Inconsistent D posts solid numbers
There’s no doubt that a lot of the blame for New York’s Debacle by the Bay falls on the defense, and rightly so. However, during the regular season, first-year Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn did an excellent job of keeping his troops together despite a handful of key injury losses. Big Blue’s defense was dominant down the stretch, especially in the final two regular-season games, when they shut down the Colts in Indianapolis and throttled the Eagles.
Lynn’s unit finished ninth overall, surrendering 309.3 yards per game. The pass defense, bolstered by solid play from second-year corners Will Peterson and Will Allen, finished ninth (allowing 194.9 yards per), despite lacking a consistent pass rush.
The run defense suffered its low point in Philadelphia in late October, when the Eagles thrashed New York for close to 300 rushing yards. No question, the run-stoppers were desperately seeking Keith Hamilton, who missed more than half the season. New York was 16th in the league against the run, giving up 114.4 yards per contest.
Despite the post-season failure, Lynn’s defense improved in all three categories from last year, John Fox’s final season at the helm. New York finished 14th in overall defense in 2001 – eighth against the rush and 21st vs. the pass.
However, New York’s 11 interceptions were down from last year’s total of 16, but the sack total actually improved ever so slightly this season (37-36) despite Michael Strahan finishing with less than half of his record-breaking total (22.5) from last year.
Key questions to answer on defense going forward involve improving at defensive tackle, deciding what to do with Micheal Barrow (position switch?) and Kenny Holmes (salary restructuring?) and a likely sayonara to Jason Sehorn and possibly free agent Omar Stoutmire as well.
Middle of D-line running scared
Michael Strahan – Sure, he ‘only’ finished with 11 sacks this season, but he’s headed to another Pro Bowl after posting 76 tackles. It’s tough to imagine New York’s defense without Strahan, an image that Lynn probably doesn’t even want to think about. Even though Strahan went sack-less during New York’s final five games, he’s still the league’s premier two-way DE. Grade: B+
Kenny Holmes – The Giants were hoping for even more from Holmes (50 tackles, 8 sacks) but after last season when he was borderline terrible due to inexperience in the system and injuries, they’ll certainly take it. Holmes came through often in critical spots, such as the big fourth-down stop in San Francisco and his TD return against Dallas. After some uncertainty earlier in the year, he’ll be back in ‘03. Grade: B-
Keith Hamilton – Betcha a buck that New York wouldn’t have finished 21st in the NFL in run defense had Hammer not injured himself in the season’s sixth game. Grade: Inc.
Cornelius Griffin – Stepped up his play from last season, especially late in this campaign, but he’s still capable of so much more. And he and the Giants are well aware of it. Grade: C
Lance Legree – And in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, New York selects…a DT, no doubt. Legree was a boy among men while trying to fill in for Hammer. His run defense was sub-par to say the least. Grade: C-
Frank Ferrara – He’s established himself as a solid reserve; he’s no longer just a local boy makes good novelty. Playing both end and tackle, with only one start, Ferrara’s numbers (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks) were fine. Grade: B
Byron Frisch – He barely got on the field, but showed some ability when he did, posting two sacks in limited time against Dallas. Grade: Inc.
Dwight Johnson – Didn’t play as much as Legree, nor as poorly. Grade: C
Matt Mitrione – Apparently fell out of favor as the year wore on; was inactive during the final four games and the playoff contest. Still raw, Giants like his pass-rush ability. It’s his discipline they’re worried about. Grade: Inc.
Ross Kolodziej – Late-season pickup never saw the green of field. Grade: Inc.
Sean Guthrie – Athletic DE spent year on IR after being injured during last off-season. If healthy enough, he’ll get an invite to summer camp. Grade: Inc.
Brandon not Short on ability
Brandon Short – He might not have been totally pleased with his progress, but this perfectionist definitely made serious strides and was New York’s most consistent, and biggest-impact, LB. Playing a position (SLB) that doesn’t usually lend itself to a statistical cornucopia, Short posted 96 tackles, three sacks and an INT. And he’s only getting better. Look for Short at a Pro Bowl near you in the coming seasons. Grade: B+
Micheal Barrow – For the second consecutive season, Barrow easily led the Giants in tackles, this time with 133. But you rarely notice Barrow making any huge plays, although he did have 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s solid in the middle, but would be even more effective on the weak side. Grade: B
Dhani Jones – Like Barrow, not a lot of impact plays from Jones. But who could complain with 101 tackles in his first year as a starter? He came on and improved as the season unfolded, and replaced Jessie Armstead more effectively than anyone could have figured. Grade: B
Kevin Lewis – Jack of all trades, and master of them all too. Lewis was questionable at best to even make the team after Big Blue drafted three LBs, but he developed into the top reserve at all three spots, and continued his solid play on special teams. There wasn’t much of a drop-off when number 59 entered the game. Grade: B-
Nick Greisen – This rookie says he plans to be in the starting lineup next year, and there’s no reason not to believe him. He missed half the season due to a foot injury, but made a big splash in his first NFL start – posting his first NFL sack, forced fumble and recovery on the same play in Washington. He’s going to be a good one. Grade: Inc.
Wes Mallard – He was the talk of training camp, but didn’t do much from that point on. He was barely on the field, making one tackle, contributing mostly on special teams this year. Grade: Inc.
Quincy Monk – Also played only enough on defense to record his first NFL tackle. Not sure where he fits in down the road, besides on special teams. Grade: Inc.
Lockdown Wills superb in coverage
Will Peterson – He missed four games due to injury, and played less than full speed in so many others. But he still established himself as one of New York’s top defenders. After game-sealing INTs in the second and third games of the year, opposing offenses started looking away from Peterson. Why he wasn’t personally assigned to Terrell Owens in San Fran will remain a mystery. He’s Pro Bowl bound, sooner rather than later. Grade: A-
Will Allen – He’s not as flashy or brash as Peterson, but he’s real close in terms of talent. Allen suffered more growing pains than Peterson, but at season’s end, you couldn’t go wrong with either of them. His 62 tackles were outstanding, but New York wouldn’t mind more than one INT from Allen in future seasons. Grade: B
Jason Sehorn – Only accepting a significant pay-cut will keep Sehorn in Giants blue for a 10th consecutive season. In all fairness, he’s not as bad as everyone’s been saying and writing (he had 52 tackles and two picks, and another in the playoffs), but he’s also nowhere near as good as he was, and displayed a shocking inability to stay with most receivers this year. Too expensive to be a nickelback and too shaky in the tackling department to play safety; looks like the Sehorn era is coming to an end. Grade: C
Shaun Williams – New York’s favorite hothead played well and smart all season until the playoffs. He didn’t take the Pro Bowl step that TGI had predicted for him, but most NFL clubs would be thrilled to have hard-hitting number 36 in their lineup at strong safety. He posted a career-high 108 tackles, and added two sacks and two INTs for good measure. Grade: B+
Omar Stoutmire – Those who criticized Stoutmire all season obviously didn’t have access to the grade reports New York’s defensive coaches compile. Believe it or not, the steady Stoutmire graded out consistently as well as anyone in New York’s defensive backfield. He can play physical when need be and is certainly not a liability in coverage. Sure, you’d like to see at least one INT from your starting free safety, but you sure won’t scoff at his 99 tackles. Despite what many folks think, this free agent may be back after all. Grade: B
Ralph Brown – When called upon, which wasn’t often, he delivered for the most part. His 25 tackles and one huge pick (in Washington) in limited playing time were impressive. Does anyone think Brown would fare any worse than Sehorn if given the same number of snaps? Didn’t think so. He’s likely to be the nickel back next year. Grade: B
Kato Serwanga – Like Brown, will have a shot at the nickel CB spot, and also contributed in New York’s key victory in Washington. Grade: Inc.
Reggie Stephens – We thought the former Giant corner would get more work on special teams; so did he. Grade: Inc.
Johnnie Harris – Seemed to pick things up pretty decently, both on defense and special teams, after joining the club halfway through the season. Not sure where he fits in New York’s plans; they aren’t either. Grade: C
DeWayne Patmon – Didn’t show anything to make you think he can’t play, and vice versa. Grade: Inc.
Clarence LeBlanc – He was having a wonderful training camp before getting injured; spent the entire season on IR. He’ll get a long look in camp. Grade: Inc.
More special than usual
You have to give Bruce Read credit. He’s the first Giants special teams coach in the last three seasons to keep his job at the end of the year. Read definitely sees room for improvement, but he’s also satisfied with some of the strides New York made, considering how poorly the special teams were across the board in the past. The most significant jumps Big Blue made came in its return games. In punt return average, they finished fifth in the league a year after ranking 24th. New York’s kickoff return average jumped all the way up to ninth one season after finishing 31st in 2001. Despite Matt Allen’s season-long struggles, they also upgraded from 21st to 11th on net punting average. However, New York remained one of the NFC’s worst on kickoffs, and there’s certainly no reason to go into the snapping/holding problems again.
Delvin Joyce – The Giants couldn’t have asked for much more from the diminutive Joyce, both on punt returns (8.4 yards per) and in the kickoff game (23.5). He established that he’s plenty tough and fast enough to handle those duties at this level. He got better and better as the season progressed, and seemingly was a threat to break at least one a game from mid-season on. It looks like the Giants have finally found an answer here. Grade: B+
Matt Bryant – He did as well as he could considering the fact that New York could not find him a regular snapper to work with all season. He made all the make-able kicks, but just couldn’t pull anything out of his you-know-what when things went awry, which unfortunately for Read and Bryant, was often. He nailed 26-of-32 field goals in the regular season (you know what happened in San Fran), and finished sixth in the NFC with 108 points, but more often than not, his kickoffs weren’t deep enough. Grade: B+
Owen Pochman – Injured during camp and out for the season. He’ll get a serious look this summer, and have every opportunity to supplant Bryant. Grade: Inc.
Matt Allen – As a punter, Allen is one heck of a holder. His punting numbers were abysmal (36.9 avg., 32.5 net, which was the worst in the NFC) and according to Read, it’s because he didn’t work hard enough. That, and his brain freeze in San Francisco, means he’ll be lucky to even still be on the team by the time you’re reading this. Grade: D
Marcellus Rivers – New York’s MVP excelled on both coverage teams, posting a team-high 25 tackles, including 22 solo stops. After Jeremy Shockey was drafted, the odds were pretty long that Rivers would even make the team, let alone become an integral member of the special teams. Grade: B+
Wes Mallard – Finished second in specialty tackles to Rivers. Made some big stops during the season. Grade: B-
Trey Junkin: Ha Ha. Grade: F
Dan O’Leary – Did a fine job snapping until injuring his thumb in the season finale against Philly. Grade: Inc.
Darnell Dinkins – Boy could the Giants have used this guy on the coverage teams. Played only two games after breaking a bone in his foot. Grade: Inc.
Did you miss part I? Click here for Part I of the Giants Season Ending Grades from TGI's Ken Palmer.