by Anthony Martinez
A 3-0 start to the 2009 season with a tough-gritty win in Dallas (thanks to some unlikely turnovers and a struggling Tony Romo) is definitely cause for optimism among Giants fans hopeful to regain the Super Bowl glory lost in last year's late-season fiasco. But through the start of the 2009 season, one glaring weakness has shown through a usually stellar Big Blue defense.
Known for their prowess against the run, a Giants team that ranked 9th in Rushing defense in 2008 and 8th in their Championship winning 2007 season, placed at a miserable 27th through the first couple of games of the 2009 season amongst their Nation Football League comrades. In the two years prior, Big Blue gave up an average of just under 100 yards a game and less than 4 yards per carry, frustrating opposing offenses and ending drives before they started. But that trend has come to a screeching halt as division rivals the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have gained a remarkable 336 yards on the ground, averaging an astonishing 6.7 yards a carry.
In fairness, the Giants defensive unit has been hit with several key injuries, including star Defensive End Justin Tuck being out with an injured shoulder for the 2nd Half of Sunday's win in Dallas. However, astute viewers watching the first two games of the season may see a disturbing change in play-calling becoming apparent in the Giants defensive scheme.
Former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuola (Now head coach of the New Orleans Saints) gained a reputation for his relentless blitzing right up the middle of the field with the likes of the now departed Linebacker Kawika Mitchell and Defensive Captain Antonio Pierce. This strategy led to many run-stops and even more sacks; something Tom Brady and the Patriots became very familiar with in the Super Bowl.
New coordinator Bill Sheridan seems content on letting the 4 defensive lineman do all of the work. While this helps in pass coverage (a weakness the Giants have had for several years covered up by their ability to get to the QB before he could throw), the middle of the field has been left open for the likes of Clinton Portis, Marion Barber, and Felix Jones to exploit seemingly at will.
Luckily, this hasn't cost the New York Giants any losses through just three games, with the Run D finally showing up big against a mortally struggling Buccaneers offense. But the Giants can expect Offensive Coordinator's around the NFL begin to continue attacking the fledgling run defense more frequently until it can show that giving up under 30 yards rushing against the Bucs was no fluke.
What can Big Blue due to stop this? Instead of blitzing on the corners, blitz the middle of the field, which is a scheme conspicuously missing in the first couple of games but re-instituted down in Tampa. The success of that scheme in yesterdays victory should provide a blueprint on what to do in future games. Force teams to run outside into the waiting arms of Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. It is never too late to end a trend, and continuing to shore the Run Defense up against a less than stellar Kansas City Chiefs team will help instill confidence back into the defense and show the rest of the NFL that the New York Giants are a force truly to be reckon with.
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