The Giants defense has shined at times in 2020, yet it hasn’t been enough to lift the team to more than one win.
It’s still a tricky unit to figure out, as the defense certainly has its fair share of playmakers, but is still deprived of key roleplayers at certain spots.
Here’s a look at some grades for each defensive position unit so far this season.
Defensive Line: B+
The Giants’ defensive line has been far and away the team’s biggest strength so far this season, anchoring the run defense and making notable impacts in the pass defense as well.
The starting three interior linemen of Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams have combined for 46 stops of zero or negative yards and 45 quarterback pressures, and six sacks.
All three rank in the top 40 in their position and have been the central forces in limiting opponents to just 105 rushing yards per game, the eighth-lowest total in the NFL.
It is also one of the team’s deeper units, as B.J. Hill, R.J. McIntosh, and Austin Johnson have all proven to be serviceable rotational linemen that can come in to keep the starting three fresh.
The unit will have the challenge and opportunity of proving it has the endurance to keep up its reliable performance in the second half of the season, and the Giants will indeed be counting on it as their best hope for turning things around.
Inside Linebackers: B-
If the Giants inside linebacker spot was only comprised of Blake Martinez, its grade would be much higher.
Martinez has been the best run-stuffing inside linebacker in the NFL so far with a league-leading 55 solo tackles and 35 stops per PFF. As the defensive captain, Martinez has been the central figure in helping lead an early-season defensive turnaround for the Giants this year.
However, Martinez is not the team’s only inside linebacker, and the unit must also be judged for the performance of Devante Downs, David Mayo, and rookie Tae Crowder.
Downs, a seventh-round pick in 2018, has made four starts for the Giants this year and has frequently missed gap assignments while only managing nine solo tackles. Downs also has three missed tackles while allowing an opposing passer rating of 101.4.
Downs’ role has been slightly”downsized” over the past couple of weeks, but is still the main component in the Giants’ defense, as he was listed as a starter in Week 7.
Then there’s Mayo, who made his return from a foot injury in Week 6 and has been a rotational linebacker for the Giants in their last two games with three tackles.
Mayo gets the benefit of the doubt based on how well he performed last year but has yet to earn his way back to a regular role and hasn’t proven enough to boost the unit overall yet.
Crowder became the big hero in Week 6 with a game-winning scoop-and-score touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Washington Football Team. Overall, Crowder has played modestly but landed on injured reserve after Week 6 with a hamstring injury.
If Crowder can return from the injury and return to form, he could make a case to usurp Downs as the starter, as he’s already racked up 13 solo tackles and five stops. But he’s also had five missed tackles, which is a measure he’ll have to clean up.
Outside Linebackers: C
The Giants outside linebacker corps feels like it’s thinned by the week, but through it all, it’s still managed to hold its own.
That’s mostly due to the work of veteran Kyler Fackrell, who’s become the one constant in a unit that has suffered a litany of injuries and a recent trade this year.
Fackrell wasn’t even projected to be a starter at the onset of the season. Still, with Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines landing on injured reserve, Fackrell became one of the Giants’ most important players in recent weeks. The trading of fellow veteran Markus Golden to the Cardinals last week only emphasized that.
Fackrell has racked up 23 total tackles and is tied for the team lead in sacks with three along with eight quarterback pressures, two hits, three hurries, and 13 stops.
Additionally, Fackrell is responsible for the Giants’ two defensive scores this season, returning an interception for a touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 5 and forcing the fumble that Crowder returned in Week 6.
Beyond Fackrell, however, the unit hasn’t found much impact, and finding that impact will be even harder in the coming weeks due to the other players’ availability.
Carter was playing well for the Giants before his injury in Week 5, racking up one sack, eight pressures, three hits, four hurries, and ten stops along with 15 total tackles.
Carter was a true impact player for the Giants this year, and his absence has hurt an outside linebacker group that had a chance to overperform at full strength.
Ximines was much less noticeable before landing on IR, accounting for just five tackles, three total pressures, two hits, one hurry, and five stops in the first four games of the season.
Ximines is eligible to return this week, but whether he will is another story, and whether he will make a bigger impact from the first four games is also uncertain as he appeared to be in the midst of a sophomore slump before the injury.
Golden, who is no longer a Giant, made one of the largest impacts of any group member in his limited opportunities in the first seven weeks.
Golden led the outside linebackers with 14 total pressures while racking up 1.5 sacks, four hits, eight hurries, six stops, and ten total tackles.
Now, with Jabaal Sheard set to join the fold, the Giants will have to depend on a new-look group to lead the way on the edge in the second half. Sheard and Fackrell are bound to be the starters, but the Giants could also look to get rookies Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin involved.
Defensive Backs: C
Like the inside linebacker group, if the defensive backs were judged by the performance of just one player, it would be exceptional. That being veteran cornerback James Bradberry, who has been arguably the Giants’ best overall player in his first season in New York.
Bradberry has played all but one defensive snap for the Giants this year, holding down top cornerback responsibilities like a true savant at the position.
Bradberry has allowed 24 receptions of 41 targets for an average of 10.7 yards per reception with an opposing passer rating of just 62.7 per PFF.
Bradberry is also tied for third in the NFL in interceptions with three and leads the league in passes defended with 11 according to Pro Football Reference.
If not for Bradberry, the Giants’ defensive backs group would quite be hapless, and Bradberry alone isn’t enough to make the unit any better than average.
Outside of Bradberry, no other Giants defensive back has started all seven games at a cemented position this year. The only other true constants in the secondary have been cornerback Logan Ryan, who’s started the last six games as a nickel corner/safety hybrid after a limited role in Week 1.
Ryan has played respectably, allowing 22 receptions on 30 targets with five passes defended. Ryan has also excelled in run defense with 44 total tackles and 12 stops for the Giants.
Ryan has proven to be a dependable veteran and good value considering how late in training camp he was signed and has helped boost a thin secondary alongside Bradberry.
Then there’s safety Jabrill Peppers, who would have started every game for the Giants this season if not for a low ankle sprain in Week 3, which caused him to miss Week 4 and be limited in Week 5.
When on the field, Peppers has helped to boost the Giants run defense with 27 total tackles and seven stops but hasn’t quite been perfect in coverage. He’s allowed 14 receptions on 18 targets for an average of 10.8 yards per reception with a 120.1 passer rating allowed.
Peppers gave up the game-winning touchdown pass to Eagles running back Boston Scott in Week 7, which was one of his lower moments as a Giant.
In between the injury and the busted coverage, Peppers has been somewhat of a disappointment in 2020 considering how heavy the expectations were for him to anchor the secondary.
Beyond those three, the rest of the secondary has been a carousel with constant shuffling based on inconsistent performance.
The Giants have experimented with three different starters at the second boundary cornerback spot opposite Bradberry, with Corey Ballentine and Isaac Yiadom seemingly flunking their way out.
Ryan Lewis has held down the spot for the last three games. But Ryan could be on the verge of getting bench himself after allowing 11 receptions on 20 targets for an average of 20 yards per reception, including the receptions that led to Dallas’ game-winning field goal in Week 5.
Safety Julian Love has also been on and off for the Giants in his second season as a rotational safety but has also been inconsistent in coverage.
A secondary is a unit that depends on depth and chemistry. A few solid veterans can’t carry the load, and the Giants’ current crop of unproven experiments could be in for a rocky second half of the season as they are set to face many explosive passing offenses.