Over the last two offseasons, the New York Giants front office has shown faith in defensive coordinator James Bettcher by acquiring some of his old players.
When the New York Giants hired James Bettcher to be their defensive coordinator in January of 2018, it surprised some. The football man runs a 3-4 defense and the Giants have played a 4-3 defense for the better part of the last two decades.
When making a drastic change in defensive philosophy, such as moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, it generally takes at least two years to acquire the proper personnel. So, in hiring Bettcher to run the defense, Pat Shurmur, Dave Gettleman and ownership showed a ton of faith that Bettcher can make the Giants defense dominant again once he gets his type of players.
Shortly after hiring Bettcher, the Giants began to change their defense to fit his system.
They traded two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and a fourth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two 2018 draft picks (69th & 108th overall). The Giants would use the 69th pick to draft B.J. Hill from North Carolina State, who is a big, athletic and physical lineman essential in a 3-4 defense. Hill would go onto setting a rookie franchise record for sacks in a season with five and a half.
Big Blue was also busy in free agency last offseason, acquiring players such as Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro, who were familiar with Bettcher from their time with him when he was the Arizona Cardinals linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2013-2017.
Despite having players familiar with his system, the Giants defense in 2018 only made modest improvements from 2017, going from 31st in total defense to 24 in 2018.
The main issue with the defense last season and for the last several seasons has been a lack of a pass rush. The defense produced just 30 sacks a season ago tied for 30th in the league.
Knowing that this was an issue they had to address, one of the biggest key free agent pickups the Giants made this offseason was signing another one of Bettcher’s former players in outside linebacker Markus Golden.
The 28-year-old Golden played with the Cardinals from 2015-2018 and had a breakout season in 2016 when he put up 12.5 sacks. A torn ACL cut short his 2017 season after just four games, but he came back and appeared in 11 games last season for the Cardinals.
The Giants and Bettcher are confident that Golden can return to his 2016 form. Earlier this month, Bettcher spoke about the acquisition of Golden.
“We had a chance to get Markus Golden in here and Markus unfortunately somewhere around 18ish months ago had a pretty significant knee injury. Don’t ever forget that before that he was one of the best pass rushers in this league. People had to plan for him. I know that because I was one of the guys calling the plays for him on defense. I saw what he was able to do when he was healthy and running around. I love how he is moving right now and I love his work. He is a guy that is going to play exceptionally hard.”
Much of the success or failure of the defense will be determined on how well Golden performs, but he wasn’t the only key former Bettcher player that will have a huge role on the defense. Big Blue also signed free safety Antoine Bethea. Bethea spent the last two seasons with the Cardinals and he’ll be an upgrade at free safety over last year’s starter, Curtis Riley, who is now an Oakland Raider.
Bethea turns 35 in July, but despite his age, he showed he can still be a productive player, leading the Cardinals in tackles with 121.
Not only does Bettcher have several of his former players at his disposal to enforce his aggressive and attacking style, but he’ll have a bunch of talented and hungry rookies to coach up as well.
The Giants used seven of their 10 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball including two of their three first-round picks in Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker.
— Jason Leach (@JasonKLeach) May 4, 2019
Lawrence and Baker are projected to be starters and should make an immediate impact.
Some may feel the Giants are putting too much faith in Bettcher since he was never part of a championship team. But the Giants feel they have the right man to led the defense for 2019 and beyond.
Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley will get most of the headlines for the Giants this season. But if the Giants are going to contend for a playoff spot, it will depend on if Bettcher has the right pieces to have an intimidating defense that can close out games in the fourth quarter.