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Ways the New York Giants Defense Might Change Under Shane Bowen



Ways the New York Giants Defense Might Change Under Shane Bowen

The New York Giants will look vastly different in 2024 than in 2023 but no change will be as noticeable as the move at defensive coordinator. So let’s take a look at what we can expect to be different.

We’ll start with the core philosophy. Shane Bowen was brought in from the Tennessee Titans to replace Wink Martindale as defensive coordinator of the Giants after an ugly breakup. Martindale earned a reputation for being one of the most aggressive play-callers in the league. 

How aggressive was he? In 2023, only the Minnesota Vikings called more Cover 0, and only the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys called more Cover 1 than the Giants.

Straight-up man-to-man defense isn’t a very sustainable approach to defense in the modern NFL. Offenses are far too creative, both pre- and post-snap and skill position players are just too dynamic.

Martindale’s thought process appeared: “Let’s press at the line of scrimmage to slow receivers down temporarily and hope that we get to the quarterback before they can get the ball off.” It favors pass-rush and aggressiveness over coverage.

Bowen’s approach is about as opposite as possible. Coverage on the back end is the priority while trying to generate a pass rush using methods outside of blitzing, like creepers, also known as replacement blitzes and stunts. 

In creepers, the defense gives a base pre-snap look, so no crowding of the line of scrimmage as if they intend on blitzing. After the snap, a non-traditional rusher (off-ball linebacker or defensive back) blitzes while a traditional rusher (interior defensive lineman or edge rusher) drops into coverage.

This gives the defense two main advantages when throwing at the offense. First, the defense can overload one side of the offensive line or a gap with rushers to generate quick pressure. Second, the quarterback needs to adjust for now, having a different look in coverage. 

With 30+ years of experience as a head coach or defensive coordinator, Ron Roberts popularized creepers when the RPO became more prevalent. Creepers dropping that non-traditional edge rusher into coverage frequently causes quarterbacks to hesitate for a second before making their reads.

Stunts were another key part of Bowen’s pass-rush plan with the Titans. In a stunt, one rusher attacks an offensive lineman to occupy them, while another rusher loops around that initial defender, leaving the offensive lineman in an almost impossible position.

The uber-aggressive days are not too long gone, but they are still gone. The 2024 Giants will take a more modern approach to playing defense that still looks to generate pressure without sacrificing coverage on the back end or putting defenders in near-impossible positions. 

Penny fronts allow defenses to create havoc at the line of scrimmage by crowding the line with a five-man front. On the interior, there’s a 3-0-3 or 4i-0-4i alignment, meaning there are defensive linemen lined up either in the B-gap or on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle with a nose tackle lined up directly over the center.

There are then two stand-up edge rushers in a wide-9 or wide-5 alignment, depending on whether their side has a tight end. They will be lined up completely outside the farthest player on that line.

There is also an off-ball linebacker in the Penny front, which for Giants fans means you can imagine Bobby Okereke as the lone off-ball linebacker, Dexter Lawrence as the 0/nose, with both Brian Burns and Kayvon Thibodeaux as the edge rushers. The Titans ran a Penny front on 39.8% of their nickel downs in 2023, whereas the Giants were at just 15.7 percent.

The Giants were one of the “heaviest” teams in the NFL in 2023, using base defense (four defensive backs) on 25.3 percent of their defensive snaps–the 12th-highest rate in the NFL. 

On the other hand, the Titans were one of the “lightest” teams last year, running dime (six defensive backs) on 23.2 percent of their snaps, the fourth-highest rate.

As drastically different as the approach will be in 2024, that doesn’t mean that the whole defensive side of the roster will now be asked to do things they’ve never done before. 

The zone coverage the Giants called most was Cover 3, the same coverage the Titans ran more than anything else. Both teams even had Cover 3 as their most frequently called coverages last season.

Cover 3 made up about a third of each team’s coverage calls in 2023, but that was one of the few similarities. The other two-thirds is where these teams couldn’t be more different. The Giants had Cover 1 as another third of their play-calls, using their final third with mostly quarters coverage.

Bowen used his final two-thirds for quarters, Cover 1, then Cover 2. The variety and bend-don’t-break approach allowed the Titans to keep offenses in check and prevented big plays – an area where the Giants defense was ranked 29th in the NFL.

Another reason the Titans allowed fewer explosive plays was the frequency with which they went two-high compared to the Giants. Two-high safety looks limit big plays defensively, which is why you almost exclusively see opposing teams play two high against Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen and why you see teams go with a more aggressive single-high look against lesser quarterbacks. 

The Titans ran two high on almost 40 percent of their defensive plays last season, whereas the Giants were down below 26 percent. That two-high approach makes underneath coverage more challenging in quarters coverage, making tackling that much more important.

Bobby Okereke’s and Isaiah Simmons’ coverage ability and athleticism should help the defense get up to speed early.

There will likely be a learning curve during the preseason and early stages of the season, but the new defensive system has been built to make life easier on all levels. Expect massive improvements in most categories compared to last season.

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