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Defense Or Bust For The Giants

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The New York Giants defense must improve if they hope to rebound in 2013. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
The New York Giants defense must improve if they hope to rebound in 2013. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

Coming off of a disappointing season in which the New York Giants sputtered to a 9-7 record while just missing out on a playoff berth, GM Jerry Reese has his work cut out for him with a week left before the 2013 NFL Draft. The Giants may have struggled on offense at times but, if the team truly wants to rebound in 2013, improving their defense must be the top priority.

Reese has stuck to the same, familiar script this offseason by making smart and impactful moves that build upon the team’s core but don’t exactly create headlines. He’s earned the trust and respect of Giants fans for his tactful negotiating and keen eye for evaluating talent, so Giants fans have been understandably patient throughout the offseason.

Picking at No. 19 in the upcoming draft, Reese will have no shortage of options to address some of the glaring holes on the team. There have been some rumblings that the Giants will consider taking an offensive lineman with their top pick, but defense should be the absolute priority throughout the draft.

Backing Up The Line

The Giants are extremely thin at linebacker heading into the 2013 season. Michael Boley is out of the picture, and Chase Blackburn signed with the Carolina Panthers. They did re-sign Keith Rivers and grab Dan Connor from the Dallas Cowboys, but those are the types of moves that are more likely to elicit a yawn out of Giants fans rather than instill a sense of confidence in the team’s linebackers.

There are several linebackers worth taking in the first round alone, so Reese will have a tough decision to make with a number of them expected to be available once they’re on the clock. While highly unlikely, it would come as no surprise if Reese spends his top pick to shore up the middle of the defense as the team can no longer afford to continue ignoring the position.

Historically, the Giants haven’t placed much of a premium on the linebacker position in the first round of the draft, and they haven’t selected a linebacker with their top pick in nearly three decades. Although, the last two linebackers they selected that early in the draft was in the early 80s when they took the legendary Lawrence Taylor in 1981 and Carl Banks in 1984.

Maybe it’s time that the Giants rethink their stance on drafting linebackers in the first round.

Stopping The Big Play

Perhaps more importantly, the Giants need to clean up their secondary. It was painful to watch Corey Webster last season as he was mercilessly picked on by quarterbacks. After his torrid play in 2012, Webster wisely took a massive pay cut to remain with the team. Once the team’s most reliable corner, Giants fans can only hope that 2012 was a fluke and that he’ll return to some semblance of his pre-2012 form.

While Prince Amukamara had a solid season opposite Webster and Jayron Hosley showed brief flashes of brilliance, there are still a lot of question marks regarding their depth in the secondary. Kenny Phillips was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Reese had no problem letting Justin Tryon test the open market. The team retained Stevie Brown on a one-year deal, and he was one of the few bright spots on defense last season. With Phillips in Philly, Brown should go unchallenged as the starting safety alongside Antrel Rolle.

And speaking of Rolle — one of the team’s highest paid players — he also had a down year. In the last year of his deal, he’ll need to step up next season — both in performance and as a leader — if he hopes to re-sign with the team.

Terrell Thomas will be attempting yet another comeback after signing a one-year deal to remain in New York, but his career has been marred by injuries. Until Thomas gets some snaps under his belt and shows that he’s still capable of being an effective corner, no one really knows what he’ll bring to the table and whether his body can hold up to the type of abuse defensive backs are accustomed to in this league.

The Giants also signed the recently released and former first-round pick of the team, Aaron Ross. In a market that was flooded with talented defensive backs, the Giants struck early on a third- or fourth-tier cornerback. He’s familiar with the team and system, but he’s 30 years old, has seen better days and should not be counted on as a reliable contributor.

There’s a lot of depth at safety and a fair amount at corner in the draft, so depending on how the first two rounds pan out, Reese could really dig deep next week. Reese can rule out Dee Milliner falling that far, but Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes may very well be available. If none of the top corners are available to the team at No. 19, Reese may have to wait until the second or third round for a suitable prospect.

Deep In The Trenches

The Giants failed to generate consistent pressure in the trenches to give the secondary some breathing room, and running backs regularly broke through the line to get to the second level. While it’s easy to point a finger at the defensive tackles, the entire front four was underwhelming when it came to pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run.

Chris Canty was let go, Marvin Austin can be labeled as a bust at this point and Rocky Bernard is on the open market. Shaun Rogers was re-signed, but the Giants shouldn’t expect much out of him as an aging 34-year-old coming off a serious injury. Linval Joseph was the only reliable defensive tackle to plug the middle of the line, but there was only so much he could do on his own. With all of their losses and general lack of production at the position, the team needed to pick up a stout defensive tackle to start next to Joseph. Reese made that one of his top priorities in free agency, and he added some depth at defensive tackle by signing Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson from the Philadelphia Eagles.

However, the Giants’ failure to consistently collapse the pocket and pressure the quarterback can be blamed primarily on the defensive ends. Justin Tuck seems to have lost a step, Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t adjust very well to the frequent double teams and Osi Umenyiora is clearly on the decline. Umenyiora bolted for the Atlanta Falcons, leaving Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as the team’s starting defensive ends once again. Mathias Kiwanuka is expected to rotate in as a pass-rusher, but New York has always placed a premium on depth at defensive end. With a plethora of talented defensive ends available in the first round and an absence of offseason activity at that position, Reese may have tipped his hand for the upcoming draft.

Whether or not Reese decides to stick with his philosophy of taking the best available talent, eschewing need over ability and potential, will be a big question next week. New York has a seemingly endless fascination with pass rushers, and with the draft ripe with talent along the defensive line, signs point toward the Giants grabbing Tuck’s eventual successor.

A little over a year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the road to redemption has already begun. With Super Bowl XLVIII taking place right in the Meadowlands, the Giants will have a shot to represent New York in the Super Bowl, but only if their defense returns to championship form.