With his first Pro Bowl season under his belt, cornerback James Bradberry knew that coming into 2021, he'd not only have to maintain that high level of play but also find a way to top it.
Thanks to a few tweaks by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Bradberry, who got off to a rocky season this year, has been playing much better, and it's shown in his production.
In his first six games, the 28-year-old Bradberry was targeted 31 times in coverage, allowing 23 completions (74.1 percent) for 301 yards and four touchdowns, with just two interceptions for an abysmal 117.07 NFL Rating.
Bradberry has been targeted 26 times in his last five games but has allowed just 11 completions (42 percent) for 123 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception recorded for a 66.67 rating.
Two significant tweaks stand out as possible catalysts for the improvement in Bradberry's play.
The first is that Graham has brought the cornerbacks closer to the action rather than having them play so far off the receivers. Bradberry, by nature, is a physical press-man corner who has excelled in disrupting the timing of receivers' routes.
Another tweak Graham has made is that he's recently started matching Bradberry up against opposing tight ends, a move, he explained, was due to Bradberry's size (6'1, 212 pounds), making him a better matchup against the bigger tight ends.
"When you get a chance to use a big corner on a tight end, sometimes the matchup plays out, whether we’re matching him up or the alignments and we’re trying to guess right," Graham sad a few weeks ago after the Giants first tried that wrinkle out against Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
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Thus far, the strategy has yielded positive results for the defense. Bradberry has drawn the right end on eight of his last 24 pass targets (33 percent of his total pass targets over that span). Bradberry has only allowed one reception to an opposing tight end, that to Cameron Brate of the Bucs, who recorded 12 yards on the completion.
It's up for debate whether Bradberry's success against opposing tight ends has given him more confidence when facing receivers. Still, considering his play last weekend against the Eagles' dynamic rookie receiver DeVonta Smith, Bradberry is undoubtedly starting to look more like the 2020 version that the Giants signed up for versus the early 2021 version they've gotten.
"I think Coach Graham, his ability to be able to adapt to the feedback he’s getting from his players and also from the films that he does throughout the week," Bradberry said about his improved play.
"But also, I think we’re playing better as players as well. I know me individually, I think I played pretty good (Sunday) and I want to continue to keep that performance continue to go up and what not and continue to make plays."
Giants head coach Joe Judge has credited Bradberry for his work ethic, which he claims a lot of people outside the organization don't fully understand or appreciate, as being at the foundation of his success.
"James comes to work every day," Judge said. "He comes in there, and maybe we have a plan with the medical team of we have to pull off a guy, next thing, you look out there, and there’s 24 in one-on-ones.
"You kind of tell him, ‘Hey James, we can back you down a little bit right here,’ and he’ll say, ‘Nope, they’re out here working. I want to get out here, too. I don’t want to be the guy standing around watching.’ You really appreciate and respect the guy who does that, you respect the way he works."
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