Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has been an incredible hire for the New York Giants coaching staff this season.
Sure, you can say 5-7 is not really an impressive record even in a pandemic-impacted season like the one we’re witnessing in 2020. Sure, you could say the New York Giants are only in first place in the NFC East because, lucky for them, each of their division rivals isn’t so great this year either.
You could even say the Giants’ schedule has been fairly easy as of late, considering three of their four most-recent wins were against Washington, Philly, and Cincinnati.
But to say coordinator Patrick Graham doesn’t deserve all the credit in the world for how he’s led this Big Blue defensive unit is, as Stephen A. Smith would say, “blasphemy.”
I think we need to address a huge indicator of a good coach, and that’s the performance a team could still put together even when starters go down with injuries.
We all know Sean Payton is great in New Orleans, but we especially realize it when Drew Brees doesn’t play, and that’s been the case in eight combined games over the last two seasons.
In those matchups, the Saints are 8-0.
Maybe not this year, but in 2017, we realized the type of head coach Doug Pederson was when Carson Wentz went down and Nick Foles still led Philly to its first-ever Super Bowl title.
We see it right now with Bill Belichick as well, whose team is somehow 6-6 despite a noteworthy number of COVID-19 opt-outs, a tough schedule with games against Miami, Baltimore, Seattle, Las Vegas, Buffalo, and Kansas City, along with a starting quarterback who’s only thrown five touchdowns this season and is averaging just 186.6 passing yards per game.
Now I’m not saying Graham is on the level of a Payton or a Belichick at all, but you can’t look past the fact that this Giants defense is playing at an intense level, regardless of who’s on the field.
On Sunday, New York entered Lumen Field in Seattle without any of its top four edge rushers from the commencement of the 2020 campaign. Oshane Ximines? Done for the year with a shoulder injury. Lorenzo Carter? Done for the year with an Achilles rupture. Kyler Fackrell? On injured reserve with a calf injury. Markus Golden? Traded to Arizona back in October.
And the Giants were still able to generate consistent pressure on Russell Wilson that came in the form of five sacks and 10 quarterback hits.
Linebacker Tae Crowder, a seventh-round rookie who was 2020’s Mr. Irrelevant, was also always around the ball against Seattle and finished with seven combined tackles along with his first career sack. Sixth-round rookie linebacker Cam Brown and seventh-round rookie linebacker Carter Coughlin additionally made plays and found themselves in the backfield on a number of occasions.
When backups and less experienced players are able to step up and be successful, kind of like the previous starters were, you know coaching has made a difference.
When you’re able to utilize a rotation of guys within the pass rush and still consistently generate pressure, you know coaching has made a difference.
It’s not just the pass rush itself though, but the overall unit as well. Just take a look at the number of guys on the defensive side of the ball who are playing the best football of their respective careers.
Leonard Williams‘ 2.5 sacks on Sunday brought him to 8.5 on the year, and it’s beginning to feel as if the 2019 trade for him was a beneficial roster move.
Jabrill Peppers is becoming a “defensive quarterback” and making a tremendous difference when coming up from that strong safety spot — he’s third on the team in total tackles and is currently making a case for his first-ever Pro Bowl nod.
James Bradberry, who wasn’t even the most expensive cornerback in 2020’s free agency period, is playing like a first-team All-Pro this season and has likely been the Giants’ defensive MVP.
Blake Martinez is also playing at an extreme level and is third in the league with 111 combined tackles.
And guys like Crowder, Brown, and Coughlin, who aren’t even supposed to be the most talented players in the world, are stepping up in the crucial moments and doing everything the organization has requested of them.
Coaching is a reason for that. Teaching is a reason for that. Productive preparation is a reason for that. Patrick Graham is a reason for that.
Regardless of who’s on the field, this defense has carried the responsibility of taking the pressure off an offense that’s been unproductive the entire year. And thus far, the unit has delivered, thanks in part to its veteran coordinator.