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Giants' defense has been dominant through two preseason games

Giants defensive back Landon Collins is congratulated by

Giants defensive back Landon Collins is congratulated by linebacker Kareem Martin during a preseason game against the Browns at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 9. Credit: Daniel De Mato

When James Bettcher was hired as the Giants’ defensive coordinator this offseason there were a lot of questions. The Giants were implementing an entirely new scheme, had players switching positions, and bringing in a more aggressive attitude, but throughout the offseason it was all on paper or in the imagination. It was a hypothetical.

No one could actually say what the defense would look like with these players when it reached the playing field.

Until now.

The Giants have provided a glimpse in their two preseason games of what their revamped defense could look like for the Sept. 9 opener. So far, it’s everything Bettcher built it up to be.

The starting unit finished a second strong performance against the Lions in Friday night’s 30-17 win at Ford Field, forcing three three-and-outs in four Lions possessions while registering two sacks, two quarterback hits, and a tackle for a loss. Their message as they came off the field: This is us.

“We are gritty, we are aggressive, and we are playing how we want to play,” safety Landon Collins said. “We are playing sound, we understand what the defense asks of us, we understand what the defensive call is, and we are playing fast.”

And they’re still growing in the new system as well as with each other.

“Each and every day the chemistry is getting stronger,” Collins said. “We’re just clicking. It’s not like we are fighting against each other trying to find out what the heck is going to happen within the play. It just happens, and it happens naturally.”

The run defense has been exceptionally stout. In two games the starters have allowed a total of 13 net rushing yards on 10 carries. Five of those carries have been for zero or negative yards.

“That’s one of the top things we always want to do is stop the run,” defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. “That’s a big emphasis.”

It’s not flawless. The one area where they don’t seem to be successful is when Alec Ogletree drops into coverage. In each of the first two games he has allowed a long gain to the tight end or running back, one of them for a touchdown against the Browns. In fact, in their seven series on the field so far this preseason, the Giants’ starting defense has allowed a total of 139 net yards. More than half of that number, 78 yards, have come on the two passes with Ogletree in coverage.

That may be something Bettcher and the Giants can attempt to scheme their way around when the regular season begins. It’s something that can be worked out in game-planning for specific opponents.

“Right now we’re just trying to get everybody on the same page to work together as a unit and just get after it,” linebacker Olivier Vernon said after registering his first sack of the preseason on Friday. “You want to come out and be firing on all cylinders. We just try to do what we can. All we can do is build a foundation, keep stacking them, and go from there.”

There’s no guarantee that any of this will carry over to the regular season. So far they’ve played against two teams in the Browns and Lions who have some serious offensive question marks of their own to deal with.

But after two games, the defense fits.

“It feels more comfortable,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like everybody is getting more confident in the defense. We know what we can and can’t do now having gone through the first two preseason games. There are some things we have to continue to improve on but overall right now I feel like we’re in a really good spot."

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