Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Updated: October 8, 11:15 AM ET
Giants' defense beginning to jell
By Ohm Youngmisuk
Justin Tuck remembers what it felt like in 2007 when the New York Giants started off the season 0-2.
The defense was being toasted like a soft marshmallow on a stick after giving up a total of 80 points in two games. And Tom Coughlin's grip on the locker room would have certainly come unraveled with another loss.
But there was a massive goal-line stand in Washington in that third game and the rest was history. The Giants won six straight games and formed an unbreakable chemistry that would propel them to the Super Bowl later that season.
So what does that have to do with this season? Well, Tuck is beginning to see a pattern develop this season that reminds him a lot of the beginning of the 2007 season.
The Giants (2-2) didn't start 0-2, but they did lose two straight and the world felt like it was crumbling until the defense suffocated Mike Martz's Chicago Bears offense on Sunday night and breathed new life into Coughlin's team.
"Guys are starting to forget about self and look more as a football team," Tuck said. "It started reminding me of '07, because in '07 we got off to that 0-2 start and then we won a huge game in Washington and I think we ran off six in a row after that. Will that happen this year? I don't know. But I am encouraged by the fact that I am starting to see similarities to that."
Some wonder if the Giants' defense will be a one-hit wonder. But Perry Fewell's defense has shown glimpses of being dominant.
• In Week 1, they held the Carolina Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a total of 74 yards rushing.
• Week 2 was a complete fiasco as the Giants -- fixated on stopping Peyton Manning with six DBs on the field most of the first half -- surrendered a combined 161 yards to Joseph Addai and Donald Brown in a 38-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
• In Week 3, the Giants did a great job of holding the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson to decent numbers until allowing him to run for 55 of his 125 yards on one drive midway through the fourth quarter after the game was pretty much over.
• Then in Week 4, the Giants' defense puts together a complete game, holding Chicago's offense to 110 net yards, six first downs and three points in a dominant 17-3 win.
Fewell's unit collected 10 sacks, nine in the first half and knocked out two of Chicago's quarterbacks. And what was impressive was the fact that the Giants did it without having to resort to gimmicks or crazy blitzes.
Eight of the sacks came with the Giants sending four or fewer pass-rushers. That is the most sacks any defense has registered in a game while sending four or fewer pass rushers since the stat was first tracked in 2008.
Only time will tell if Tuck is right about his hunch. But like that 2007 team, these Giants now know they can get to the quarterback on the strength of just their front four or with the occasional corner blitz.
While many fans have lost their patience with rookie punter Matt Dodge, Coughlin has taken on a nurturing role with his rookie.
"He is a huge encourager, that's for sure," Dodge said. "I think he has seen what I am capable of in practice and kicking in pregame and at halftime. It is just a case of trying to translate that onto the field and once I get that confidence and hit a couple of good balls and you are like, 'OK, there is nothing different, I am doing the same thing here. ... I guess he is just waiting for that to happen."
Coughlin's patience, though, could running out. According to a report by the Newark Star Ledger, the Giants worked out veteran punter Hunter Smith on Tuesday.
Smith is an 11-year veteran who punted for the Colts for 10 seasons before spending last year with the Redskins.
The retired Jeff Feagles told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that he recommended the Giants send Dodge to talk to a sports psychologist to help.
Coughlin has handled his rookie like a shrink at times.
"I'm a very patient person," Coughlin said of dealing with Dodge. "Because I believe he's gotten better."
Dodge, who is averaging 36.3 net yards, believes the patience will pay off.
"I haven't performed as well as I can," Dodge said. "And I am still here, so obviously I am here for a reason."
What Dodge worries more about is his holding. He says he didn't get the handle down smoothly on Lawrence Tynes' miss from 38 yards in the first quarter against Chicago. Tynes has also missed two field goals against the Titans two weeks ago.
"I rather punt badly all game and have great holds because I am directly affecting how he performs," Dodge said. "That would break my heart more than anything."
"I'm so new at it, sometimes I don't find the laces right away," he added of his holds.
Ahmad Bradshaw, he has progressively gotten better with each game, was named NFC offensive player of the week. He ran for 129 yards and a touchdown against the best run defense in the league on Sunday but he also fumbled for the second straight game inside the 5-yard line.
Bradshaw has fumbled three times this season, often because he tries to grind out every yard he can, leaving him vulnerable to getting stripped. Against Chicago, Bradshaw was running for the end zone and checked to his left to see if anybody was coming from behind. He didn't see a defender trailing on his right side before having the ball poked out.
Coughlin knows a thing about protecting the football since he helped Tiki Barber overcome a serious case of the fumbles.
"[Tiki] spent a whole offseason doing it too," Coughlin said of Barber working on protecting the ball by holding onto it with a better grip. "Every conditioning session, everything that was done outside, anytime -- even in the weight room -- he would carry the ball around, because it's not the most comfortable place to be."
Might not be long before Bradshaw starts carrying a ball around with him at all times.
There was no new update on Bradshaw's ankle. The running back was scheduled to undergo tests on an injury Coughlin described as "little." More may also be known about Mathias Kiwanuka's bulging disc in his neck on Wednesday. ... Safety Antrel Rolle works out with good friend and fellow Miami product Andre Johnson in the offseason. He knows the Giants will have their hands full if Johnson can play on a throbbing ankle on Sunday. "In my eyes, [he's] one of the best receivers in the league, if not the best," Rolle said. "Andre is a freak of nature. He is a big, fast, explosive guy. He can make plays at any time in the game." ... If fullback Madison Hedgecock (hamstring) can't play on Sunday, tight end Bear Pascoe could see some action in the backfield.
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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