One year ago, the New York Giants defense was abysmal. One year later, the unit might end up carrying the team into the postseason.
Fresh off their 10-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night, the Giants have been assured at least a winning season with their ninth victory, but at 9-4 and three games left to play, the Giants are looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since the 2011 season, which was the year they won Super Bowl XLVI.
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A few weeks ago, the Giants looked to be in utter chaos when they were at 2-3, but a six-game winning streak changed the fortunes of the Giants and suddenly propelled them into the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Despite a tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, the Giants rebounded to end the 11-game winning streak of the best team in the NFL, the Cowboys, in a game that has many people talking about the Giants defense.
A defense that, despite losing Jason Pierre-Paul for six weeks due to sports hernia surgery, has really gotten after its opponents this season and really got after the Cowboys and made Dak Prescott look like a confused rookie on Sunday night instead of the MVP candidate many had considered before the game.
The Giants already have 30 sacks on the season; seven of which belonged to JPP and eight are to major free agent acquisition Olivier Vernon, who was simply causing havoc on the field Sunday night against Tyron Smith, especially in the fourth quarter and in the final few series against the Dallas offense. The pass rush was nearly non-existent a year ago and a big reason the team lost six of their 10 games in the final 90 seconds of games.
Part of the reason the Giants were losing so many games so late was due to their inability to put pressure on the opponent. Now, they’re causing pressure and causing havoc against their opponents and forcing the issue, which is why the Giants have won a lot of their close games instead of losing them; seven of their nine wins have been decided by five points or less.
A big part of the credit should go to current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who despite fans wanting him to be run out-of-town last year for the way the defense has run a masterful game plan for the unit in 2016; one that some could draw similarities to the defense he ran in 2007 when the Giants won the Super Bowl and slowed down perhaps the NFL’s greatest offense in the New England Patriots.
Spagnuolo has re-established the identity of the Giants defense that they had; one that used to get after opponents with ferocious blitzing and a pass rush that got after the quarterback and caused turnovers.
It helps that Spagnuolo has a tremendous secondary to go along with the pass rush; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins have been tremendous corners and Landon Collins has developed into an All-Pro safety. That kind of secondary he has in 2016 is on a higher level than the one in 2007, which was a good unit, but this one is better.
Now before we get talking about Super Bowl hopes, they still have to finish the season and actually make the postseason, although, at this point, the Giants should, barring any late-season collapse. They have the fifth seed in the NFC and the second-best record in the NFC, so they’re chances are pretty good now.
But the offense needs to get better and improve before anyone starts talking about championship hopes. If the Giants offense can improve even in the slightest way, it only helps a team that has a defense that’s built and ready for January football and ready to potentially contend for that fifth championship trophy.
Make no mistake about it, the Giants defense has been that good and can be even better when the games start to have more significance. Sunday night was just the first test of what the Giants defense can withstand and do, especially on the biggest and brightest of stages.
Can the defense carry them into Houston? We’ll see.
But as they always say, defense wins championships.