Giants defense has put Big Blue back in Super Bowl contention

The Denver Broncos’ defense carried a Manning to the Super Bowl last season, and one year later the Giants’ defense may do the same for Peyton’s little brother Eli.

Steve Spagnuolo’s 2016 unit might be one of the best defenses in the NFL. It is certainly the most improved, and possibly on its way to becoming the class of the league by the time February rolls around.

Don’t laugh. Odell Beckham Jr.’s reference to Big Blue’s “Super Bowl defense” on ESPN after Monday night’s 21-20 home win over the Cincinnati Bengals was rooted in the reality of how this year’s Giants have built a 6-3 record and a four-game winning streak, and in the knowledge that when the Giants win Super Bowls, they win them with their ‘D.’

“We didn’t do this last year,” second-year strong safety Landon Collins said Monday night. “We’re doing it when it matters most now.”

Touchdown, and math, back up Ben McAdoo’s fourth-down call

For one, the Giants have a minimum three Pro Bowlers on their 11-man starting defense: Collins, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Collins has four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, in the last three games, and his Monday night fourth-quarter pop on Giovani Bernard nearly sent the shifty Bengals back into Week 11.

Jenkins is the new King of New York at defensive back with the deterioration of Darrelle Revis as a top NFL DB over in Jets country. Harrison makes every opposing offense’s running down difficult, without exception. That accounts for Big Blue’s 7th ranking (92.1 yards allowed per game) against the run.

Landon Collins made his fourth interception in his last three games on Monday night against the Bengals.

Landon Collins made his fourth interception in his last three games on Monday night against the Bengals.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

The missing ingredients preventing this good defense from being great were frequent forced turnovers and quarterback pressure. But the takeaways have picked up (nine total as a defense), and Monday’s win provided a reminder of how dominant defensive ends can put Big Blue over the top.

Justin Tuck’s presence at halftime for his Ring of Honor induction, with Michael Strahan as master of ceremonies, was a reminder of how those 2007 and 2011 Giants felled the Patriots — by getting to Tom Brady. Appropriately on the same night, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul terrorized the Bengals.

Ben McAdoo puts stamp on Giants with aggressive call to win game

Vernon went off for a team-high 10 tackles, a sack, a QB hit and two other tackles for a loss. Pierre-Paul had perhaps his best game of the season, with five tackles, two QB hits, and two passes defended. The Giants tied a season-high with three sacks of Andy Dalton.

“It was nice to get home on the quarterback,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “I thought we made a move even early in the game, and at the end it was good to finish it off.”

Give John Mara and Jerry Reese this: Mara’s edict for Reese was to go spend whatever money he needed to return the NFL’s worst 2015 defense to respectability. Reese went on a $200 million-plus shopping spree and so far has hit big on Jenkins (from the Rams), Harrison (from the Jets) and linebacker Keenan Robinson (from Washington). Vernon (from the Dolphins), though battling a bad wrist injury, has been frighteningly good as he’s gotten healthier.

Landon Collins (r.).

Landon Collins (r.).

(Szagola/CSM/REX/Shutterstock/Szagola/CSM/REX/Shutterstock)

Reese two years ago also traded up seven spots from 40 to 33 to select Collins, who has been one of the league’s biggest rising stars lately. The Giants defense as a result is limiting opponents to 20.4 points per game (11th in the NFL).

Jonathan Casillas says Giants defense playing like bullies

On Monday, they bailed out Manning after both of his interceptions: The Bengals took the ball at the Giants’ 7-yard line in the second quarter and got only a field goal. In the fourth quarter, the defense responded to Manning’s second pick by forcing a three-and-out.

Their 10 forced turnovers as a team are well behind league leaders such as Kansas City (22) and Denver (20), but the Giants’ concerns with turnovers right now center on an erratic Manning and McAdoo’s offense.

The offense has turned the ball over at least once in all nine games this season. Their 18 turnovers give the Giants a minus-eight turnover differential, which ranks 30th in the league, ahead of only the Jets and Jaguars, who are both horrible teams. The team has a minus-two point differential, compared to the Cowboys’ plus-88 and Eagles’ plus-66 on the season. But the Giants are 6-3, thanks to their ‘D.’

The defense’s excellence even allows McAdoo to make aggressive, confidence-boosting calls like going for it on fourth-and-goal from the three for Monday night’s game-winning touchdown. Maybe he was feeling uneasy about his offense’s ability to reach that point again, but certainly McAdoo took that risk because he was confident that if the offense didn’t score, Spagnuolo’s defense would get the ball back and give them another chance.

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Is this a Super Bowl defense? We won’t know for a few months. What we do know is that the Giants have earned the right to be in the conversation of championship contenders, and their remade defense is the reason why.

Tags:
nfl
new york giants
janoris jenkins
damon harrison
landon collins
olivier vernon
jason pierre-paul
ben mcadoo

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