The New York Giants‘ defensive roster plays a daily opposite day with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. The former Ravens DC had outstanding secondaries in Baltimore and defensive lines that were talented enough but oftentimes pieced together and added by blitzing linebackers and press-man coverage.
The Giants have one of the league’s most impressive defensive lines, but the secondary doesn’t boast Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, or an oftentimes borderline-elite slot and good free safety. Rookie Deonte Banks fits the Martindale mold to a T, but will likely need time to develop.
Although injuries took their toll on the Giants’ defensive backfield in 2022, New York finished 22nd in passing DVOA. That number must improve if they’re to take a step forward in 2023. They had one of the easiest schedules in the league a season ago. According to PFN’s strength of schedule model, New York faces the most brutal schedule in the NFL this year.
They’ll need their defensive line to dominate.
New York Giants DL Depth Chart
Dexter Lawrence is an All-Pro talent. He, Quinnen Williams, and Jeffery Simmons are all barely 25, and each of them earned first or second-team honors a season ago. But Lawrence is different because he’s a 340-pound behemoth that has pass-rushing juice we’ve rarely ever seen from someone his size.
Leonard Williams is one of the most devastating B-gap rushers in the NFL, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of a contract year.
But the successes and failures of the Giants’ defense will come down to their two starters on each edge. Azeez Ojulari could only manage seven games in his second season as a pro, playing just 230 snaps over that time.
Rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux played over 700 defensive snaps but still has a few steps to take as a technical pass rusher to reach the potential that made New York select him fifth overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. But he doesn’t lack confidence or attitude.
“What am I supposed to do now,” Thibodeaux asked reporters while answering questions about celebrating after injuring Nick Foles on a sack. “Every time I sack a quarterback, stop and look and help him up? You don’t play the game for anybody to get injured, but I play defense,” Thibodeaux said.
“They brought me here to be a savage and take over the game and to impact the game. We preach that impacting the game is affecting the quarterback. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Martindale believes that getting a healthy Ojulari will do wonders for both players in 2023.
“I think that it’s going to be good for both of them, first of all, because there’s not just one way where you can slide the protections,” said Martindale on the team site. “You can see that [Azeez] is taking care of his body. To me, he looks bigger than what he did last year, and I’m excited to see him get going as well.”
According to Pro Football Reference, only four NFL teams pressured the QB on more than a quarter of dropbacks. Few teams ever reach the 30% mark. But because Martindale is such an aggressive defensive coordinator, the Giants have to be at or near the top of the league in pressure rate to be successful.
Having Thibodeaux and Ojulari healthy and progressing as technicians in their careers would go a long way. The Giants ranked sixth in the NFL last year, and their defensive marks were still lackluster.
Lack of Depth Could Upset the Giants’ Balance
Somebody has to step up when the first five need a breather. A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nuñez-Roches were outstanding offseason additions that will help elevate New York’s run defense. Bobby Okereke helps in a myriad of ways, particularly as a zone-coverage defender patrolling the middle of the field.
But the Giants need to get really creative with their rotation so they’re not forced with an exhausted starting unit all on the field or off it together. Martindale should do everything in his power to keep two of Williams, Lawrence, Ojulari, and Thibodeaux on the field at the same time. Because New York’s pass-rushing depth is gym-bro calves thin.
Oshane Ximines, Elerson Smith, Jihad Ward. Who from that group is stepping up?
Ward is a decent depth piece as an inside-out presence, but he’s not a dangerous pass-rushing threat. The two true outside linebackers, Ximines and Smith, have not been productive as pros. There also isn’t any pass-rushing juice on the defensive interior with any of New York’s depth pieces.