While there was a good deal of turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants will be employing a very similar blueprint for success: rushing the QB.
The play calling should stay roughly the same, with a few tweaks and personnel adjustments to maximize productivity and endurance.
Bill Sheridan Promoted to D-Coordinator
With Steve Spagnuolo taking the head coaching job with the Rams, former linebacker coach Bill Sheridan has been promoted to defensive coordinator.
Sheridan is obviously familiar with the system Spagnuolo ran, and has stated that he will not change much.
“Basically we'll run the same stuff because it's been good, it's been proven.”
He has noted that defensive linemen will be asked to drop into coverage less often, and that he will use his linemen to blitz more often.
The fact that a former linebacker coach wants to blitz as often as possible is not surprising. Perhaps the biggest change will be that Sheridan will call his plays from up in the box, not down on the sideline like Spagnuolo.
Michael Boley Signs, Clint Sintim Drafted
Linebacker was the glaring weakness of the Giants 2008 defense, and Jerry Reese addressed the holes with these two pickups. Boley is a play-maker who broke out in 2007, only to regress in 2008.
But his down season can be attributed to a Falcons defensive system that did not at all suit his aggressiveness.
Now he brings his attacking style to the Giants, where he will fit in perfectly, rushing the quarterback in Bill Sheridan’s blitz-heavy defense. He’s no stiff in the run game either.
Clint Sintim was a great pass rusher in college, and he will be used to do just that in Sheridan’s system. He is not as aggressive as Boley, but he has excellent football instincts.
Heading into the draft, reports were that he struggled in coverage, but early reports from rookie camp is that he looks fluid and comfortable when dropping back. He is also adequate in run support.
These two new OLB bring some much needed flexibility to the giants LB core, giving Sheridan a whole new bag of tricks to choose from. The Giants will finally have some play-makers in the middle of their defense, something that they lacked from journeyman Danny Clark and the disappointing Gerris Wilkinson.
Sintim played in a 3-4 system in Virginia, so it is feasible that Sheridan will experiment with some 3-4 formations, with Mathias Kiwanuka possibly standing up and blitzing from a linebacker position.
Sheridan has stated that he will have his defensive linemen blitz as much as possible, and the improved linebacker core will allow him to be more aggressive with his linemen. However, I also expect to see Boley and Sintim get their fair share of opportunities to sack the quarterback.
James Butler Departs, CC Brown Signs
James Butler, who always hovered just above mediocrity, signed with former coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams. To help fill the hole, former Texans starter CC Brown was signed and will assume the No. 3 role in the safety pecking order.
This under-the-radar move gives the Giants quality depth at safety while allowing Kenny Phillips to slide into a starting role opposite Michael Johnson. The overall quality of the defensive backfield should increase, as Brown is no worse than Butler and Phillips and Johnson should continue to improve.
Not much should change here in terms of defensive play calling, although opposing offenses may have to change their play calling. Phillips is poised for a breakout year, and if he develops into the play-making, hard-hitting safety many expect him to be, teams may be less tempted to throw in his direction.
Phillips is expected to be the strong safety, and Johnson the free safety, with some sort of a rotation that will allow Brown to see a good amount of playing time
Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard Sign
Rocky Bernard is a solid depth signing who can play both the run and the pass, but he will not be more than a 3rd or 4th man in the DT rotation. The real signing of interest is Chris Canty, who is stolen away from the division rival Dallas Cowboys.
Canty, who played end in a 3-4 system, will shift to the inside and line up next to either Barry Coefield or Fred Robbins.
It is also likely that Canty will move to end from time to time, in an effort to get everyone on the field and keep linemen fresh for the stretch run. The defensive play calling will remain mostly the same, but more fresh faces will help keep the offensive line off balanced.
But the biggest change that the 6’7 Chris Canty brings to the Giants comes in the form of wingspan; his long arms will help to block passes and obscure the QBs view of the middle of the field.
In recent years, the Giants have been burned by short passes over the middle (Wes Welker in Super Bowl 42, Eagles receivers in 2008 playoffs). This has to do with the linebackers struggling in coverage, namely an aging Antonio Pierce.
But the addition of Canty will make it tougher on QBs to throw over the middle, helping to give the linebackers a little more room for error.
Osi Umenyiora Returns
Aside from allowing Sheridan to rotate and rest his defensive ends, the return of Osi Umenyiora from knee surgery will give the Giants even more options with the front seven.
Umenyiora will start at defensive end, opposite Justin Tuck, which pushes Mathias Kiwanuka to a supporting role. Kiwanuka will see the field a lot on pass rushing situations, which will push Justin Tuck inside, a position where he thrived in 2007.
Osi’s presence could also cause Kiwanuka to see some time at outside linebacker, giving the Giants even more pass rushing presence off the edge.
Sheridan likes to blitz, and the return of Osi is as nice a gift as any first year D-coordinator could ask for.
Quarterbacks facing the Giants should buy some life-size “fatheads” in preparation of how often they will be coming face to face with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and the rest of the Giants front seven.