Could This Be Perry Fewell's Last Stand In New York?
When most people think of the New York Giants and what made their most dominant (and most successful) teams so memorable, they tend to think of the defense. The great Parcells-coached teams of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were defensive juggernauts, and our most enduring memories from that era and the images they evoke almost always seem to include the defense. Even the two most recent Super Bowl titles were won with a staunch and aggressive defense. Sure, the offense may have been what got them there, but on the biggest stage of all, they managed to hold the New England Patriots — an offense that seemed to hang 40-plus points on opposing defenses week in and week out — to 31 combined points in two Super Bowls.
Make no mistake, though, this new generation of Giants football is not built around the defense the way it once was. In fact, the Giants defense has been more a cause for concern in recent years than a cause for celebration. The Giants defense has often been the reason why they've lost some games instead of the reason why they won — as it used to be in the not-too-distant past. Gone are the days when a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter meant certain victory. These days, a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter will probably still end up being a nail-biter.
So why is that? Is it because of all of the injuries that the team has suffered on the defensive side of the ball in the past few years? Injuries to key players like Terrell Thomas, Kenny Phillips, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and others have certainly hampered the defense in recent years, but it's nothing that the 31 other teams in the league don't have to deal with as well. That means we're left with two other possible reasons: either the defense is simply underachieving, or the blame needs to be placed on the man in charge of everything, the defensive coordinator.
Perry Fewell joined the Giants in January of 2010, and his first season as the Giants' defensive coordinator was a major success (at least in terms of the defense). Although the team finished 10-6 that year and narrowly missed the postseason, Fewell's squad finished the year ranked seventh in the league in total defense, and it seemed like things were trending upwards. However, in 2011, things came undone and the defense finished the year ranked 27th overall in total defense, dangerously close to the bottom of the barrel, and 25th in points per game allowed (25.0), which is perhaps the more telling statistic.
A late-season surge that centered on strong defensive play propelled the team to a Super Bowl title and saved them from another disappointing finish, but it also did something else that many people have overlooked until now: it took all the attention away from how poorly Fewell's defense performed for the majority of the regular season. Up until the last two weeks of the 2011 season, the Giants defense was laughably bad. However, beginning with the Jets game in Week 16, they went on a six-game stretch that lasted throughout the postseason where they didn't allow an opponent to score over 20 points. Was this stretch an aberration that could be attributed to the defense finally being fully healthy and spurred on by the intensity of the playoffs, or was it more characteristic of how Fewell's defense was supposed to look?
Well, we might have gotten our answer last season as things got no better. In fact, they got markedly worse. This time, the defense finished the season ranked 31st in total defense. Yes, that's 31st, meaning only one defense was worse than the Giants all season (and that defense belonged to the New Orleans Saints, whom the Giants hung 52 points on in Week 14). The Giants missed the playoffs, thanks in part to an embarrassing two-game stretch in mid-December where they were outscored 67-14 by the Falcons and Ravens, and it seemed as if the defense was unraveling before our eyes. Big plays seemed all too easy to execute against a porous and dangerously thin secondary, and it didn't seem like there was any fight left in anyone on defense.
Despite all of that, Fewell continued to hold strong to the belief that it was not him who was to blame for the defense's shortcomings but the players on the field. Maybe he's right. Perhaps the talent that the team needs to be successful on the defensive side of the ball is missing, and maybe Jerry Reese and the rest of the front office isn't doing quite enough to address those issues. After all, the gaping holes at the linebacker position and in the secondary have been widely publicized, and it's not news to anyone that there are still some serious concerns at those positions heading into the 2013 season.
Whatever the reason for this rapid and dramatic decline of the defense, 2013 will likely be a pivotal season for Fewell in deciding whether he stays or goes. Being ranked 31st in the league in total defense is inexcusable for a defense with talent like Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle, and certainly not acceptable for a team that was 8-5 with a realistic chance at winning the division in the middle of December. If the defense doesn't see an improvement in 2013, Fewell may be packing his bags come January, and perhaps deservedly so.