The New York Giants' defense underachieved in 2017 relative to their talent. Now it's the job of new defensive coordinator James Bettcher to coax production from a unit that jettisoned its leading sack artist, Jason Pierre-Paul.
Much has been made about the transition to Bettcher's scheme. For years, Big Blue ran a 4-3 defense, whereas the ex-Arizona Cardinals DC traditionally ran a 3-4. Bettcher isn't worried about the Giants' personnel being pigeonholed into any set alignment.
"I think each and every down we might look different on defense," Bettcher said, via Art Stapleton of The Record. "But again, I'll tell you what -- I can't tell you today who we're going to be on defense and really what we're going to look like until we get through training camp, until we get into meetings, until we actually get on the field, until we don't just play some basketball on grass in the offseason program. Until we get to training camp and we have helmets and pads on and we're striking and separating and playing off of blocks and what we're really going to look like. But yeah, there are certainly some 3-4 principles if that's a term we want to use. There are certainly some 4-3 principles if that's a term you want to use. At the end of the day, it's about playing hard with a relentless mindset, playing fast, playing physical and being a smart football team."
Bettcher takes over a defense that performed poorly at every level last season. Big Blue ranked 31st in pass defense, 27th in run D, and 29th in sacks. Football Outsiders' metrics rated the Giants No. 24 in defensive DVOA after being No. 2 on the list the previous season.
The defensive front, which got ran over last season, was particularly disappointing. With JPP traded in part due to an ill-fit with the new defense, the question turns to what role might highly paid defensive end Olivier Vernon play in Bettcher's D.
The new DC pointed to his previous work with other talented defensive ends to explain how he'll use Vernon.
"OV is going to be a guy -- I've had Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, shoot even when you talk about older players, a John Abraham, a Dwight Freeney that's played in this system who have been 4-3 if you want to classify them as 4-3 defensive ends playing in this same system. Guys that have had a ton of success, guys that have been double-digit sack guys in this system," Bettcher said. "His versatility, his ability to rush from different angles. We've all seen him drop in space and flip his hips and do some of those things. If you went and looked at our tape in Arizona and you saw Chandler Jones, we didn't make our money in Arizona on defense with Chandler Jones dropping and playing in space a bunch. It's things that you do as great changeups, things that you do to allow you to attack offenses in different ways, and I think that's how he'll fit in."
For as much as the Giants' anemic offense is to blame for Big Blue's dreadful 2017 campaign, the defense was equally disappointing. It's now on Bruce Arians' protégé to turn it around in quick order.