Before last week’s game against the Cowboys, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham pulled linebacker Markus Golden aside for a quick word. Golden had been something of a forgotten player in the Giants’ rotation up to that point, playing only a handful of defensive snaps in the first few weeks. With Oshane Ximines on injured reserve, though, the Giants were going to have to rely on Golden in that contest.
"I said to him before the game, ‘Stop playing and let’s go,’ " Graham said.
He did not receive an answer, though.
"He gives you that look [that says] ‘Pat, I’m ready to go,’" Graham said. "When he gives you that look that he’s ready to go, he’s looking through your soul. I like that. That lets me know we have a defensive player. Let’s roll now, we have to get rolling for this week. We need that."
It’s a look Graham and the Giants will be in search of again on Sunday against Washington, because now they are not only without Ximines but also without Lorenzo Carter. And despite months of essentially being jerked around by the organization — having his free agency controlled by the team via an unorthodox unrestricted tender that brought him back at a basement price then being left on the sideline when the season began — the team now turns its eyes to Golden.
It would be natural for him to feel spurned, for him to hold a grudge, for him to roll those soul-piercing eyes and mumble: Sure, now you need me.
He has not.
"I try not to take stuff personally," Golden said on Thursday of the rigamarole he has gone through with the Giants. "I’ve been like that for a long time. Don’t take it personal, come in, work hard every day no matter what. Make sure I am being the same person no matter what."
If he can be the same player he was last year when he led the Giants with 10 sacks, that would help, too. Despite his diminished role so far he does have three quarterback hits and half of a sack (that came against Dallas) this season.
Golden was brought to the team in 2019 because he knew and fit into the scheme of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who had coached him in Arizona. This year he has had to adjust to a completely different scheme under Graham. There is more dropping into coverage and less attacking the quarterback than perhaps Golden’s skill set is best suited for.
"Obviously everybody has different dynamics, different strengths, different weaknesses," outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema said this week about Golden. "But the thing we preach in our room all the time is maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and MG has been really awesome since coming here … I think the outside world always looks at things from a negative light. What are the limits? I always say look at the positives. MG has a great set of skills he’s obviously been able to use in this league and we’ve got to maximize those."
In other words, the Giants’ game plan this week may bend to Golden instead of forcing him to adapt to it.
"In my mind I always want to get after the quarterback and make plays for my team and try to get a sack or two," Golden said. "It’s a hunting mentality. You have to be able to hunt. You have to be able to put your ears back and hunt. That’s what I would say I have a lot of."
Earlier this month, when Golden was pinned to the bench, Graham said he wasn’t too worried about the veteran’s lack of snaps.
"I think I said it a few weeks ago, ‘Give it time, the process will play out and the reps will come,’ " Graham said on Thursday. "Right now, he has a great opportunity."
Will he take advantage of it? Graham may know the answer to that before the game starts on Sunday if that look is back in Golden’s eyes.