This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the New York Giants’ defense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Giants’ Front Seven
The Giants run a 4-3 front. Not unusual. What is unusual is their lack of rotation in their 4-3. Most defenses, like the Cincinnati Bengals, have a healthy shifting of players in and out of their lineup. Not New York. Jason Pierre-Paul and Oliver Vernon play as much as any defensive line, both logging over 95% of the snaps, while Damon Harrison and Jonathan Hankins dominate the snaps along the interior.
Harrison is the lowest at 61% and Hankins at a touch over 72%. No backup linemen has played more than 20% of the season. So that’s a switch and a surprise.
JPP is the LDE, Vernon the RDE, with Hankins as the three tech and Harrison the one tech. Hankins and Harrison are massive people, Harrison is nicknamed “Snacks” and listed at 350 while Hankins is at 320 but looks much bigger. Got that Javon Hargrave bubble butt thing going on.
It’s no wonder they are one of the toughest fronts to run on. They allow just 3.5 YPC, tied for third least in the NFL and the second fewest 10+ runs in the NFL (21). They have given up just four runs of 20+, too.
It is very similar to what the Baltimore Ravens bring to the table and that spells some trouble for the Steelers’ offense.
Backing up the defensive line is led by #96 Jay Bromley, who is on the interior, usually the one tech. UDFA rookie Romeo Okwara will come in and play the three on some passing down situations while the few times Pierre-Paul gets a rest, Owa Odighizuwa replaces him.
As pass rushers, the Giants have 25 this season and have turned things on lately, much like the Steleers. And much like the Steelers, they have had the benefit of playing some below average to bad offensive lines (Bengals, Bears, Browns last three weeks). JPP leads the group with seven and Vernon has six.
In all, 19 of the 25 sacks come from the defensive line.
At linebacker: Kelvin Sheppard is your MIKE, Jonathan Casillas the SAM, and Devon Kennard the WILL. Keenan Robinson rotates onto the field in nickel and dime fronts, too.
They are led by veteran Janoris Jenkins at LCB and rookie Eli Apple at RCB. Apple has height but neither are physically imposing guys. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will play in the slot for them. At safety, Landon Collins is having one of the best season’s of anyone in the league. Picked off five passes, one in each of the last four games, leads the team in tackles, and has three sacks.
There have been injuries at the other spot and last week, I saw a rotation between rookie Andrew Adams (#33), and Nat Berhe (#29). Berhe is the better player but dealt with concussions.
Big picture, their defense and pass defense has been strong. Quarterbacks are completing the third worst percentage against them (58.6%), their 6.7 YPA is tied for 6th best, and they’ve picked off 10 passes, eighth most.
Their third down defense, as an entire defense, is 6th best at a 37% rate, and their red zone defense is third best (44.4%).
The only upshot here is they’ve given up 41 passes of 20+ yards, 6th most, and nine of 40+, tied for 6th most. Really think Sammie Coates has to explode in this game. Has the size advantage and facing a unit that has given up chunk plays.
See a lot of zone out of this team. Moreso in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears than last week versus the Cleveland Browns. Cover 2 and Cover 6 seem to be their most popular coverages.
The Giants do run a good bit of dime defense. Go into a 3-2-6 look. Cornerback Trevin Wade, #31, will come in as the dime defender with one of the interior guys coming off the field.
While they aren’t an exotic defense, they will send some DB blitzes. As we wrote earlier, Collins has three sacks. And they do some games up front with that defensive line, which makes them that much tougher to defend.
Last thing. Giants will blow some coverages, maybe a result of the big plays they’ve allowed. Sometimes they won’t match receivers in zone coverage and let vertical stuff free. Or, as what happened last week, had a receiver wide open on a HB pass by Duke Johnson. Ball didn’t go that way but he was wide open.
Let me put my tinfoil hat on, Steelers’ Nation. Sounds like the Steelers are bringing up Demarcus Ayers this weekend. He was a former QB in high school and threw a lot of passes at Houston. Would be a great time for a trick play, wouldn’t it? Keep an eye on it.
Giants’ Special Teams
The Giants do keep their big uglies on the field for field goal blocks. Harrison, Hankins, and the lengthy JPP, though the latter is lined up in the C gap.
Dwayne Harris and Roger Lewis, two wide receivers, were the gunners for the Giants last week. Steelers have been doing the same thing. Elsewhere, linebacker Jonathan Casillas is the upback on punts.
For kickoffs, kicker Robbie Gould will give return units plenty of chances to take the ball out of the end zone. If the ball is on the left hash for kickoffs, expect it to go left or center. If the ball is teed up center or center right, expect it to go right.
No one plays more special teams in the NFL than linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has logged over 97% of the Giants’ special teams snaps this year. Pretty crazy. He has six tackles.
Matthew’s Individual Report
The Pittsburgh Steelers attempt to extend their current winning streak to 3 games- this week against the red hot New York Giants. The defense boasts a tout group of athletes; they currently sit as the league’s 6th ranked squad. You’ve seen their schemes, so let’s dive into the individual talents of this defense.
The front 4 is scary, and when I say scary, I mean it. Their base 4-3 is anchored by Jonathan Hankins and Damon Harrison, of which the latter has been playing lights out. You could say Hankins is the weak-link on this line; he’s the only one to post a negative PFF grade, while Harrison leads the team with 40 tackles behind the LOS. However, Hankins has played extremely well against the run since entering the league in 2013 out of Ohio State- and with the talent he has around him, it’s inevitable that he’ll find his groove.
Harrison is run-stopper extraordinaire, posting the highest grade on the team in the said category. It’s clear that he’s the anchor of this line, while the next two players are unleashed in the pass rush.
Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon. These two names should strike fear in the eyes of the Steelers’ offensive line, as they better be sure to bring their hard-hats to Heinz Field this Sunday. We all know about Pierre-Paul’s firework incident, but this hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He’s found a way to compensate, beat his challenges and continue on the path to the QB as smoothly as ever. His team leading 9 sacks, 10 QB hits, 34 hurries, 30 stops, and positive grades across the board should tell you all you need to know- those tackles are going to have their hands full, boy.
Oh, and by the way, he’s good against the run, too. Don’t believe me? Take a look below, as he lines up over right tackle Austin Pasztor. He immediately engages, throws the large man to the side, fills the b gap faster than you could say Giants and grabs the ‘back for the 2 yard loss.
Vernon got paid the big bucks to put on the Giant Blue, and although he’s taken some time to find his stride, he’s a solid edge rusher and has done his part this far into the season. His 6 sacks, 10 hits, 41 hurries and 28 stops aren’t far behind the monstrous numbers of Pierre-Paul.
It’s also important to note that both players are absolute work-horses, posting 761 and 737 snaps played respectively. Vernon has played well against the run too, something he’s done consistently throughout his career. It’ll be interesting to see how Pittsburgh reacts to these four players; after playing the Browns and Colts, their confidence sure is sky-high, but the quality of competition can’t compare.
The linebackers are where most of their defensive struggles exist; every team has their own kryptonite. The ‘backers consist of Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard, and MLB Kelvin Sheppard.
Now, I know what you’re thinking- “But Matthew, if they play a 4-3, how are you listing 4 linebackers?” Well, the team rotates in a manner similar to what the Steelers do for their OLBs- Robinson, although listed as the second team on the depth chart, leads the backs in snaps with 575, due to injuries, fatigue, play, etc.
Of the group, only Kennard, the strong side linebacker, has a positive grade against the run and in the air. The other three struggle mightily in all 3 facets of the game. Ironically enough, their middle linebacker, Sheppard, has the lowest grade on the entire defense- not a mesmerizing stat if you’re a Giants fan. The group as a whole struggle against the run, which is good news since there doesn’t seem to be much else this defense is weak against.
They’d be wise to deploy their newly found weapon in Ladarius Green against this group, as attacking them may be their only way for offensive salvation.
The secondary is one of the strongest, most effective groups in the league. Their entire starting lineup boasts impressive grades, in the air and against the run, starting with the cornerbacks- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Janoris Jenkins. The former, Rodgers-Cromartie, allowed 3 receptions on 4 targets for 32 yards, while also registering a batted ball against the Cleveland Browns last week.
Interestingly, 3 of his 4 targets came against the running backs- would it be safe to assume he’ll be the only asked to guard hybrid Le’Veon Bell, since it’s clear their linebackers won’t be able to do so?
Jenkins follow suit, with his best game coming against the rivaled Baltimore Ravens. On 6 targets, he allowed only 2 receptions for 72 yards and 2 batted balls. It is important to note that one of those 2 receptions went for 70 yards, so he does give up the splash play from time-to-time, although not a common occurrence. Like noted above, he also plays well against the run- that means he not only clogs his assignments, but is a sure tackler and is an assist machine, wrapping up and finishing what the front 4 begins.
The safeties consist of Landon Collins and Nat Berhe. Collins has been absolutely special this year, and it’s clear that he’s learned a lot since last season’s rookie campaign. He does exactly what you’d want from a strong safety, playing stingy against both the run and the air, while throwing in a fold of getting to the QB when asked to rush; he has 26 tackles behind the LOS, which is quite impressive and speaks to his style of play.
Reminds Steelers fans of a certain long-haired, agile safety, doesn’t it? Not convinced? Take a look below- he begins the sneak into the box, recognizing the situation, down and distance. He lets instincts kick in next, as he crashed the LOS and slips between the would be receiver crack blocker, wrapping up Duke Johnson Jr. for a 2 yard loss that would eventually be finished off by Jenkins.
There exists a weak link on every team, in every division, in every sport. Nat Berhe fits the narrative, as he struggles a bit in the secondary. He routinely gets caught out of position, and allows a high completion rate- not something you want to see from your free safety. If a splash play happens, if Sammie Coates finally reasserts himself into this offense, look for Berhe to be in the vicinity. He is, however, in concussion protocol, so if he doesn’t suit up, look for some shifts in the secondary to compensate.
Steelers fans will recognize this name: Brad Wing! This season, he’s punted 62 balls, averaging 47.2 yards per attempt with a long of 63. Nineteen of those were pinned inside the 20, while 25 were returned. Conversely, opponents have punted 58 times for an average of 46.9 yards, with a long of 67. Of those 58, 23 were pinned inside the 20 yard line, and 26 were returned. Those returns go for an aervage of 6.8 yards, with a long of 19- not much to write home about. The opposition’s return game has been a bit more successful, averaging 11 yards with a long of 66.