Giants' 'unacceptable' defense needs to turn things around before all hope is lost

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Giants DC Patrick Graham during training camp press conference
Giants DC Patrick Graham during training camp press conference

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Patrick Graham is admittedly in a pretty bad mood after most games, regardless of the result. But the way his defense played on Sunday in Dallas sure seemed to push him over the edge.

“It’s unacceptable, period,” said the Giants' defensive coordinator. “We get paid to win games. When you give up 500-plus yards of offense, that’s not usually winning football. So it’s completely unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.”

He’s right, of course. It was also embarrassing for this once-proud defense to give up 515 yards to the Cowboys in a 44-20 loss. But the fall of the Giants defense is about way more than one game. The last performance may have been the worst, but it’s been a season-long slide.

And it’s been shocking, considering the Giants ended last season as the 12th-ranked defense in the NFL. This season they rank 29th overall, 22nd against the pass and 27th against the run. They’re giving up a ridiculous 408.6 yards per game -- 59.3 more than they gave up a year ago. And their pass rush has all but disappeared with just eight sacks in five games -- the second-lowest total in the league.

For all the issues and injuries they have on offense, it’s Graham’s defense that’s killing the Giants this season. And they’re really starting to make last year’s revival look like something of a fluke.

Why? That’s a good question. Graham, who has at times this season sounded encouraged and hopeful, has now given into his anger while he appears to be desperately searching for what’s gone wrong.

“I know this: We have good players,” he said. “Let me let them play, does that make sense? So, if that means simplifying or doing a better job of coaching whatever the scheme is … Again, we’re evaluating everything right now when you don’t get the results you want.”

Simplifying things sounds like a good idea, even though it’s really just a dip into a coach’s bag of cliched tricks. It’s also odd that he’d have to even consider it, since this is the same scheme he used last season with most of the same players. The only players who weren’t around last season are cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and linebacker Reggie Ragland, who has stepped in for the injured Blake Martinez.

But last year, Graham was the beneficiary of career seasons from the likes of Leonard Williams (11 ½ sacks last year) and cornerback James Bradberry (who made his first Pro Bowl). This year they’ve both looked like shells of the players they were last year. Bradberry has struggled in coverage and dropped a couple of easy interceptions. And Williams has just 1 ½ sacks so far.

They also haven’t gotten any improvement from players like safety Jabrill Peppers and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. And the boost they were expecting in the pass rush from the return of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, who were both injured last season, hasn’t materialized at all.

And it’s not likely to get better any time soon since, starting with the game against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Giants will face four top-11 offenses in the next five games.

“We’re going to find out (how good the defense is),” Graham said. “I mean, we’re going to find out. It’s time. Again, I’m starting with me first. We’ve got to find out.”

Of course, it’s possible the Giants will find out that the defense just isn’t good at all. If the first five games are any indication, that’s … well, as Graham said “It’s unacceptable.”

On that point, everyone is in agreement. But if he can’t figure it out soon, it might not matter how the offense holds together until all their injured players come back. The defense needs to take the lead starting this Sunday. If it can’t, there’ll be no hope at all for this season.

And it will be the defense’s fault.

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