Just how much better did the New York Giants’ defense get in 2020 compared to 2019?

New York Giants, Patrick Graham

If you recall the New York Giants’ defense from 2019, you probably remember them giving up an astronomical amount of points per game. Under James Bettcher, the defense ranked 30th in the NFL in points allowed per game at 28.2. When it came to stopping the run, they allowed 113.3 yards on the ground and 264.1 yards through the air. Thanks to a bevy of inadequate free agent signings and draft selections that didn’t pan out, they were far below average.

However, coaching is often times the difference between good and bad teams, despite the personnel. The Giants saw a massive upgrade on defense this season under Patrick Graham, as their unit allowed just 22.3 points per game, a six-point decrease compared to 2019. That is a significant difference and one that must be celebrated after just one off-season. It is also fair to mention the factors that played against the Giants this past year, including injuries, COVID-19, and new faces across the board. What Graham and the coaching staff accomplished is simply remarkable and something that hopefully rolls over into the 2021 campaign.

Graham was so impressive, the New York Jets even inquired about him for their head-coaching vacancy, but he declined to interview, remaining loyal to the Giants as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Joe Judge.

However, without several key players, the defense would’ve struggled immensely. The free-agent signings of James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, and hitting Leonard Williams with a franchise tag ultimately pay dividends. All three were integral to the success on defense, with Bradberry and Williams earning Pro Bowl nods. This was Bradberry’s first and Williams’ second, as the big interior defender recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks.

The New York Giants have some difficult decision to make:

This off-season presents a few difficult situations, though, as Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson are both free agents and require extensions. Due to Covid, the salary cap is expected to drop as much as $23 million, as Dave Gettleman mentioned during his press conference, $175 million seems to be a realistic number, down from $198.2 million.

Retaining both will be difficult, but they represent the foundation of this defense. Building through the trenches, Gettleman has focused on an interior pass rush that intimidates opposing teams. They could use a little bit more help at outside linebacker, but the return of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines should provide that if they elect not to draft or sign a player in free agency.

Despite the Giants starting off the 2020 campaign with five consecutive losses, by the season’s end, they had held nine teams to 20 points or less, an impressive feat given the circumstances and injuries on the defensive front.

It is quite interesting to think that without Graham, the Giants would be an entirely different team, and Gettleman might be without a job at the moment. Because of their growth and the promise of Saquon Barkley returning and more offensive weaponry being added, John Mara spared Gettleman for at least one more season.

While I do believe this team is trending upward and 2021 could prove to be successful, there’s a lot of work to be done on both sides of the ball, but the defense is one unit that could be a top-five group moving forward.