New York Giants' defense searching for answers after late collapses

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It has happened two weeks in a row now. The New York Giants had the lead in the final minutes only to watch their defense wilt late in a loss.

That can be demoralizing enough. It is even worse when factoring in that this defense was supposed to be the strength of the team this season. It has raised questions about that unit being overrated.

"Overrated? We just need to go out there and fix it," said cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who had a chance Sunday to squash this narrative but dropped a potential interception on the game-winning drive in a 17-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons (1-2). "If you want to call us overrated, you can."

It seems appropriate, for now at least. The Giants (0-3) enter Sunday's road game against the 2-1 New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, Fox) ranked No. 28 in defensive efficiency after finishing eighth last season.

Maybe more disconcerting, they can't stop teams in the two-minute drill. Against the Giants this season, the Denver Broncos, Washington Football Team and Falcons have scored on five of seven drives that began or ended with less than two minutes remaining in a half.

"I think we have to work two-minute [defense] today at practice," coordinator Patrick Graham said on Thursday with a seemingly anxious laugh. "I'm not trying to make light of it. That's not good enough, but again ... we have to practice it and obviously we went back in the lab to figure out better ways to collectively -- talking about the group and the staff -- put the players in the best spot possible to be successful. Thankfully, we have another opportunity."

Graham talked mostly about personnel and playcalling when asked to put his finger on the problem. Everyone seems to have a different opinion, which might be why they can't pinpoint what is going wrong in these late-game situations.

Safety and defensive captain Logan Ryan and veteran cornerback James Bradberry said Atlanta's key 28-yard bubble screen to Cordarrelle Patterson on the final drive was just a good call against the defense they picked for that play. But what about the dropped interception by Jackson? The costly pass interference penalty against Ryan? Safety Jabrill Peppers making a coverage mistake that allowed rookie tight end Kyle Pitts to get Atlanta into field goal range?

"I don't think anybody is pressing," Jackson said. "We always talk about rely on your brother next to you and just do your job. It's crazy. I heard [Saints QB] Jameis Winston talk about how you don't always have to be Batman; you can be Bruce Wayne, and that's the attitude that we have to come in with and understand that there’s 10 other guys out there. You do your job and your brother does his job and we should be all right."

Bradberry said there has been miscommunication on the back end late in games. He attributed it to teams using an up-tempo attack, but he doesn't think it will rattle this mostly veteran secondary.

"Nah, we're not panicking. It's just plays here or there," he said. "We played good for the most part of the [Falcons] game. It's just certain situations we don't play well right now. We just have to ... make sure we're on the same page when those situations happen again."

Another possibility is that this defense is not as good as the Giants -- or most of us -- expected. The unit might have maxed out under Graham last season, when it ranked No. 9 in points allowed (22.3 per game) and No. 12 overall. It ranks No. 16 in points allowed (24.7) and No. 21 overall this season.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams had a career-best 11.5 sacks last season and received a three-year, $63 million payday in the offseason. He has one sack this season, and his QB pressure rate has dipped from 9.7% to 5.0%, according to NFL Next Gen stats.

Bradberry made his first Pro Bowl last season, but he is tied for the NFL lead with three touchdowns allowed as the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He has also allowed a 116.4 quarterback rating on passes thrown his way after allowing a 67.7 rating last season.

And now the Giants also have to deal with the loss of middle linebacker, signal-caller and leading tackler Blake Martinez, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Graham talked about how the team will "collectively" have to fill the void.

The Saints, ranked No. 31 in offense, might provide a chance for a rebound by the unit. However, after Week 4, the schedule turns unforgiving with five of the next six games against opposing offenses ranked in the top 10, including the Las Vegas Raiders (No. 1), Dallas Cowboys (No. 5), Kansas City Chiefs (No. 6), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 8) and Carolina Panthers (No. 10).

That will make it a challenge for the Giants' defense to reach last season's level of production, let alone meet its preseason expectations.