This year’s version of the Giants’ defense will never be mistaken for an all-time great unit, but their transformation over the last few weeks has been impressive.
The very same defense that blew historic fourth-quarter double-digit leads in its first two games is now spearheading a team that’s on a two-game winning streak. And the fact that they’re closing out games despite a less-than desirable pass defense has been as noteworthy.
“We know we’ve got to get better [in stopping the pass], obviously, and I think we will get better,” said head coach Tom Coughlin. “In the meantime, if we can stop the run and then our pressure on the quarterback continues to build, we’ll get better in the secondary as well.”
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New York (2-2) is allowing 316 passing yards per game, while stymieing opponents on the ground to the tune of a league-best 69.8 yards per game. During their two-game winning streak, though, the defense has shown better balance and tenacity, which is a testament to their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his ability to patchwork a defense – not to mention a “relentless meter” in the defensive meeting room that grades how hard the players work.
Linebacker Mark Herzlich noted that the reason his defense is starting to gel is because guys are versatile and always at the ready.
“We have guys who have done everything," Herzlich said, noting that backups like himself, Uani’ Unga, Jonathan Casillas, and Jasper Brinkley have all contributed when called. “We all know what to do.”
The depth doesn’t just stop with the linebackers, as the defensive line has been given a boost from an unlikely source, fullback Nikita Whitlock.
Whitlock is the starting fullback who usurped the position from fan favorite Henry Hynoski in training camp, and has now become a late-game situational pass rusher. He’s been so disruptive that opposing offenses make themselves aware of his entrance into the game.
He recorded his first career sack last week in Buffalo, after drawing a holding call on the previous play. Whitlock’s effort is a microcosm of the diligence and perseverance of this defense, as he’s not able to attend defensive meetings during the week because of the offensive time constraints that overlap. He instead studies opposing offensive linemen on his own time, noting, “I do my own meetings.”
Coughlin has been very impressed with the effort the defense has put forth lately, particularly propping up unsung players like Whitlock.
“It’s never that [a hard sell for Whitlock to convince the coach to play both sides of the ball]. Not if he makes plays. I’m good with that. I like playmakers,” said Coughlin, noting his fullback is a unique player. “He came [from Wake Forest] with that defensive line temperament. His quickness has been his forte. I’ve never had one like him, not at this level. He’s a tough hombre.”
The defense has been tough on opponents during their streak. And with a gimpy 49ers (1-3) squad coming to town, this game could be a great chance to continue that ascension.
Big Blue notes:
-Both linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. (hamstring) will likely be out for Sunday, as they haven’t practiced this week.
-Casillas (calf) was seen on the side early in Thursday’s practice, not participating in team drills.
-Wideout Victor Cruz won’t play Sunday, but he did not close the door on returning for the next game – an Oct. 19 Monday nighter in Philadelphia, Oct. 19, which happens to be the scene of the crime of his devastating knee injury, last October.