Why New York Giants' Defense Will Become Even Better in 2012
The New York Giants have a long and storied history of great defenses—the 2011 defense was not one of them. While the Giants have traditionally succeeded with a hard-nosed defense and a power running game, New York made it to the Super Bowl in 2011 with a non-existent rushing attack and a defense that resembled a sieve at times.
The Giants defense looks to return to true form in 2012.
During the regular season, the Giants gave up the sixth most yards (6,022) and eighth most points (400). The defense struggled especially against the pass, giving up 255.1 passing yards per game, which was fourth worst in the league (via ESPN.com)
However, in the postseason and the weeks leading up to it, the Giants defense clamped down and resembled the “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” of days past. The defense played so well that they led New York to its fourth Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
The Giants’ defense has been revamped this offseason, giving New York fans a reason to believe that their defense will carry last year’s playoff dominance into the 2012 season.
An Elite Pass Rush
One thing that did not falter for the Giants’ defense in 2011 was their pass rush. From Lawrence Taylor to Michael Strahan to Osi Umenyiora to Justin Tuck and now Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants have had a consistent pass rush for over two decades.
New York finished last season with the third most sacks (48.0), but that total was only a fraction of their defensive line’s potential. Umenyiora entered last season with contract issues and only played in nine games due to nagging injuries. Tuck looked like a shadow of his usual self, and he also fought through injuries. For the most part, the Giants defense was forced to rely on a season-long freak performance from second-year defensive end Pierre-Paul.
The 2012 season will be a different story. Umenyiora is healthy and happy after receiving a pay raise, Tuck thinks a full offseason will help him avoid injuries and Pierre-Paul, who is still learning the game, will have another year of experience under his belt (via the NY Post).
The Giants are returning defensive tackles Chris Canty and Linval Joseph, which will bolster their interior pass rush. There’s also defensive end turned linebacker, Mathias Kiwanuka, who can get to the quarterback.
The list of pass-rushers on the Giants defense seems to go on for days.
A Healthy Secondary
By the time the 2011 season started, New York had already lost four cornerbacks to injury. Terrell Thomas (ACL), Brian Witherspoon (ACL), and Bruce Johnson (Achilles) were all lost for the season. 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara missed the first nine weeks of the season with a broken foot.
Completely decimated, the Giants were forced to start Aaron Ross at cornerback and move Antrel Rolle from free safety, his natural position, to nickel cornerback in five-DB sets (via ESPN.com). Ross proved to be one of the worst corners in the league and Rolle was openly unhappy with his new duties, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2012, the Giants will surely field a healthier, deeper secondary.
Thomas will return and is expected to reclaim his starting position opposite Corey Webster, who looks to repeat his 2011 performance as a clutch, shutdown cornerback. Amukamara, who looked completely clueless when he was finally thrown into the fold, will have the benefit of a full offseason to wholly understand the defense in 2012.
The Giants also added cornerback Jayron Hosley with their third-round pick in the 2012 draft. The Virginia Tech product may see time at nickel cornerback, moving Rolle back to his natural position and allowing him to take on more of the ball-hawk role he had in Arizona.
Depth at Linebacker
The Giants’ linebacker situation is the complete opposite of the one they faced in 2011. Last preseason, Jonathon Goff went down for the season with a torn ACL, leaving an enormous question mark at the middle linebacker position. Kiwanuka was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker and Michael Boley, in his third season with the team, was expected to be the quarterback of the defense.
Boley stepped up to the plate and led a linebacker core consisting of four rookies—two of which were undrafted—to the best of his ability. While the Giants had to deal with a lot of inexperience at the linebacker position in 2011, New York almost has too much linebacker talent in 2012.
They are returning solid starters in Kiwanuka and Boley. New York also added former first-round pick Keith Rivers via trade with the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the Giants plan on possibly converting either Rivers or Boley into a middle linebacker, Chase Blackburn is still the front-runner for the starting job. Players like Mark Herzlich and Jacquian Williams are talented linebackers, but they will have to scratch, claw and fight for every minute of playing time.
Throw in Greg Jones, Spencer Paysinger and Jake Muasau, an undrafted free agent that turned some heads in OTAs, and there’s a good chance a solid linebacker will be cut in training camp.
No one in New York is complaining, though—too much talent is never a backbreaking problem.