The standard bearer for defensive coordinators around here — or anywhere — is, of course, Bill Belichick. They may have nicknamed him Captain Sominex back in the day for his monotone delivery, but every last Giant — Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson included — knew they could trust his beautiful football mind.
Belichick’s genius over the years has included hiring the best and brightest assistants, and it should be recognized that Joe Judge, the latest branch of the GOAT’s tree, hired the Giants’ 2020 MVP to date:
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
Even before he installed the play in the Saturday walk-through practice that resulted in Logan Ryan’s game-sealing interception of Alex Smith on Sunday, Graham has fielded a chameleon, shape-shifting defense from week to week that no longer resembles the Keystone Cops each and every week.
One of Graham’s motivational tools is quoting Spurs five-time NBA champion coach Gregg Popovich:
“I don’t know the exact wording of the quote, but he always kind of brings it up to us,” Blake Martinez told The Post after practice Wednesday, “and it’s about putting your own individual self aside for the better part of the team, and that’s always been something that he’s told us to kind of resemble and be about as an individual, and as a captain, as a leader, as a teammate, to be that type of person.”
The actual Popovich quote is likely this one: “It’s not about any one person. You’ve got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done.”
Asked how the Giants defense is a reflection of their Yalie coordinator, Martinez said: “His intensity, and then his attention to detail, his passion for the game. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do and knows what type of energy to be at when they’re doing it.”
By no means is this one of those intimidating, feared Giants defenses of yesteryear that compelled their blue army in the stands to howl, “dee-fense, dee-fense, dee-fense,” and maybe if Graham had an elite pass rusher and dependable No. 2 cornerback, the Cowboys and Eagles would not have fashioned game-winning drives in the last minute.
But from week-to-week, Graham has more often than not moved his chess pieces around in a manner that might have impressed Bobby Fischer. He has torn a page out of the book of Coach Aristotle, who told us long before Tom Landry was a Giants DC that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Eagles running back Boston Scott may have caught the winning TD pass from Carson Wentz last month, but the return of Miles Sanders and possibly right tackle Lane Johnson and let guard Isaac Seumalo as well, would raise the bar for Big Blue — especially for Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence — that Graham set in August when he said: “I want our toughness to jump off the film.”
Graham, remember, has made do without Lorenzo Carter, Xavier McKinney, Oshane Ximines, DeAndre Baker and Sam Beal. Big Blue’s defense is 15th in yards per game and 13th in points per game, compared to 25th and 30th last season, respectively.
Graham engaged Tom Brady in a death struggle, and four takeaways by the defense keyed the win in Washington.
He has done it — brace yourselves, haters — with Dave Gettleman All-Stars:
Cornerback James Bradberry (three interceptions, 12 passes defended, three shy of his career high): “Elite,” Martinez said. “His ability to understand situations in the game, ability to understand what his opponent’s trying to do against him, understanding scheme, and then just his athletic ability to go and make the plays that he does every week against top receivers in the NFL.”
Defensive back Logan Ryan (53 tackles, one INT, seven PDs): “Intellectual,” Martinez said. “He is just so smart, he is able to understand what offenses are trying to do and able to adapt in all situations, whether it’s the first play of the game or the 60th play of the game. And at crucial moments, he knows where to be and exactly what to relay to every single one of us on the field.”
Defensive tackle Leonard Williams (five sacks): “He’s a beast,” Martinez said. “Different animal out there. When he’s been on the top of his game, I don’t think anybody could stop him.”
He’s benefited from playing alongside Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson, and vice versa. “I love playing beside him,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like we feed off each other. He does a lot of the dirty work.”
Safety Jabrill Peppers (43 tackles, one INT, two tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovered): “He’s a guy that kind of reminds me of the Energizer Bunny commercial,” Martinez said. “He’s going 24/7.”
Inside linebacker Blake Martinez (defensive captain, 92 tackles, two sacks, one INT): Invaluable quarterback of the defense and tackling machine. “Intellectual brutality — a guy that knows where to be, knows how to get there pre-snap, post-snap,” Martinez said, “and then does it with relentless physicality in the right way so I’m not overdoing it missing plays.”
If it looks like they’re having fun, it’s because they are.
“It’s just awesome to be able to have this type of dynamic with this team,” Martinez said.
Because of this type of defensive coordinator … MVP Patrick Graham.
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