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Giants Now: Blake Martinez, James Bradberry among NFL.com's top FA signings of 2020

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Blake Martinez, James Bradberry make NFL.com's list of top FA signings of 2020

The Giants' defense has performed well under Patrick Graham this year.

Heading into the Week 16 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, the Giants rank ninth in the league in points allowed per game (22.2) and 12th in yards allowed (346.6). The defense has allowed the sixth-fewest passing touchdowns on the season, while the run defense currently ranks sixth in yards allowed per game (101.8) and yards allowed per carry (3.9).

A crucial factor in the success of the Big Blue defense has been the strong play of two players in their first season with the franchise -- Blake Martinez and James Bradberry.

Both defenders were signed to the Giants following a four-year stint with another club. Martinez was in Green Bay, while Bradberry was with the Panthers. The two veterans have made their presence felt, helping improve a defense that ranked 30th in points and 25th in yards allowed per game last year.

NFL.com's Nick Shook recently compiled a list of the top 10 free agent signings of 2020, and it should come as no surprise to see that both Martinez (No. 5) and Bradberry (No. 8) made the list.

Martinez has been a tackling machine in his first year with the Giants, as his 128 total tackles are tied for the fourth most in the NFL. The inside linebacker has also racked up two sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, eight tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, one interception and five passes defensed.

As Shook wrote, "Martinez has been a blessing for the Giants in Year 1 with his new team, landing ninth among all linebackers in Pro Football Focus' defensive grades (75.6). He's already piled up 128 tackles, and is near his career high in QB hits and passes defensed as part of a Giants defense that has become rather stingy in the second half of the season. A big reason for the unit's improvement is the play of Martinez (and another guy on this list), with the LB frequently flying all over the field. His 12 hustle stops (takedowns in which a player covers 20-plus yards of distance from snap to tackle) are tied for the sixth-most in the NFL to this point."

Bradberry has been a force in the Giants' secondary throughout the season. Despite missing last week's game after being placed on the COVID-19 List, Bradberry still ranks second in the league with his new career-high of 17 passes defensed, just one behind Tampa Bay's Carlton Davis for the league-lead. The veteran corner has also tied his previous career-best mark of three interceptions, while his two forced fumbles matches the number of fumbles he forced in his entire tenure in Carolina. He has also recovered his first-career fumble this season. Bradberry was named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week, marking the first time that he has earned this honor.

Shook writes, "Bradberry's new home has seen him become one of the league's best cornerbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradberry is the league's sixth-best cornerback in terms of defensive grade (78.3), a number powered by his excellent coverage grade. The Next Gen numbers back this up, too, with Bradberry ranking third in the entire league with 17 passes defensed as the nearest defender. He's limiting yards gained when allowing completions, too, giving up an average of just 6.3 yards per attempt as the nearest defender (16th-fewest among cornerbacks, min. 30 targets as nearest defender)."

What the Ravens are saying ahead of Week 16 matchup

On Wednesday, Giants beat reporters jumped on a conference call with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh ahead of the Week 16 matchup in Baltimore.

Here is what Harbaugh had to say:

Q: You were kind of the trailblazer as far as coming into the NFL with a really strong special teams background and surviving and thriving as a head coach. Did that peak your interest when [Head Coach] Joe Judge got the job? Do you know much about Joe as a special teams guy? And are you surprised that maybe more teams don't go this route?

A: Yeah, I am actually surprised that more teams don't go that route. Definitely have been over the years. There have been some great, great coaches who have been coaching special teams in this league for a long time all the way back to when I first broke in in '98, all the guys – the Pete Rodriguezes and the Scott O'Briens and the Brad Seelys and Joe Avezzanos – just amazing coaches that never really got a shot, and there's guys in this league now. But to see Joe be able to do that – and of course he was working on offense too, so he has a lot of football knowledge – but that was good to see.

Q: Just as far as [Ravens Quarterback] Lamar [Jackson] goes, in that game against Cleveland, do you think that some games are maybe a little bit more significant than others? Do you kind of put that one in there for him and what that might have meant for him and your team?

A: I mean, it's good from a confidence standpoint. I just think it's more a product of him kind of grinding and keeping working and trying to improve every week and then going out and competing. There were a lot of crazy circumstances that we had been dealing with really throughout the middle part of the season and right up until that game, so to be able to overcome some of that adversity was really a positive for us, certainly. But high drama, wasn't it? I mean, that's one that people are going to remember for a long time that watched it.

Q: As far as his development, do you think it's still an evolving process or do you know what you want from him, does he know what he wants from himself and is everything kind of geared towards that progression?

A: Well, both. We know what we want and he knows what he wants for himself and certainly we have a vision and a clear understanding of what that is. We're just working to get there, so it's an evolving process in the sense that we're trying to keep building on that. I don't know that that ever ends, even guys like [Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady are still evolving and working and trying to improve every single day, so that never really ends, but he's definitely on that path.

Q: Now that a lot of these guys have come off the Covid-19/Reserve list and are playing again, I'm just wondering from a physical and preparation standpoint and getting through the games, are a lot of these guys experiencing or still dealing with symptoms? Do you have to manage their snap counts? Do you have to train them and practice them throughout the week differently or have a lot of these guys once they've gotten through it gotten back to being themselves?

A: That's a great question. I have to say it's been kind of individualized. I don't know about symptoms per se, haven't seen too much of that, but I do think to your eye you notice guys kind of working their way back into shape or they're getting their wind back or their legs. That's been something I've kind of – I don't know if it's been my imagination or I've kind of noticed it exactly for sure – but other guys haven't skipped a beat, so it's just kind of been different for each guy. We've had enough guys now to have a little bit of a sample and I'd just say it's been kind of different for different guys. 

Q: Is there a moment when a coach says, 'I've got my franchise quarterback'? Like, is there an 'ah-ha' moment in that process do you think?

A: Yeah, there probably is. I mean, I'd say we're pretty much past that with Lamar. I probably felt that after the first couple of games two years ago, the first year in 2018. But there is that moment and then you go to work and try to get to where he and the rest of the team is kind of functioning at the level that teams function at that meet the standard that we're talking about. We're not there yet, but we're certainly on our way there, I hope. That's the plan. 

Q: When you see how the Giants played the Browns last week, a similar team to you in just that you're top in the league in rushing offense, they took away the run and made [Browns Quarterback] Baker [Mayfield] beat them. Is that how you expect the Giants to play you guys?

A: Well, I'm sure it's part of it. They're definitely very capable of defending the run, they've done a good job of it all year, they've got a great front, excellent inside linebacker, they fly around – I mean, you've got to watch where [S Jabrill] Peppers is at at all times – [S] Logan Ryan is sneaky back there, their corners will tackle. You know, they set really great edges with [DE Jabaal] Sheard and they do a good job of that, so we just have to do a great job of executing, but we understand how capable they are of really making it tough to run the ball, for sure. 

Q: On the other side of the ball, what do you make of [Offensive Tackle] Andrew Thomas's rookie year as a tackle? You've had rookie tackles before. It seems like he's been up and down and then all of a sudden you expect him to struggle with [Browns Defensive End] Myles Garrett and then he doesn't last week? So what have you seen from him?

A: Yeah, I haven't really looked at it from the perspective that you're asking the question, which is a good perspective but is really not an opposing coach's perspective. We're just figuring out how to deal with him. He's very talented, he can move, he can punch, he's very strong, he's athletic. Obviously he's young and that's part of it, too. We're very respectful of his abilities.

Q: Just one more follow-up on Lamar. He is unconventional, there's no question about it. Does he feel like he doesn't need to be a better pocket passer per se, that he can kind of make decisions on his own and you guys are fine with it? It's a bad way of asking, but does he have to resist getting pigeonholed into thinking that, 'Well, I've got to be a better pocket passer because I can't run my whole career'?

A: Yeah, I mean I don't even know where to start with that. It's a good question, but it's kind of a loaded question. I feel like what we try to do is we try to encourage him and help him to understand that he is who he is. You know, he's been gifted with the gifts that God has given him and certainly there are people out there that, as you said, would 'pigeonhole' those gifts and say that they're not 'conventional' and that therefore they should try to be something else, but it's not right. Why would you want to take a skillset and put it under a basket and hide it? You wouldn't want to hide it, you'd want to use it and make the most of it. I think he's been a pretty good pocket passer if you look at his career statistically. Why is that? Well, he can throw plus his other abilities open up that part of the game for him, too. We try to encourage him just to make use of all of his tools and improve on everything across the board and just be the best Lamar Jackson he can be, and that's our goal. 

Q: You have two assistant coaches, [Defensive Coordinator] Wink [Martindale] and [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman, who will probably get some play this year. Do you think they're ready? Do you recommend them if they get a chance to be head coaches?

A: Oh, most certainly, most certainly. Thanks for asking that. They're both excellent coaches, excellent communicators with people in the building and teachers, obviously accomplished coaches. I think they're more than ready and hopefully get an opportunity. 

Q: I'm taking you full circle here back to special teams coaches becoming head coaches. When you became the head coach and had success, it didn't seem to open the flood gates for the special teams coaches. Do you think that Joe coming in here also – at least, the early returns are positive in regards of handling a team – might force a change in the perception around the league?

A: I hope so. I think people that do their homework or decision-makers – you know, there's a lot of conversation about who owners and general managers should hire, there's a lot of opinions out there. I think everybody wants to do the best they can, they want to be successful, they want to hire the best coach, the one that's going to fit their needs and be successful. But sometimes I think that it just depends what they're looking for. There's a lot of qualities and qualifications and different kinds of people get overlooked over the years, but certainly special teams coaches fall in that category. Those guys, they deal with more than one position, they deal with really more than one phase, one side of the ball, they're dealing with every player on the team every day and I think that does lead itself to a lot of things that go with head coaching. Hopefully more guys get a chance. I mean, Mike Ditka was primarily a special teams coach, Dick Vermeil was primarily a special teams coach before he went to UCLA, [Patriots Head Coach] Bill Belichick was really a special teams coach – that's where he cut his teeth and then he became a defensive coordinator – and those guys did pretty well. I think there's a lot of examples of guys who've done well, so hopefully more guys will get a shot.

Practice Photos: Giants gear up for Ravens

The Giants have a tough challenge ahead as they will travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday.

Check out the gallery below to view photos of the Giants hitting the practice field preparing for this crucial Week 16 battle.

View photos from Wednesday's practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center as the Giants gear up for a Week 16 matchup with the Ravens.

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