Coach Coughlin hit the nail on the head when after the Ravens preseason game he said the DTs played soft. We usually do not get such refreshing candor from coaches who are usually masters of "coach-speak," the art of answering a question by saying nothing. Coughlin told it like it is. The Ravens shredded the interior of the defensive line. Jamal Lewis and the Ravens first team offense went through the Giants defense like a hot knife through butter. Should the Giants be in panic mode? No. Should they be concerned? Absolutely. The reason they should be concerned is because this new and supposedly vaunted defense they have assembled will be reduced to mediocrity if the DTs don't function properly. The DTs are the engine that drives the defense and if they are sputtering then it's not a good sign. It's like restoring a classic car. You don't put a 4-cylinder Yugo engine in a Jaguar.
They have tremendous potential at defensive end with Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, an improving Justin Tuck and an exciting Mathias Kiwanuka. The linebacker unit appears to be fixed if all are healthy. There are still some questions in the secondary, especially at corner. But it looks like it could be an improved unit. Honestly, this could be one of the premier defenses in the league. It could very well return to the glory years of Giants football when defense reigned supreme if they fix the DTs. Unfortunately that's a very big ‘if.'
The DTs are so important because they allow the linebackers to run free and make plays. The DTs have two jobs on running plays. One is to occupy blockers and jam up the middle. They must not allow blockers to get into the second level and hinder the movement of the linebackers. The second job is to make tackles in the inside running game. It is a dirty job. It is an unheralded job. But, it is a job that must be done if a defense is to be successful.
The classic example is the Ravens defense of just a few years ago. They had Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, two extremely wide bodies, doing the blue-collar work. Those two kept blockers away from Ray Lewis and he became league MVP. They lost both of those guys and the Ravens defense and Ray Lewis have never been the same. Lewis, in fact, begged the Ravens to draft a wide body DT to help him return to MVP form and they did just that when they drafted Haloti Ngata, a 330-pound behemoth.
A couple of things happened in the offseason, which at the time did not appear to be critical, but all of a sudden, they may have caused a severe problem. They let Kendrick Clancy sign with the Cardinals as an unrestricted free agent. Now, the Giants will tell you that the Cardinals swooped in and signed Clancy and didn't let Clancy respond to their offer. The question that has to be asked is: Where were they from the time the season ended after their playoff loss to the Panthers to the opening of free agency in March? They had approximately a month and a half to get Clancy signed and they didn't. Were they asleep at the switch? It sure looks that way. They also released Kenderick Allen. They reason given was that they tried to contact him and he didn't return their calls so they cut him. Even though it is understandable, it is still a somewhat petulant stance to take. By the way, Allen is starting at DT for the Packers.
They obviously also didn't see enough in street free agents Grady Jackson and Brentson Buckner, whom they had in last week.
That's all water under the bridge right now. Where do they go from here? Let's look at the incumbents.
Fred Robbins – He is certainly big enough to do the job. The problem is that he has never been known as a classic run stopper. For a big man he has good quickness and agility and he can be an effective inside pass rusher. The problem is those qualities don't relate to the job at hand. He simply isn't tough enough to be the grinder they need inside.
William Joseph – He has what we call the "Eric Dorsey Syndrome." Remember Dorsey? He was a first round pick who had the body of Adonis. The problem was he rarely played up to expectations. Had he been a third- or fifth-round pick it would have been tolerable. Joseph is in that same boat. He doesn't have a great body like Dorsey did, but he is every bit as inconsistent. He's a first-round pick who is not living up to expectations. If he were to turn it on and play to his ability he might be the answer. The problem is he has had a number of injuries and we aren't sure it's in his mental makeup to get it done.
Damane Duckett – He was signed off the Carolina practice squad as a developmental player. He does have some upside and has shown flashes at times, but we are skeptical that he will ever be more than a limited rotation guy. He may be a guy who can come in and spell the primary DTs for a few plays. Perhaps we will be wrong and this will be the year he takes a big step forward. We will see.
Jonas Seawright – He is another guy who is big enough to get the job done, but he is still very green. He spent all of last year on the Giants' practice squad so it will be asking a lot to expect him to step in and anchor the defensive line. He is feisty and he does have a mean streak, which is good, but he also needs to control his temper a little better too. He still may be a year or two away.
Barry Cofield – We like this rookie fourth-round pick a lot. He doesn't fit the classic wide body DT role, but he is a lot like the departed Kendrick Clancy. He is athletic; what we don't know is if he is strong enough to do the job. We think he has a good future for sure, but we don't see him contributing significantly this year. Now, if you were to tell us that he could line up next to Fred Robbins on obvious passing downs and they will turn them both loose, we would buy that. We just don't see him yet as a stud run stopper.
So where do they go from here? The obvious answer we hear is that they will be scouring the waiver wire. That's a given, but it probably isn't the answer. DTs are so critical to a team's success that good ones are very rarely put on the waiver wire. It's highly unlikely they will find the answer there.
That leaves us with the possibility of a trade and we would venture that is a likely scenario. It is going to be hard to trade for a front line DT, but they could look for guys who may be on the verge of being ready or are currently third in the DT rotation. The right deal might pry one loose, but to get a top DT will be costly.
The ideal DT to pursue would be Kelly Gregg from the Ravens. He would be a perfect fit but it's doubtful Baltimore would be willing to part with him. There are other lesser players who could possibly help and may be available before the season begins. Buffalo is very high on their two draft picks John McCargo and Kyle Williams. That could free up a guy like Tim Anderson. Chad Lavalais may be on the bubble in Atlanta. Jordan Carstans from Carolina could be a valuable addition. Anthony Bryant, a huge DT from Tampa Bay, is another possibility. New England has a DT we would love to see the Giants get their hands on: Mike Wright.
The point is it will only take one player with the right stuff to make this defense really fly. Hopefully, that guy will be available to them.
Straight Talk with Jim Sabo
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