Patrick Graham’s New Approach Reviving Giants Defense

The running joke with Patrick Graham is that his Yale-trained mind always mixes up common statements.

The Giants defensive coordinator recently said “talk me off the bridge” instead of ledge. He used “jump the gun” out of context. He is confused by the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. But here’s one he’s sure to never forget: sometimes less is more.

For the second straight season, the Giants defense is experiencing a mid-season breakthrough responsible for reviving once-dead playoff hopes. The Panthers, Raiders and Chiefs average 20.5, 23.3 and 26.2 points per game respectively, but racked up just 39 points overall as three favorites finished 1-2 against a new stripped-down version of Graham’s system.

“I think Pat did a great job of naming the things we do well in critical situations – like third down and red” [zone] — as opposed to trying to have the perfect defense for what they might run,” said safety Logan Ryan. “Little back to what we’re good at and let them beat us at it — and put guys in position to make plays. “

Giants Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
Giants Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
Corey Sipkin

A year ago, after the Giants started 1-7, Graham retired from blitzing and scrapped his man-to-man coverage plan in favor of a heavier dose of zone. The thinking when the Giants signed Adoree’ Jackson to fill a gaping hole at the No. 2 cornerback to James Bradberry was that man-to-man coverage was making a comeback, especially as Graham teased to delve deeper into the plan. to go than in 2020.

“If you leave it to me, I might go a little crazy. I’m out there on vacation in the Vineyard this summer, yeah, I’m starting to think about things,” Graham said in August. “The playbook will grow as we grow as a unit. It’s about building a foundation for our core principles and from there, based on the adversary, it can grow.”

The irony is that it appears that the Giants’ improvements after this season’s 1-5 start have been accompanied by a less-is-more approach. Going back to more zone coverage, despite the addition of Jackson, is one of the tweaks.

The biggest difference, however, is the pre-snap. Looking at the amount of communication with hand gestures and attunement during the first six games suggested that messages lost during translation led to broken covers and that the receivers could go free, especially as the Cowboys and Rams called 75 offensive points in back -to-games back. Graham never calmed down and continued his hard coaching style.

“That’s the only way you should be coached,” Jackson said.

Suddenly the amount of pre-snap thinking was limited and the reactions looked more instinctive. No wonder Graham actually “hates screenplays.”

“I think the thing that naturally happens with defenses is that communication gets better over time. You feel more and more comfortable working with each other,” Graham said. “Obviously I need to speed up my process to figure out where to put guys in the right place.”

Patrick Graham in training for Giants on October 7, 2021.
Patrick Graham in training for Giants on October 7, 2021.
Corey Sipkin

Yes, learning what not to do in the first month of the season is risky. Opponents during the three game defensive turnaround converted 28.2 percent of third downs, have scored three touchdowns on 13 red zone trips and have a total of six points in the final two minutes of the halves – all of which represent significant progress relative to where those points stood after six games.

“Through that aspect and us coming together and understanding what we wanted to do and what we needed to do to get the job done,” Jackson said, “it started working for us.”

Such is the fickle nature of the NFL that Graham received (and declined) a request for a head coach interview from the Jets last season. Then, after the Giants defense’s poor start, last week Graham was surprisingly left out of the list of 11 minority candidates that the NFL advisory committee vetted and recommended to draw strong attention to future head coach job openings, according to NFL.com. Now, after a mini-rise, Graham is once again a popular candidate in competitive circles, according to CBS Sports.

“Pat is as good as any coach at listening to his players and listening to his coaches and is not afraid to take advice from the players,” said Ryan. “He’s doing a great job of adapting throughout the year and saying, ‘While we thought this would be what we’d practice all week, I actually think we should do this.’ It may not be what you imagined in the off season.”

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