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New York Giants Defense Could Be in Trouble
USA TODAY Sports
Jon Beason might have to be replaced, just like Will Hill, Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph.

At times last year, especially down the stretch, the New York Giants looked like they had one of the NFL's best defenses. 

On paper, anyway. 

During a four-game stretch between Week 7 and Week 11, they surrendered only 26 total points on defense (21 on offense and special teams). But they faced struggling backup-caliber quarterbacks Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Scott Tolzien in those games.

Over the next five weeks, against more formidable opponents, they came back to earth, surrendering 24.2 points per game. Remove that four-game hot streak against bad offenses from the sample and the Giants defense was still pretty weak in 2013. 

Giants defense, 2013: Great, OK or terrible?
PPG (rank) YPG (rank) Takeaways/game (rank)
First 6 weeks 34.8 (32nd) 424.7 (27th) 1.2 (25th)
Next 4 weeks 11.8 (1st) 253.3 (1st) 2.8 (1st)
Last 6 weeks 21.2 (13) 325.8 (10th) 1.8 (9th)

Pro Football Reference

There's reason to believe things could get worse in 2014.

From Week 7 on, Jon Beason was by far the best front-seven defender on the team. The middle linebacker was a tackling machine. 

Giants defense, 2013
PPG (rank) YPG (rank) Takeaways (rank)
Without Jon Beason 36.4 (32nd) 395.2 (27th) 1.4 (24th)
With Jon Beason 18.3 (4th) 303.6 (5th) 2.0 (2nd)

Pro Football Reference

And only Beason and Antrel Rolle had more tackles during that stretch than Will Hill, who became a strong starter at free safety while earning the defense's top grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

PFF's top-rated safeties, 2013
Player Grade Snaps
Devin McCourty 18.7 1039
Will Hill 15.7 787
Eric Berry 14.5 1124
T.J. Ward 14.5 1039
Troy Polamalu 12.2 1093

Pro Football Focus

Also from that point forward, Justin Tuck was reinvigorated. The defensive end was one of only five pass-rushers to record a double-digit sack total between Week 7 and Week 17. 

NFL sack leaders, Weeks 7-17 (2013)
Player Sacks
Robert Quinn 13.0
Greg Hardy 12.0
John Abraham 11.5
Justin Tuck 10.5
Robert Mathis 10.0

Pro Football Reference

After Hill and Tuck, PFF's next-highest-rated player on the Giants defense was Linval Joseph. The versatile 25-year-old defensive tackle was lights-out on defense while also applying a solid amount of pressure for an interior defensive lineman not known for his pass-rushing chops. 

Top-rated Giants defenders, 2013 (PFF)
PFF grade
Will Hill 15.7
Justin Tuck 15.4
Linval Joseph 9.9

Pro Football Focus

Beason is out for at least a few months after breaking his foot, Hill has been released after a failed drug test, Tuck is now with the Oakland Raiders and Joseph is now with the Minnesota Vikings, meaning the Giants don't have four of their top five players from a defense that was already shaky and inconsistent and was probably overrated based on one hot stretch against poor competition. 

Now, Beason could be back for the start of the regular season, but that's far from a guarantee considering his injury history. The former Pro Bowler missed virtually the entire 2011 season due to a torn Achilles tendon and played in only four games in 2012 before microfracture surgery on his right knee in October ended that campaign. 

So the Giants had better hope they can replace not only Tuck, Joseph and Hill, but also Beason if need be.

It'll help that Jason Pierre-Paul is one year further along after undergoing back surgery last offseason, and the secondary has probably improved by adding well-reputed corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond. The team has high hopes for 2013 second-day picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore along the defensive line, and free-agent front-seven additions Robert Ayers and Jameel McClain have fringe starting ability. 

But is that enough? And even if those guys come together in some form to make up for what's been lost this offseason, what does that mean for this defense? The goal should have been to get better this offseason, because the Giants won't be facing Pryors and Tolziens and Barkleys and Freemans very often in 2014. 

Despite the fact that they were technically ranked eighth defensively last season, the status quo won't due for a team that still surrendered 31 or more points on six different occasions. 

The offense and its bad turnover habit cost the Giants dearly last season. Wouldn't it be cruel if Eli Manning and Co. were to get back on track in 2014, only to be victimized by the D? Based on some tough breaks and big losses, that's a very real possibility. 

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