Jerry Reese‘s job is likely on the line and Eli Manning‘s championship window is closing. So, it’s all in for the 2016 New York Giants and it starts with the defense.
Let’s not sugar-coat things here. It’s do or die for this year’s New York Giants squad and there is no room for error after the offseason’s big time additions.
The expectations are high on this team, so too should be the predictions of the analysts that cover them. Here are three hot takes on what might be in store for Big Blue on the defensive side of the football.
1. The Giants Will Sign Dwight Freeney
Robert Ayers and George Selvie are no longer on the roster; the depth chart at the defensive end position gets awfully thin after Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon.
Kerry Wynn is a known commodity, a below average pass rusher and a decent run stopper. Meanwhile, last year’s third round choice Owamagbe Odighizuwa remains a mystery at the NFL level. Touted as an excellent pass rushing prospect, Odighizuwa battled injuries all season, making it to the field for just four games and posting only three tackles.
That won’t cut it for a team that has always built their defensive successes, not just around a strong front four, but with solid depth and versatility. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is serious about re-implementing his famed “NASCAR” package, the Giants will need to add another veteran into the mix.
Enter Freeney, a career long terror off the edge, thanks to his deadly spin move, would be a perfect situational pass rusher for New York in his now advanced age.
The Arizona Cardinals used him in exactly that role last season. While Freeney posted only nine total tackles through 11 games for the Cards, he finished the year with eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
Arizona used him solely to rush the passer and it worked to absolute perfection. The Giants would be wise to invest in bringing Freeney aboard to do the same for them. It’s a must if they want to take their defense to the next level.
2. Janoris Jenkins Will Struggle Early
Corners who have spent their entire career in one uniform, playing in the same defensive scheme usually have trouble transitioning to the playbook of their new team.
It happened to Byron Maxwell going to the Philadelphia Eagles from the Seattle Seahawks, Chris Culliver from the San Francisco 49ers to the Washington Redskins, Brandon Browner from the Seahawks to the New England Patriots, Brandon Carr from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Dallas Cowboys, and (perhaps most infamously) Nnamdi Asomugha from the Oakland Raiders to the Eagles.
In short, while journeymen corners like Cortland Finnegan, Brent Grimes, Terrance Newman, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Darrelle Revis, and the legendary Deion Sanders have been able to make it work, history does not trend kindly to corners jumping ship after playing with one team for a good period of time. Even the aforementioned defensive backs who succeed elsewhere still experienced some early struggles with their new clubs.
Jenkins’s ball hawking attitude will likely gel nicely with the attacking mindset Spagnuolo is hoping to create amongst the Giants defense. It also won’t hurt having the strong front four of Pierre-Paul, Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Johnathan Hankins wreaking havoc in the faces of opposing passers.
Though with Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, and Aaron Rodgers due up to duel with New York’s defensive backfield through the first five weeks of the season, don’t be surprised to see Jenkins get off to a rocky start.
He has the talent and ball skills to play at a Pro Bowl level but he will need time to find himself within the Giants defense before he gets to that point. Some big plays let up by the former St. Louis Ram will frustrate many during the year’s opening stretch.
An easier string of games against the Rams, Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals (DRC will be on A.J. Green, so if Jenkins can’t shut down Brandon LaFell we have a much bigger issue), Chicago Bears, and Cleveland Browns should get him back on track during the season’s second half.
3. Olivier Vernon Will Break The Double Digit Sack Mark
Olivier Vernon had his best season as a professional in 2015, finishing with 61 tackles 7.5 sacks, a league leading 41 QB pressures, and Pro Football Focus’ rank as the NFL’s third best edge rusher behind Kahlil Mack and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
That career year was no fluke, as Vernon’s a talented football player. However, it was aided by the big seasons but forth by fellow defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, who had six and seven sacks last season, respectively.
With a dominate force in the middle like what Suh as been for so many years, and a talented fellow edge rusher on the other side of the line in Wake, the task of getting pressure on the quarterback was made much easier for Vernon. Imagine what he’ll be able to do with a full line of perennial Pro Bowlers to go after the passer with.
Pierre-Paul’s hand is now presumably a full go. The former All-Pro impressively managed 24 hurries through just eight games with his clubbed hand. Extended to a 16 game sample size, JPP’s 48 hurries would have the lead the league and it wouldn’t have even been close.
On the line’s interior, Harrison ranked as Pro Football Foucs’ “Best Run Defender of 2015” for his 72 tackles on the year, earning him a spot on the website’s All-Pro team. His fellow defensive tackle Hankins ranked 69th on PFF’s “Top 101 Players of 2015,” accumulating a +20.2 grade from the site with 30 tackles through nine games.
A retooled linebacking and defensive back group via free agency and the NFL Draft means it’ll full speed ahead for Big Blue’s front four. With a line that good opposing teams will have to pick their poison on the double teams or be forced to keep a running back in the backfield on pass protection.
Vernon has a great group of players around him; the young star will just need to take advantage of it all.