Call me a Giants fan in denial. Call me a Giants fan desperately trying to tell myself it’s going to be just fine when I know for a fact it won’t be.
But I don’t think the Giants will miss Steve Spagnuolo that much.
It’s not that I think that the Giants are better off without him. There’s no doubt he was an indispensable member of the Giants' coaching staff for the 2007-08 season, and his schemes were integral in taking down the previously undefeated Patriots.
But in 2008, the Giants' defense was lacking something. It was good, but as the season wore on, sacks were infrequent and the defense couldn’t force turnovers. The defense that had put itself into NFL history books with arguably the greatest defensive game of all time just one year ago was merely decent.
It’s understandable that the Giants' front four wasn’t able to generate nearly the same amount of pressure as that Super Bowl-winning bunch. They had Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, and Justin Tuck fresh during January, all with the ability to take over a game.
Needless to say, Dave Tollefson and Mathias Kiwanuka did not complement Tuck the same way Osi and Strahan did.
So with that in mind, it was up to their unheralded defensive coordinator to make up for the steep talent gap with complex gameplans and new looks. After November, it was evident that Tuck was hurting badly and Kiwanuka was worn down from his first full season starting at defensive end.
It was up to Spags to get the job done.
And did he? Well, not really.
The defense was still solid down the stretch. But as each game passed and Spags sent more desperate blitzes that were picked up with ease, it was clear something was not right with his gameplans.
Third-down conversion rates for opposing offenses were akin to a Chad Pennington completion percentage. Turnovers forced were as rare as an Eli Manning touchdown dance.
I understand that Spagnuolo is not a miracle worker. The linebackers were marginal at best, and the front four did not contain nearly as much depth as the previous year’s bunch did.
But it proves that it’s the personnel that is the ultimate deciding factor in how great a defense is. The defense’s ineptitude for causing turnovers and harassing the quarterback proves that having a bright defensive coordinator is nice, but the defense is not solely dependent on it.
And with the possibility increasing that the next Giants defensive coordinator will come internally, there is more reason to believe that the Giants will be able to adapt to losing their beloved defensive coordinator.
The Giants have been preparing for this moment for roughly a year. There is no surprise with Spagnuolo being taken away from them. The players have prepared for it, and the Giants' management certainly has thoroughly discussed the potential replacements.
And with faster linebackers, the return of Osi Umenyiora, and the likelihood that the players will have familiarity with Spagnuolo’s replacement, the Giants' defense should be able to resurrect some of the 2007 dominance.