Whether you want to call them the New York Cardinals or the Arizona Giants, James Bettcher has made the defense in the likeness of his former team. Can you blame him?
Bettcher came to the Giants in 2018 after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, the last three as defensive coordinator. In those three years, they ranked fifth, second and sixth in yards allowed. Arizona was also one of the league’s most effective run-stopping units each season, allowing a league-low 3.67 yards per rushing attempt in that span.
The Cardinals led the NFL in 2016 with 48 sacks, including a team-high 12.5 from outside linebacker Markus Golden. Like a handful of other players from those teams, Golden is now a Giant.
“I remember this defense like the back of my hand because I played in it three years,” said Golden, who signed with the Giants this past March as he looks to rebound from a torn ACL in 2017. “You’ve got guys like Kareem [Martin] that know the defense and have played in it. So it’s been great. Everybody is just helping each other out.”
In addition, the Giants added veteran safety Antoine Bethea and defensive lineman Olsen Pierre, who both overlapped with Bettcher.
“I think it’s very helpful because now you have pretty much somebody at every level who’s played in this defense,” Martin said. “I think player-to-player, that’s one of those coaching things that’s really important in a defense or offense or anything. The fact that they can lean on O.P. or Markus or A.B. and ask a question, ‘Hey, when you guys played this defense in the past, could you do it this way?’ I think that’s really big and is going to pay off for us.”
Martin added: “A.B. has been a pro for a long time and is still playing at a high level. Markus Golden, when he gets on the field, he’s going to bring a lot of energy. He’s going to give it his all. That’s one thing I know about him, and O.P. is the same way. His quickness in the inside, he’s probably one of the quickest three-techniques I’ve had a chance to play with. I’m just excited to see all of them play.”
In Bettcher’s first season, the Giants improved from 31st to 24th in yards allowed, and went from tied for 27th to 23rd in scoring. Still, everyone inside and outside of the building knew that was not good enough.
“It’s not easy to win games when you don’t have playmakers,” general manager Dave Gettleman said in his season-ending press conference. “We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.”
Gettleman went out and used seven of the team’s 10 draft picks on defense, beginning with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and cornerback DeAndre Baker in the first round. Aside from the influx of new blood, however, the returning players should benefit from the second time around in the scheme.
“It’s an active learning environment,” Martin said. “This being the second year, guys know what questions to ask. Last year, it’s more so ‘let me learn what I have to do and I can’t really worry about the overall scheme of everything.’ But now, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m in it, I know what I’m doing, I kind of have an idea, so now let’s see the bigger picture.’ I think that conversation is really good going forward – from player to coach, from coach to player.”