On November 4, 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered MetLife Stadium featuring third-stringer Isaac Redman as their starting running back. The Giants' defense salivated over the prospect of Redman as the Steel City's main ball-carrier. Through the first eight weeks of the season, the fourth-year back had averaged a miserable 2.5 yards per carry.
Twenty-six Redman carries later, that same defense found itself battered and badly beaten. New York had surrendered 147 yards on the ground to Redman, and the 230-pound back had bowled his way into the end-zone twice. The Giants blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, painfully losing by a final score of 24-20.
At that point it was clear; this was not a customary Big Blue defense. Rather, it was a defense that likely had Andy Robustelli turning over in his grave. It was a defense that probably made Harry Carson ashamed to call himself a lifetime Giant.It was a defense that definitely had head coach Tom Coughlin uttering the most offensive S-word in professional football: "soft."
From there, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell watched his squad finish out the season as one of the worst in the league. It seemed as if Fewell's defense had turned a corner just a year earlier, when the Giants knocked off its final six opponents—holding each to 20 points or less—to claim a Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and his explosive New England offense.
Instead, Fewell's defense suffered a total collapse in 2012, surrendering 6,134 total yards, a new franchise record.
|Giants Defense Under Perry Fewell|
|2010||4,990 (7)||347 (17)||39 (1)|
|2011||6,022 (27)||400 (25)||31 (5)|
|2012||6,134 (31)||344 (12)||35 (3)|
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com
*League rank shown in parenthesis.
Fewell was officially on the hot seat. Coughlin assured the media on New Year's Eve day that he had no desire to make any changes to his coaching staff. Fewell's job would be safe for the 2013 season but not the foreseeable future. His current contract expires next spring.
Nearly four years ago, Fewell took over for Dick Jauron, inheriting a 3-7 Buffalo Bills team in Week 11 of the 2009 season.
With no previous head coaching experience, Fewell guided an over-matched Bills team to three wins in its final seven contests. He signed with the Giants the following offseason as a defensive coordinator, and, since then, his name has frequently been thrown around as a potential head coaching candidate.
Just recently, Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News listed him among Bill Cowher, Nick Saban and other high-profile coaches as those with a chance to become Coughlin's heir to the New York coaching throne.
That chance is surely waning, considering the drop-off New York has suffered defensively.
Fewell needs to turn things around quickly; if the Giants' once-acclaimed defense continues its downward spiral, he will take a nasty fall from the NFL coaching ladder he began climbing in 1998 as a defensive backs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With his back against the wall in 2013, Fewell will turn to what got him to this level in the first place: his creativity and ability to innovate.
Fewell thinks outside the box when it comes to personnel. He is best known for his invention of the NASCAR package, which features four defensive ends to maximize pass-rushing potency. His defenses are also most effective when an extra safety is on the field. He will often push his players to their physical limits, experimenting with versatile defenders like Antrel Rolle and Mathias Kiwanuka at several different positions to find the best fit.
In some aspects Fewell will simplify, while in others he will continue to expand.
As evidenced by last year's Steelers game, the Giants need to get back to the basics and stiffen up against the run. The return of 350-pounder Shaun Rogers, as well as the additions of veteran Cullen Jenkins and rookie Johnathan "Big Hank" Hankins, should help accomplish that.
Jenkins, who weighs in at 305 pounds, has worked extensively at defensive end this summer, perhaps in preparation for an anti-NASCAR package geared toward stopping the run (via The Record).
Players like Rolle and Kiwanuka, whose numerous responsibilities have stretched them thin, may enjoy some unusual consistency in Fewell's defensive scheme this season. Kiwanuka expects to line-up exclusively at his natural defensive end position, and the re-addition of cornerback Aaron Ross could allow Rolle to play over the top more often, where he once was a ball hawk with the Arizona Cardinals.
Somewhere between Tom Landry's 4-3 defense of the 1950s and Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense of the 1980s, the Giants, under Fewell, will feature a New Age scheme in 2013.
To make up for a core of linebackers lacking a superstar, defensive end Justin Tuck could see an increase in reps as "rush" linebacker, something New York has "toyed" with in camp so far (The Star-Ledger).
With so much speculation, only one thing is for certain: Fewell's defense needs to cause turnovers. Take-aways have been the lifeblood of the Giants defense since Fewell's arrival; in each of his three seasons as defensive coordinator, New York has ranked among the NFL's top five in that category.
The formula for creating turnovers involves imposing both pressure and confusion upon opposing offenses. Last season, the pressure was non-existent, and the majority of the confusion lied within Fewell's defensive backfield.
Still, the 2012 Giants ranked third in the league with 35 take-aways. If Fewell is able to tinker with the front seven, making it stouter against the run and field a more disciplined secondary in 2013, he has a strong chance to resurrect his career and, one day, land another head coaching gig.