Despite what has been said about the New York Giants defense this season, it has not performed poorly. The unit still needs to be more consistent, but in the game against the Falcons, the Giants defense played well enough to win, as most teams don’t expect to lose the game when they surrender only 17 points.
The impetus for success last Sunday was the pressure they were able to get on the quarterback. The defense sacked Falcons Matt Ryan three times, and in all three cases, they were able to take advantage of one-on-one pass-rush opportunities.
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With outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter returning from injury and rookie Azeez Ojulari emerging as a legitimate edge rusher, the Giants have been able to put more heat on the quarterback. The defensive front collected three sacks against the Falcons, equaling the total they collected in their first two games.
In the game against Atlanta, they used five-man blitzes and good pass coverage to create pressure on the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan was pressured on 30.8 percent of his dropbacks against the Giants, with 25 percent of those pressures being turned into sacks.
New York was also able to create one-on-one opportunities by forcing double teams. Even when the Giants' pass rush was unable to get to the quarterback, the pressure made Ryan get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted to--he averaged 2.87 seconds to throw on all his pass attempts.
He had fewer than 2.5 seconds to attempt a pass, and on those throws, he went 14 of 16 for 147 yards and one touchdown (the 1-yard pass to tight end Lee Smith) and had one turnover-worthy play and an average depth of target (ADOT) of 4.7 yards.
Let's look at a few examples of where the Giants defense managed to create one-on-one pass-rushing opportunities.
In this first clip, you can see inside linebacker Tae Crowder creeping down into the B-gap on the right side next to outside Lorenzo Carter, who is in a ghost 9-technique standing up. Defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence II and Leonard Williams are in a 1-technique and a 3-technique to the left, respectively, giving outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari a one-on-one opportunity with the right tackle.
It’s 3rd-and-9, so it is an apparent pass-rushing situation. On the snap of the ball, Ojulari uses his speed to get the tackle to retreat on his heels. When Ojulari is even with the quarterback, he uses his right hand to push the tackle out the way and make an inside move.
Ryan notices him too late and is left with no time to secure the ball, as Ojulari knocks it out. Carter, rushing from the opposite end, can see the ball and jump on it because he defeated the left tackle with a speed-to-power bull rush.
In this next clip, we look at the first play of the second half for the Giants' defense. The Falcons were in 21-personnel (two backs and one tight end), which is primarily run-game personnel.
On the snap, the Giants sent safety Jabril Peppers on a blitz off the right side of the defense. The Falcons tried to set up a play-action pass. They used run action to the defense’s left, but when the quarterback turned to locate his receivers, he could see Peppers flying off the edge.
Even though the fullback picks up Peppers, it leaves Leonard Williams with a one-on-one rush against the tight end. That is a significant mismatch, and Williams, as expected, wins that battle and sacks the quarterback for a six-yard loss.
In this final clip, the Giants don't bring an extra man for pressure; instead, they use max coverage. The four-man rush has a nose guard in a 1-technique to the left of the center, and Carter is lined up outside the tackle on the left.
This meant that Austin Johnson and Williams would have one-on-one opportunities on the right side.
The Giants needed a play to keep the Falcons behind the chains after Atlanta got a fresh set of downs and into the red zone. On the snap, the Falcons, who were in a condensed, double-stack formation, ran a pass route, but the coverage was really good, and there was no place for the quarterback to go with the ball.
The uncovered right guard had to help the right tackle block Carter, and Johnson was able to get underneath the hands of the left guard and pursue the quarterback when he tried to step up into the pocket until he was sacked.
It is easy to look at the record and believe there has been no improvement by the Giants defense given some of the unit's mistakes, but that wouldn't be an accurate conclusion.
New York lost middle linebacker Blake Martinez early in the game, and the defense remained stout. That said, when you are not winning, the only thing you can do is look for signs of improvement.
Another sign is the scoreboard and the number of points allowed. And yet another sign is that the Giants defense forced six punts and forced a fumble on seven of the Falcons' ten offensive possessions.
Hopefully, the life that the pass rush exhibited is a sign of more consistency to come and not an anomaly based on who they played.
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