The New York Giants defense was a shadow of its former self in 2017.
After allowing the NFL’s second fewest points in 2016, they allowed the fifth-most points a season ago. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, once revered for putting together the defensive game plan that helped win Super Bowl XLII, was not retained after Pat Shurmur became head coach.
Bettcher brings with him a base 3-4 defense. He also loves to blitz. In his first two seasons as Cardinals defensive coordinator, Bettcher’s defense blitzed 41 and 41 percent of the time to lead the NFL. Last season, the Cardinals blitzed 37 percent of the time, tied for fifth overall.
Bettcher’s dedication to blitzing has been on display throughout the Giants’ organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.
“An aggressive style. (Bettcher’s defenses) try and pressure the QB and bring five guys,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “Disrupt the QB and not let him sit in the pocket. They are always tough to prepare for because they are multiple.”
Manning knows first hand about the aggressive style of Bettcher’s defenses. He was sacked twice and hit twice when the Cardinals shutout the Giants 23-0 in a Week 16 game last season. It was the first time the Cardinals had shutout an opponent in more than 25 years (a 17-0 win on Dec. 12, 1992 against, coincidentally, the Giants) and the first time the Giants failed to score since a 27-0 drubbing by the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 12, 2014.
The Giants had just 43 yards rushing with no first downs that Christmas Eve afternoon. They were 1-for-14 on third down and 1-for-4 on fourth down. The Cardinals forced two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown.
The Cardinals allowed the third-fewest yards in the NFL during Bettcher’s tenure as defensive coordinator. They also ranked second in run defense, third in takeaways, fifth in three-and-out percentage.
Do the Giants have the personnel to make Bettcher’s defense work?
The Giants have the services of Olivier Vernon, who is now the only player on the roster who ever recorded double digit sacks at the NFL level. Bettcher plans to use Vernon in the same way he used Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones. Jones led the NFL in sacks last season with 17. They also acquired Kareem Martin, who spent the past four seasons with the Cardinals.
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The defensive line may pose a challenge. Neither Damon Harrison or Dalvin Tomlinson are known for consistently getting after the quarterback. Both Harrison and Tomlinson worked out with the first team on Tuesday.
Both middle linebackers (B.J. Goodson, Alec Ogletree) have shown some signs of being effective blitzers. Ogletree, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Los Angeles Rams, has already assumed a leadership role on the defense. He wears the headset on the field that enables him to communicate with Bettcher during practice.
Cornerbacks Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins were sources of discontent a season ago. Jenkins, when fully dialed in, is one of the NFL’s best shut down corners. Apple has shown signs in the spring that justify the Giants selecting him with a first-round pick in 2016.
Landon Collins, who has been slowed by offseason arm surgery, is still the team’s strong safety. The logjam at the free safety is a deep one. Andrew Adams, Curtis Riley, Orion Stewart, Michael Thomas, and Darian Thompson have all taken first-team at some point throughout the spring.
Collins played his college ball at the University of Alabama for head coach Nick Saban. Bettcher’s defense uses some of the same concepts as Saban’s. Collins record four sacks in his rookie season. He is excited about the possibilities of Bettcher’s defense.
“If I were to describe it, I would say like what I came from in college, honestly,” Collins said. “When (Bettcher) came in and he started coaching, it was like I’m back to kind of my grounds and stuff like that. Still quarters (coverage), still stuff like that, but back to my grounds from what I had learned in college. It’s kind of second nature.”