The Eli Manning-Daniel Jones quarterback situation will be the dominant theme around the Giants until the day Jones takes over as the starter. As it should be. Quarterback is almost always the central focus of any football team, and the Manning-Jones dynamic is no exception.
But there is another pressing matter on the roster that may not have the same pizzazz and generate the intense controversy, but will undoubtedly figure heavily in just how good – or poor – this team will be in 2019 and beyond.
The state of the Giants’ defense – specifically the pass rush – cannot be underestimated in determining what happens next. With general manager Dave Gettleman opting to take the safe route and select Jones No. 6 overall, thereby passing up on a chance to get an elite pass rusher like Kentucky’s Josh Allen, the Giants are left with a bunch of unheralded players to get to the quarterback.
Lorenzo Carter. B.J. Hill. Markus Golden. Oshane Ximines.
Not exactly the Fearsome Foursome we’re talking about here.
With Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul departing via trade over the last two seasons, the Giants are left with a bunch of no-name rushers who will try and execute defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s system and manufacture a pass rush that is desperately needed. The Giants had just 30 sacks last season; only the Raiders (13) had fewer.
Does Bettcher believe the production this year will be sufficient, even if the name recognition is lacking?
“I do,” he said. “I believe we can, and that will reveal itself when we get to training camp, when we get the pads on and things start happening live.”
And it’s not just in the obvious passing situations where Bettcher expects quality performance.
“Everyone wants to rush well on third down, but it’s all those 50-50 downs that are 50 percent run, 50 percent pass,” he said. “That makes up the larger portions of the game. That is when you have to find out how good guys are as rushers. The ability to disrupt the pocket on those downs will be important.”
Golden, a former Cardinals linebacker who started with Bettcher in Arizona and signed a one-year deal during the offseason, may be the most intriguing of the bunch. A second-round pick in 2015, Golden had 12 ½ sacks in 2016 before suffering a season-ending knee injury the following year. He had just 2 ½ sacks in 11 games in 2018 but believes he can have a big impact – even if he isn’t a household name.
“Everybody feels like they’re the man,” Golden said. “That’s how I feel. Whether you went undrafted or whether you went in the first round, I don’t feel like it really matters. I like what we have here. We’re flying around. We may not have a lot of the guys who were here last year, but we’ve got a good group. We just want to keep grinding and working.”
Bettcher believes Carter, a third-round defensive end out of Georgia last year who had four sacks as a rookie, can have a breakout season.
“He is rushing with a plan,” Bettcher said. “A year ago, he was trying to get off the ball as quick as he could and use his hands when he could. Now, you see a guy that is aware of how he wants to rush, aware of techniques that he wants to rush with. Guys that get in there as pass rushers, I have been in there and have coached them before personally, you see their best growth in the two and three years. You start to figure out what they are as rushers. He is really starting to figure that out. He is building his pass rush toolbox right now.”
Poor defense – and a poor pass rush – was a major component of last year’s failures in a 5-11 season, with the Giants unable to close out opponents late in games far too regularly. If they want to avoid a repeat, finding a pass rush will be the answer.
Regardless of who plays quarterback.