Two months ago, the New York Giants’ Week 17 contest with the Philadelphia Eagles looked like it would be a playoff tune-up for Big Blue. Now, Sunday’s game has become New York’s last gasp of postseason hope, and the team’s overall performance on the defensive side of the ball is a large reason why.
To be fair, the offense hasn’t pulled its weight down the stretch either, as quarterback Eli Manning has struggled to kick-start much scoring. But the Giants defense, coordinated by Perry Fewell, has absolutely plummeted in recent weeks.
The Giants defense has fallen all the way to 30th in the NFL in total yards allowed (5,817) on the 2012 season. As far as points allowed, the squad ranks slightly better at 18th in the league (337). But after allowing over 30 points in both the Falcons and Ravens debacles, Giants fans are fervently searching for a direction to point the finger of blame.
Bleacher Report’s NFC East lead writer Brad Gagnon called out two of New York’s coordinators, Fewell and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, claiming that both should be feeling the heat given their respective units' production (or lack thereof) late in the season. With a loss to the Eagles on Sunday, the Giants would conclude the season with an 8-8 record, making some offseason coaching changes virtually imminent.
Fewell, who landed his first gig as a defensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills (2006-2009), was offered a job with the Giants in 2010 after finishing out the ’09 season as the Bills’ interim head coach. Although Fewell coordinated a championship-caliber defense a season ago, he is not unfamiliar with the heavy scrutiny that comes along with playing/coaching in New York City.
However, on Thursday, just as Fewell’s seat began really heating up, he flipped the script. The Giants' third-year defensive coordinator placed the blame on his players, claiming, “We’ve prepared better than we’ve played.” (h/t Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News)
The sudden public defense of his championship-winning scheme is startling, but Fewell’s assertion is not baseless. He cannot help the dozens of missed tackles and blown assignments that the Giants seem to produce on a weekly basis. The defense has struggled all season against the big play, allowing 16 plays of 40 or more yards in 2012, a statistic that Vacchiano points out as one of the worst in the league.
Not all of that is on Fewell’s shoulders—he expects his defenders to be accountable for their on-field responsibilities. But much like the defenders he employs, Fewell should show a degree of accountability as well.
Although the psychological world tends to disagree, the common definition of “insanity” is to repeat the same mistakes over and over but expect different results. One could argue that Fewell’s defensive approach this season has resembled borderline insanity.
It is true that Fewell is not directly to blame every time cornerback Corey Webster gives up a 60-yard touchdown bomb, but he hasn’t done much to prevent the problem from repeating itself. He may not be completely responsible for his linebackers’ inability to stuff the run, but we haven’t seen him make the proper schematic adjustments to help them out.
It’s not totally his fault that the Giants’ ghost of a pass rush has failed to produce a single double-digit sacker in 2012, but Fewell hasn’t put his rushers, New York’s most talented and valued competitors, in position to make those types of plays.
No matter which way you look at it, the New York Giants defense has just become one big, underperforming mess.
OK, Fewell deserves some credit for experimenting with the 4-4-3 look last week against the Ravens, but his attempt to bottle up running back Ray Rice failed miserably, as Baltimore racked up over 200 yards on the ground. In the end, placing the blame may not be as cut-and-dried as most fans desire it to be.
Fewell’s defense has also had to weather a ton of injuries in 2012, and while that’s never an excuse for poor play, it should explain why his unit has lacked consistency. The early-season injury to safety Kenny Phillips proved to be most costly, as Fewell’s defenses tend to thrive only when he is able to field three healthy and experienced safeties.
And, as stated earlier, the Giants offense hasn’t really helped the current defensive woes. New York has lost the time-of-possession battle, 41:42 to 78:18 over its last 120 minutes of football. The team has only converted six of its 20 third downs during that time, as well.
So maybe there’s no one coach, player or even unit to blame. If the Giants fall on Sunday, their 2-6 record in the second half of the season will be the exact opposite of the 6-2 record they sported through the first eight weeks of the 2012 season.
A collapse of that proportion requires a total team effort.