By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
They sure like to follow the leader in the NFL.
There have been seven head-coaching openings filled in the league this year, and all of them have gone to offensive-minded men who qualified for their positions as a result of their work with quarterbacks, wide receivers, offensive lines, running backs and tight ends.
That’s fine, and it’s an indication of the way the thought process is working in the NFL today. It’s all about making the scoreboard light up, and the other side of the ball is just an afterthought.
Now, take a look at the four coaches who are still alive in the conference championship games. Ron Rivera and Bill Belichick earned their positions as defensive coaches, while Gary Kubiak and Bruce Arians come from the offensive side of the ball.
Belichick has become one of the finest head coaches in the history of the game, but it was his work as defensive coordinator of the Giants during the 1990 season and ultimately in Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills that made NFL owners and general managers take notice of him and come to the conclusion that he would become a winning head coach.
All of the hirings this time around are curious to some degree, but none moreso than Ben McAdoo’s hiring with the Giants.
It’s clear that he has a good rapport with Eli Manning and that he has helped get the quarterback’s career back on track after a couple of forgettable seasons. Of course, the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. may have even more to do with the good numbers that Manning put on the board than McAdoo’s presence.
But the Giants were putrid on defense in 2015, and that comes after a very bad season in 2014. The Giants got rid of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and replaced him with onetime defensive phenom Steve Spagnuolo, but there was no miracle this time around.
Spagnuolo’s defense finished 32nd – dead last – in yards allowed, and it cemented that performance as the 31st-ranked defense against the pass.
That unit had a number of “signature” performances this season, with the worst of the worst taking place in Week 8 when the Giants dropped a 52-49 decision to the New Orleans Saints. All 37-year-old Drew Brees did in that game was riddle the New York defense for 505 yards as he looked like he was in the prime of his career.
The Giants defense was also ruined by quarterbacks Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cam Newton.
While Newton is the likely MVP of the league and Romo presumably still has all of his powers despite his injury-plagued season, the Giants made journeymen quarterbacks look like All-Pros throughout the season.
So how is McAdoo going to help the Giants defense? Well, he’s probably not going to be able to do much. A great offensive mind has few clues about how a defense works, because he is used to playing chess against opposing defensive coordinators.
McAdoo knows the type of defenses and formations that give his schemes the most trouble, and that’s valuable when it comes to preparing. But it’s reactive, not proactive.
A great defensive mind can come up with dozens of looks that will confuse and cause problems for opposing offenses, and that’s why the Giants and other NFL teams should not undervalue those leaders.
At this point, the Giants are going to have to be active in free agency and make some great choices in the draft if they are going to improve their defense significantly.
Going from 32nd to 27th on defense would not be good enough. However, if the Giants can go from 32nd to 15th or 16th in 2016, that would likely be good enough for them to win the NFC East and then make a splash in the playoffs.
Jason Pierre-Paul has already had one surgical session on his right hand and will need at least one more. However, it seems quite unlikely that he will ever play like the dominant pass rusher he once was.
The Giants have to do some major renovations with their defense if they are going to avoid another disappointing season.
They have made their bed by going with a sharp offensive mind like McAdoo. That means it is once again on Jerry Reese to improve the talent level on defense.
The Giants’ vice president and general manager has proven to be quite effective when it comes to protecting ownership’s money and making players and agents sweat in the negotiation process. But when it comes to finding defensive talent, he has been quite abysmal.
That has to change in the coming weeks or months, or the Giants will suffer on defense again in 2016.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy.