"You guys [the media] were attacking [Lewis]," Giants linebacker LaVar Arrington said.
Giants assistants and coordinators are allowed to speak to reporters only during the bye week in season by the media-phobic Tom Coughlin. And it was Lewis' bad luck to be there with his coaches barely 48 hours after a performance in Seattle Sept. 24 that put a fresh scowl on the boss' face.
In a way, it was almost like another job interview for Lewis, a chance to get in front of the cameras and show potential employers what his capacity for damage control might be.
"We've got a tremendous wealth of experience on our coaching staff and we'll tap into it to find ways to get this solved," Lewis said. "I don't know what that will involve yet. We can go through the entire book of defenses but we'll find a way to get things done. After just three games all I can say is, ‘We have time.' It's not like the noose is there yet. If we're still doing this after week 10, then we'll be in trouble."
The Giants defense entered the Redskins game last week allowing an NFL-high 92 points, producing only two sacks. They were next to last in scoring defense (30.7 points) and third-down efficiency (58.7 percent) and had allowed 370.3 yards a game (281 passing).
"I'm not surprised, but disappointed that we're not better than we are. ... There's no defense that you put in that's designed to let the guy score a touchdown," Lewis said. "It's my role, it's my responsibility and I will do a better job to get this all ironed out. I was hired to coordinate this defense. Either I haven't explained something the right way or the players haven't understood it correctly. Either way, I will get it fixed. Physically we're not handicapped by the lack of athletes. We've got talent and we're going to get better."
After spending five months thinking of ways to utilize his players Lewis knew it was time to start from scratch.
"Coach Cowher [Steelers coach Bill Cowher] always used to say that if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got," said Lewis of his former boss. "We've got to do something differently. I'm not sure what that will be yet."
That process began during bye week practices when Coughlin demanded the troops push through another round of basic training.
"You have got to go back to square one, you have to re-evaluate yourself," Coughlin said. "Just take a look at the secondary. We go back to the original coverage we had designed in training camp, back to alignments, back to proper technique, back to route recognition, right back to basics ... so that you might build on something and create some type of confidence, even though you only have a couple of days."
There is reason for encouragement. Their start was reminiscent of last season when they allowed 1,225 total yards in their first three games against the Cardinals, Saints and Chargers, ending with a 45-23 pasting in San Diego during which the Chargers rushed for 268 yards behind LaDainian Tomlinson.
By the time Week 6 rolled around most of the problems were resolved. The Giants played 15 quarters without allowing a defensive touchdown to build the momentum that carried them to the NFC East championship.
What's fundamentally different is the personnel, particularly in a secondary that was scorched for five touchdown passes during the 42-30 loss in Seattle.
Not only are the starting corners different in Sam Madison and Corey Webster, but there is a new starting safety, Will Demps, new backups in R.W. McQuarters and Jason Bell and a new two-tiered coaching approach, with Peter Giunta handling the corners and David Merritt the safeties.
Even though Giunta has tremendous experience [he was defensive coordinator of the 1999 Rams, who won the Super Bowl], there have been significant problems in coverage.
Some of it might be attributed to the loss of veteran safety Brent Alexander, released in February, who was familiar with Lewis' defenses from their days together in Pittsburgh and excelled in positioning players pre-snap.
"I take most of the blame for that because I'm the quarterback of the defense," Demps said. "Not taking away from the middle linebacker, but I have to take care of the (secondary), make sure everybody gets the right calls and make sure everybody's in line."
Lewis believes there's been a major problem with communication.
"I haven't done a good enough job," Lewis said. "I have two new secondary coaches that I'm trying to teach every day. I'm trying to get the message from me to them to the players. If I said something to someone in this group and passed it around, it would probably come back to me differently. That's what I have to get ironed out. I have to make sure that the way the defense needs to be operated – the way I see it – is the way it gets done on the field."
In Seattle, four of the five touchdowns thrown by Matt Hasselbeck were to wide-open receivers, most in a short field, the best indication of mental breakdowns.
"There were breakdowns, obviously, that we have to correct," Giunta said. "It's more mental than it is physical. If it's physical and guys can't do things, then you'd really be concerned, but you just have to do a better job of preparing them and getting them ready to go. They have to prepare themselves a bit better. We can remedy these things. They're very correctable errors."
Of course, the coverage problems could have been disguised if the pass rush was more effective. But despite Pro Bowl ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, promising youngsters Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, and Arrington, the Giants have just two sacks, neither belonging to Arrington or Strahan.
"Things haven't gone the way I'd like them to go, but it is the third game of the year," Arrington said. "We'll learn from this hard stretch of games we had. … To enjoy good times you ultimately have to experience bad ones. And this is a bad time for us. … It's all about what we're going to do. Are we going to sulk? Or are we going to fix the things we need to fix to win."
Much of the 15 minutes Lewis spent talking with the media was devoted to his use of Arrington, who has yet to make an impact.
"I would say that if your perception of the way he should be used is to blitz him 100 percent of the time you would be misguided," Lewis said. "We operate defenses based on situations, down and distance. If it calls for [Arrington] or [linebacker] Antonio Pierce or anyone to rush the passer, we will. It's not about altering the game plan because [Arrington] is in. We're still trying to find what he does best and how that relates to the complete defense. It's a much bigger picture than one guy."
Linebacker coach Bill Sheridan said that Arrington's perceived lack of production has much to do with the situations in which he's put.
"We send him several times a game, just like we do other players," Sheridan said. "He's not on the nickel and dime packages, so his opportunity to make plays is diminished by 30 or 40 plays a game."
Lewis said the Giants have blitzed on more than one-third of their plays and that Strahan and Umenyiora are getting double- and even triple-teamed. So perhaps something new is in order.
"There are so many elements that go into the equation," defensive line coach Mike Waufle said. "We have had a lot of hurries and we have hit the quarterback several times. That's like getting singles and doubles in baseball. You want to hit the home run, and that's what we're working for – get the home run."
"I can't screw it up, and right now I am screwing it up," Lewis said. "I am trying to do something they are not doing well."
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