When the New York Giants hired James Bettcher to be the defensive coordinator in January of 2018, there was a sense of optimism for those in and around the organization. There was no hope for a defense that was ranked 27th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed per game the prior year.
Bettcher was known for his aggressive style in Arizona which ranked in the top 5 in blitz percentage each of his three seasons as defensive coordinator, according to pro football focus. Bettcher’s defense also ranked in the top 6 in yards allowed per game from 2015-2017.
While there was a slight improvement in ranking from 2017, Bettcher’s first season with the Giants was widely considered a disappointment. The defense couldn’t get to the quarterback, stop the run, or stick out close games. While finishing tied for second to last in sacks (30), Bettcher’s defense also cost the Giants four wins in 2018 by failing to get a stop on the last possession.
Where It Went Wrong for the New York Giants?
After further analysis as to why the defense underachieved, it is obvious that the lack of success was personnel related, rather than scheme. In fact, James Bettcher had to abandon the main source of his success due to a lack of talent.
As stated above, Bettcher ranked in the top 5 for blitz percentage every year he was in Arizona. In New York, the defense only blitzed 26.3% of the snaps, which ranked them 22nd in the NFL. For reference, each of Bettcher’s defenses in Arizona blitzed between 37% and 47% of the snaps from 2015-17.
After losing six of their first seven games, the Giants knew the season was a wash and realized they must start building for the future. They responding by trading both former first-round pick Eli Apple and All-Pro nose guard Damon “Snacks” Harrison for a fourth and fifth round pick, respectively. Bettcher also lost his best defensive player in Landon Collins who tore his labrum and required season-ending shoulder surgery after week 13.
The Giants did not have enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to execute Bettcher’s scheme. In a defense that needs at least five new starters, Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur are well aware that the Defense must be improved to be successful in 2019.
Instead of signing big name free agents with limited cap space, GM Dave Gettleman made the conscious decision to sign defenders who held great value but were not expected to bring in top dollar. The two most notable defensive signings include Antoine Bethea (2 years, 6.5 million) and Markus Golden (1 year, 4.75 million), who both played under James Bettcher in Arizona.
Bethea, who will be turning 35 before the season starts, is still a great value pickup for the Giants who has a lot of football in him. In a failed system under former head coach Steve Wilks, Bethea still managed to make a team-leading 121 tackles along with 3 sacks. Bethea played the best football of his career under James Bettcher in 2017, grading out as PFF’s 9th best safety in the NFL. In that same year, Bethea also led the Cardinals with 5 interceptions; the most he’s had in his 13-year career.
Bethea will be joined by teammate Markus Golden (28), who is playing on a one year prove-it deal for New York. Golden’s 2018 season was greatly hindered by an ACL tear the year prior. Like Bethea, Golden played his best under James Bettcher. He totaled 12.5 sacks in 2016, which tied for third in the NFL. Golden also produced 16 tackles for loss in 2016 along with 4 forced fumbles. A one year contract is beneficial for both sides. For Golden, who is looking for a chance to prove he can get back to being a quality pass rusher, a familiar defense could be a perfect fit. For the Giants, who were already in the market looking for an edge rusher, Golden can come in to replace Olivier Vernon for a fraction of the cost.
Replacing Landon Collins:
As apart of the Odell Beckham Jr trade, the Giants acquired swiss army knife Jabrill Peppers from the Cleveland Browns along with a first (17) and third (95) round pick in the 2019 draft. Peppers, a New Jersey native, played three years at the University of Michigan before being drafted 25th overall by the Browns in 2017. Peppers struggled his rookie year, mainly due to playing deep safety for 88% of his snaps. At Michigan, Peppers played around the line of scrimmage and was considered an undersized outside linebacker. It was clear that Peppers was playing out of position as he only posted a PFF grade of 60.5.
Year two was a different story for Peppers. His new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams valued his ability to play multiple positions around the field. In fact, Peppers lined up in the box for 329 snaps, at cornerback for 155, and at deep safety for 281. Peppers coverage from the safety position also improved from a 61.5 to a 77.3, per PFF. Peppers finished the season with a total grade of 77.6, a 17 point improvement from his rookie year. GM Dave Gettleman was adamant in Peppers being involved in the Beckham trade, knowing he must replace a talent like Landon Collins. If used correctly, it won’t be long before the new #21 in blue will be looking similar to the last one.
While the New York Giants lost two valuable pieces this offseason in Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon, there is plenty of hope for the defense in 2019. With 12 picks in the upcoming draft, the Giants will certainly look to upgrade the defense with more than half of those. Similar to last year, another strong draft could spring the Giants in position to greatly improve their defense. The Giants have a huge decision to make as it pertains to picks 6, 17, and 37. Will Dave Gettleman take one of the elite defenders at 6 or do the Giants believe that they’ve found their next franchise quarterback? What remains consistent through all is that the more talent in place for the defense, the more effective James Bettcher will be in executing the scheme that got him to New York originally.