Shane Bowen's Cerebral Style Set to Bring a New Level of Aggressiveness to Giants Defense

A look at how Giants defensive coordinator Shane Bowen's philosophies and approach vary from the previous system.
New York Giants DC Shane Bowen on Giants Defense's Progress
New York Giants DC Shane Bowen on Giants Defense's Progress /
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While many eyes will be on the New York Giants offense this summer, the Giants defense will also be looking to improve in several statistical categories and metrics.

Leading the charge will be 37-year-old Shane Bowen, hired to succeed Wink Martindale as the team’s defensive coordinator. Bowen, who joined the Giants from the Tennessee Titans, not only runs a much different type of system than his predecessor, but his approach, as shown during the spring, has also been vastly different.

Coaches, you see, consider themselves “teachers” by nature. However, the term can be loosely defined to where some believe their role as a "teacher" is to dispense the necessary information to run a play. In contrast, others take that further by teaching the little intricacies that sometimes get lost in the shuffle but can mean the difference between a three-yard gain and a 30-yard gain.

That’s not to say that both approaches can’t work. Still, considering the Giants defense last year ranked near the bottom in several major statistical categories--they were 27th overall, 29th against the run, and 19th against the pass–it’s fair to wonder if the approach taken under Martindale, which has its merits given his success and longevity in the league, truly fit the needs of the pupils.

By contrast, Bowen’s approach has been more cerebral and methodical. During the practices open to the media, he could be seen actively teaching players, sometimes in technique work but mostly in play execution. Whereas Martindale was far more animated in his approach, Bowen seems more cerebral.

One of Bowen's biggest changes has been encouraging his coaches to collaborate more. For example, since his defensive philosophy is to bring pressure on the front seven, Bowen has had defensive line coaches Andre Patterson and Bryan Cox work with outside linebackers coach Charlie Bullen to develop points of emphasis to pass along to the players.  

So far, the approach has been a big hit with the players, who say it has helped them be more on the same page on any given play and reduce any miscommunication.

“I think it's just us hearing the same things, not being independent contractors,” said defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. 

“We're all hearing the same things. We're all hearing, what's going to happen in this situation? I think it makes sense; when you bring that thing together, everything starts clashing a little better.”

Bowen’s system also incorporates more mental processing rather than knee-jerk reactions that can sometimes lead to missed opportunities.

“Yeah, Wink kind of wanted you to play hard and fast. You know, just play physical, downhill, figure it out,” said inside linebacker Bobby Okereke. 

“Here, it's a process of elimination. If this guy goes vertical, you check two; if two does this, you check three. You kind of put it in buckets.”

Lest anyone think Bowen’s system–or rather, as he called it during the team’s mandatory minicamp, the “Giants system”--is any less aggressive or lacks the potential to be less effective, think again.

Bowen wants the unit to be aggressive but noted that there are different ways to accomplish that.  

“I think there is a fine line between being schematically aggressive and being play style aggressive,” he said. “Like the play style ain't going to change. We're going to be physical, we’re going to be tough. We’ve got a high standard for that.

“We want teams to see us flying around, hitting people, not turning down contact, being decisive in our decisions, and being aggressive with our breaks. There is a lot of aggressiveness outside of scheme as it relates to defensive football.”

In other words, this iteration of the Giants' defense sounds like it will be more cerebral than a "hit first and ask questions later" unit.

Bowen noted that the defense is still a work in progress, and he was encouraged by what he saw. But he also noted there’s still a long way to go in finding the “ideal” scheme for his collection of players.

“Ultimately, scheme for me is finding what fits our players best, right?” he said. “We got to do a good job as a coaching staff figuring that out as we go, as we have been through the spring, and we can evaluate, and as we get into training camp, continuing that evaluation.”  

Patricia Traina


Patricia Traina has covered the New York Giants for over three decades for various media outlets. She is the host of the Locked On Giants podcast and the author of "The Big 50: New York Giants: The Men and Moments that Made the New York Giants" (Triumph Books, September 2020). View Patricia's full bio.