The New York Giants‘ defense exceeded all expectations in the 2020 NFL season. They ranked ninth in the league in points allowed per game and twelfth in yards allowed per game. One of the reasons for the Giants’ great defensive success was defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s creative scheme.
Patrick Graham put his players in a position to play to their strengths in 2020. One of the ways he did this was playing a lot of nickel defensive packages that featured three safeties on the field. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan formed one of the best safety duos in the NFL last season. The Giants also enjoyed the talents of Julian Love, their versatile utility player in the secondary. Towards the end of the season, fans got a glimpse of what the Giants’ defense might look like in 2021 once Xavier McKinney returned to the lineup.
Last year, the Giants loved running three-safety sets. But in 2021, the Giants should run so many three-safety sets that it becomes their base defense. Running these nickel packages will allow the Giants to get their most talented defenders on the field more frequently while also masking any thin depth that the Giants have in their front seven.
Why the Giants should play a lot of nickel defense next season
The New York Giants have put together an excellent defensive unit. Their defensive line has a couple of studs in Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Blake Martinez has proven to be a premier inside linebacker. But the real strength of this Giants’ defense is now its secondary.
James Bradberry leads the Giants’ secondary as one of the NFL’s best outside cornerbacks. New York paired him with Adoree’ Jackson on the other side this offseason, a duo that could be elite this season. Rounding out the Giants’ secondary are a bunch of young, talented safeties and slot cornerbacks.
Darnay Holmes was impressive as a fourth-round rookie this past season, yet the Giants still went ahead and added another talented nickel corner in Aaron Robinson via the 2021 NFL Draft. Jabrill Peppers is emerging as one of the best box safeties in the NFL who thrives as a moneybacker in Patrick Graham’s defense. And, of course, Xavier McKinney will enter the lineup in his second season. The former second-round pick was thought to be a first-round talent when the Giants stole him in round two. They’ll want to get all of these guys on the field as much as possible.
In order to get Holmes, Robinson, McKinney, and Peppers on the field with frequency, the Giants will need to play a lot of nickel coverage and many packages where the team has three safeties on the field. The Giants did this a lot last year, spending much of their time in a nickel 3-3-5 package. But this season it will be even more crucial that this package hits the field as the Giants try to get Xavier McKinney to establish himself in the NFL.
Additionally, there is not a ton of depth behind Blake Martinez at the inside linebacker position. The Giants’ depth is a little thin there, as it is at nose tackle as well. To supplement this weakness, the Giants should play nickel formations where there are fewer defensive linemen and linebackers on the field. Put that talented trio of safeties and that exciting young duo of slot cornerbacks to work this season.