If you want a better sense of whether the Giants’ rebuilt defense is truly worth the exorbitant price they paid to improve the league’s worst unit, then watch what happens Sunday against an elite offense with an elite quarterback.
After all, getting the better of rookie Dak Prescott in his first NFL start against the Cowboys is one thing. But dealing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and one of the greatest offensive attacks known to football, well, that’s when we’ll see if the Giants’ $200 million-plus offseason spending spree is worth it.
It wasn’t even a year ago that the Giants put on one of the worst showings in franchise history, as Brees lit them up with an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a 52-49 win at the Superdome in New Orleans. The game was decided on Kai Forbath’s 50-yard field goal as time expired, as the teams combined for a record 13 touchdown throws; Eli Manning had the other six.
“It’s buried in my mind now,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of last year’s clunker in New Orleans, where he had previously held the same job with the Saints. “It’s in the rearview mirror, and we’re going to worry more about this game now.”
Spagnuolo is far better equipped for this game, though, because general manager Jerry Reese spent free-agent money like never before to bring in three high-profile free agents and re-sign pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned from a fireworks injury a week after last year’s loss to the Saints. Reese spent big to get defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, all of whom contributed plenty in last week’s 20-19 win in Dallas. Reese also drafted cornerback Eli Apple in the first round and safety Darian Thompson in the third round, and signed free-agent cornerback Leon Hall.
That’s a major improvement in talent, and combined with the presence of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and vastly improved second-year safety Landon Collins, the Giants have enough quality to better defend against Brees this time.
Even so, it’s a quantum leap from Prescott to Brees.
“Yeah, a little bit different,” Spagnuolo said. “And look it, they’ve got some good wideouts, too. But our guys, they’re jelling together. There is really good communication and real ly good chemistry. You still have to go out there and do it on Sunday, but that part, I feel really good about.”
Jenkins, who did a terrific job in limiting Cowboys Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant to just one catch for 8 yards last Sunday, is anxious to be a part of the Giants’ revamped defense. And he, too, will get a better idea of just how much the new additions will help against the Saints, because he watched last year’s game.
“I’m motivated. I heard about it. I saw it on TV last year when I was in St. Louis, so I’ve seen the game and how they lost,” Jenkins said. “By bringing me in, I’m just trying to give us that extra boost. The motivation and confidence that we have on the back end, I’m just going to try to give that to us.”
Pierre-Paul, who expects to play despite a shoulder problem, thinks his presence alone will be a major factor.
“I wasn’t here last year [for the Saints] game. It’s a big difference,” he said. “I watched the film. You learn from it. We’re going to be pumped up for it. I know I’m pumped up for it. Even the coaches and the fans. We’re going to give them what they want.”
What they want is a vastly improved performance against Brees, who remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks, even at age 37.
It was an epic fail the last time the Giants faced him, part of a seasonlong downward spiral for a defense that finished dead last in the NFL and was one of the worst units in franchise and league history. Thus the mega-millions Reese invested to bring in the kind of talent capable of a major — and immediate — turnaround.
“We were brought here to do a job,” said Harrison, a former Jets defensive tackle. “We just have to go and do that to the best of our abilities.”
Against this team and this quarterback, nothing less will do.
Advantage Giants. On paper, anyway.