The numbers were pitiful. Last in the league in yards allowed. Thirtieth in points allowed and in sacks. The second-most passing yards allowed in NFL history. It really is no wonder that the 2015 Giants didn’t make the playoffs.
Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t want to hear about that, though. The defensive coordinator, preparing for his second season in his second stint with the team, has shredded most of the evidence regarding that forgettable season. What’s more, he’s practically guaranteeing that the days of such ignominious numbers won’t be back anytime soon.
“They’re done,” he said of those disgraceful stats. “We’re going to be better. We’re going to be better because of players, we’re going to be better because of better coaching and less mistakes. We’re going to be better because it’s the second year in the system and that’s what we fully expect to do.
“Everything that we went through last year is over and done.”
Spags has about a quarter of a billion dollars worth of reasons to think that. The Giants, well aware of their weakness, overhauled much of the defense in the offseason. They added the Three D-migos — free-agent acquisitions Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins — along with first-round pick Eli Apple and third-rounder Darian Thompson, who seems to be writing his name into the starting job with a heavier pencil each day. They have Jason Pierre-Paul back and a healthy Johnathan Hankins. And even at positions where they don’t have star-studded experience, they seem to have solid veteran competition. Look at the linebackers for an example of that. Any of seven players could be — and have been — starters in the NFL. Last year the Giants opened the season with first-year player Uani ’Unga at middle linebacker.
’Unga was a great story when he made the team. He became a detriment when he had to play so much. And he’s not even on the roster anymore.
Spagnuolo uses the term “football get-it” to describe players who have instinct, awareness and an ability to make plays. He refused to directly compare this group’s “get-it” quotient to last year’s, but it’s pretty clear there is a big difference.
“I just like the fact that we have enough of those guys that helps,” he said. “The more of those guys you have . . . ”
He didn’t finish the thought. He didn’t have to.
It was clear in Wednesday’s minicamp practice, the second of three workouts this week, that Spagnuolo is enjoying his newfound glut of players (as opposed to simply having bodies). He was moving pieces around, trying different combinations in the slot and across the defensive front. Last year he did that out of necessity. This year, he’s doing it from a position of strength.
“We were trying to create things last year, create pass rushes and whatnot,” Spagnuolo said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to do that as much with creativity, we can just let them play . . . But I think it’s fun to be creative and keep the offense off balance.”
If the Giants offense can produce the way it did last year, the defense probably doesn’t have to go from worst to first to get the team into the playoffs. It just has to improve enough to be mediocre. That may not be exactly what Spagnuolo is aiming for. But in an increasingly offensive league it may be good enough to turn him from the engineer of two of the worst defenses in NFL history (he was also at the helm of the 2012 Saints) back into the genius he was when he left the Giants the first time.
“I’ve always said that this league is about the players,” he said. “The more top-notch players you have, the better defense you’re going to be. To me it doesn’t matter what scheme you use, how much scheme you have, players make plays.”
Now that he has them, he’s hoping they do.