James Bettcher is in his first year as the New York Giants defensive coordinator, and he’s a big reason why their defense continues to improve. The transition to a 3-4 scheme has had its challenges, and a lack of talent in the front seven has made things harder, but the Giants have some solid pieces to build upon going forward.
The defense has only given up 30 or more points four times this season, and the back end has been arguably the strongest point. Janoris Jenkins has continued to be a tough defender in pass coverage. His 13 passes defensed ranks tied for fifth in the NFL and he also has two interceptions to go with that. One of the other cornerbacks is a familiar face to Cowboys fans: BW Webb. While he hasn’t been impressive, Webb has shown he’s capable of at least holding his own in coverage, although he’s usually the one who gives up bigger pass plays.
But the real stars for the Giants have been their safeties. Curtis Riley has emerged out of nowhere and showcased some ball hawk skills as he’s notched four interceptions, the most of any defensive back on the team; one of those picks was even returned for a touchdown. Riley is also the third leading tackler on the defense with 74 stops. But it’s Landon Collins, now a Pro Bowler, who’s been playing out of his mind. While Collins doesn’t have an interception on the year, he’s been effective in coverage and particularly dangerous in his ability to defend the run. He leads the team in tackles with 96 and has five tackles for loss, an eye-popping figure for a safety.
Up in the front seven, though, it hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows. The Giants traded for Alec Ogletree in the offseason, and he’s been really the best part of the front seven. His 93 tackles are second behind Collins and his five interceptions lead the team, including two pick sixes. In bad news for the Giants, Ogletree won’t be able to play becasue of injury on Sunday. After him, though... BJ Goodson has 56 tackles and two interceptions, but has been a very weak presence in both coverage and playing the run. Kareem Martin and Lorenzo Carter, two edge rushing linebackers, have combined for just 4.5 sacks, which equals that of the featured edge rusher in this defense, Olivier Vernon.
And that’s been the biggest problem for this defense: the lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. Defensive end BJ Hill leads the team in sacks with only five; that wouldn’t even be good enough for third place in Dallas. In fact, the Giants’ 26 total sacks this season ranks them second to last in the NFL. The only defense with less is the Oakland Raiders. This defense is a scheme that thrives on generating pressure in exotic ways, and in Bettcher’s time at Arizona he had a litany of players who got involved in rushing the passer, but in New York he can’t even get his top guys like Vernon or Connor Barwin, who has just one sack, involve.
As a result, the Giants have often suffered defensively because of a lack of pass rush, and their talented secondary is asked to cover far too long. But they’ll get a chance to flex their muscles this week against Dallas. Only Deshaun Watson has been sacked more than Dak Prescott this season, and Dallas is likely to sit Zack Martin and possibly Tyron Smith on Sunday. However, it’s also possible that the Cowboys will have their reserves all out on the field by the fourth quarter, so this may end up being a bit of a practice for the Giants defense as far as rushing the passer. Bettcher will surely be drawing up some creative blitz packages. If Dak Prescott or Cooper Rush aren’t careful, though, they can get bitten by this secondary.