictures of doing your job -- executing, alignment, assignment, and technique and just go from there.”
Here are the problems Wink Martindale’s defense must fix:
Pressuring the QB
It starts by creating pressure. They haven’t done that this season. They are tied for 28th in the NFL with 26 pressures, per ESPN Stats & Information.
“They can’t put pressure on the quarterback,” former Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty said on The Breaking Big Blue Podcast. “This is a franchise that is very proud and in their best years, when they are competing for championships, they are able to sack the quarterback, they are able to hit the quarterback, they’re able to affect the other teams’ passing games. And you just don’t see that from the Giants this year.”
Much of that falls on the shoulders of outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux. The 2022 No. 5 overall pick has one sack, three pressures and is pressuring the quarterback on just 4.1% of his pass-rush attempts, per NextGen Stats.
Thibodeaux took offense last week to being questioned about his zero-tackle performance in a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
“Did you guys watch the game?” he said. “So if you watch the game, they … it’s all scheme. Once [outside linebacker] Azeez [Ojulari] got hurt you understand that you’re kind of left in a situation of being on the back side. So I was on the back side a lot of those plays.”
Thibodeaux has 74 pass-rush snaps this season. He has three pressures. Cleveland’s Myles Garrett has 75 pass-rush snaps and 16 pressures. Houston Texans rookie Will Anderson even has 73 pass-rush snaps and 16 pressures.
Bottom line: The Giants need Thibodeaux to play better. They could also benefit from getting Ojulari (hamstring) back and being more efficient with their blitzes.
This was a problem that they were supposed to have fixed in the offseason. The Giants added Okereke, along with run-stuffing defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
Instead, they are allowing 138.0 rushing yards per game, third-worst in the NFL.
Robinson and Nunez-Roches have been non-existent. Leonard Williams has been up and down. Only Lawrence has seemingly held up his end of the bargain.
The Giants need more from this group, especially with the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll likely intent on testing them Monday night.
The Giants allowed the 49ers to convert a third-and-15 and third-and-13 on the same drive last week. It was a byproduct of their inability to make tackles, a problem that has surfaced in each of their three games. Safety Jason Pinnock even missed two on the same play against the 49ers.
Martindale’s defense has 29 missed tackles through three weeks, per Pro Football Focus. That is bottom-10 in the NFL.
It’s relevant given that the Giants’ training camp had a focus on keeping players healthy and fresh. They rarely worked more than three days in a row and it was flush with “vet days.”
It’s not going to be easy to suddenly ramp up the tackling in-season with the rules that currently exist. There are only so many days a team is permitted to practice in pads once the season begins.
The Giants actually went seven full days after the loss to the 49ers before taking the field for a full practice on Thursday.
“Yeah, we’ll be in pads Thursday,” Daboll said this week. “And again, you are always focusing on your fundamentals, so we do that every practice, whether that’s press coverage, tackling, ball disruption, shedding blocks. Those are things that you work on.”