In a season that saw the most points scored in National Football League history, the New York Giants’ defense was one of the stronger units in football, allowing22.3 points per game, ninth-fewest in the NFL this year.
Much of the credit goes to first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who reinvigorated a defense that had been one of the worst in football in recent seasons.
Their strength was on the defensive line, in particular Leonard Williams, whose 11.5 sacks were the most by a Giant since Jason Pierre-Paul in 2014.
There were numerous plays made by the defense that one can argue were "statement" plays, but out of all those put on tape, the following five can best be considered among the most pivotal defensive plays for the Giants in 2020.
No. 5. Jabaal Sheard strip-sack/Leonard Williams fumble recovery, Week 12 at Cincinnati
With less than a minute to play in this must-win game for the Giants, they led the Bengals, 19-17, but were forced to punt.
After a good return let Cincinnati start their drive at midfield, Jabaal Sheard blew past two offensive linemen to reach quarterback Brandon Allen, forcing him to fumble.
Leonard Williams quickly recovered the ball, and, with the Bengals out of timeouts, the game was effectively over. The victory moved the Giants into first place in the NFC East.
No. 4. Jabrill Peppers interception, Week 9 at Washington
With two and a half minutes to play, the Giants led, 23-20. Washington faced a third down and ten at the Giants’ 40-yard line.
A heavy pass rush forced quarterback Alex Smith to retreat 17 yards before throwing an awkward pass that went through the hands of leaping receiver J.D. McKissic, and into the waiting arms of safety Jabrill Peppers. The game was far from over, however, until...
No. 3. Logan Ryan interception, Week 9 at Washington
After the Peppers pick, the Giants went three-and-out offensively, giving Washington the ball back with just under two minutes to play and one timeout, needing a field goal to tie the game and a touchdown to win it.
On 2nd-and-six at their 32-yard line, Washington quarterback Alex Smith did not face a pass rush as he did on the previous drive and had time to throw over the middle.
His pass, however, was intercepted by cornerback Logan Ryan, who slid down after a 16-yard return to cement the win for the Giants.
No. 2. Tae Crowder fumble return for a touchdown, Week 6 vs. Washington
Week 9 was not the only time this season that the Giants’ defense decided a game between Washington and New York. Three weeks earlier at the Meadowlands, the game was tied, 13-13, with 3:40 to play.
With Washington facing a 3rd-and-9 at the Giants’ 45, linebacker Kyler Fackrell plowed through the offensive line, forcing quarterback Kyle Allen to fumble.
Fellow linebacker Tae Crowder inadvertently kicked the loose ball, but picked it up at Washington’s 43, outraced receiver Terry McLaurin, and took it back all the way to give the Giants the lead.
Washington scored a touchdown late to pull within one, but rather than kicking an extra point to tie the game, head coach Ron Rivera decided to go for two points and a potential win. Kyle Allen was hit as he threw, and his pass fell dead in the end zone, giving the Giants their first victory of the season, 20-19.
No. 1. Leonard Williams sack, Week 13 at Seattle
In the signature win of the Giants’ 2020 season, the star was Leonard Williams. The defense sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson five times, and Williams accounted for half of them. His most important sack came with less than a minute to play.
Seattle faced a third down and ten at the Giants’ 46-yard line, trailing by five points. With Wilson dropping back to pass, Williams faced little resistance from Seahawks tackle Chad Wheeler and drove Wilson to the ground for an eight-yard sack, forcing Seattle to use their final timeout.
Wilson’s subsequent Hail Mary pass on fourth down, and 18 fell incomplete, solidifying a huge upset win for the Giants.
While the Giants’ defense was promising this season, there is still work to be done for the future, particularly in the secondary. Signing free-agent cornerback James Bradberry last offseason paid off handsomely--he was the only Giant with multiple interceptions this year.
He could use another strong corner to complement him. If New York feels strongly about solidifying the secondary, they could use the 11th pick in the 2021 draft to select Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II. With such an early pick in the draft, however, the options are abundant.
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