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Bobby Okereke becoming force in Giants defense


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has a ready comparison for almost every player he coaches or opposes and any situation that arises on a football field. So, when he was asked this week why middle linebacker Bobby Okereke has become such a productive force in the Giants' defense this month, Martindale used a traffic analogy.

"It's starting to slow down for him," Martindale said. "He was a WIL and a dime most of the time there in Indy (where he played four seasons with the Colts) and now in the middle of the defense, it's out in the middle of an intersection. Now, you see everything as a dime, you're over there on the side of the crosswalk. You can see everything's happening over here instead of being right in the middle of it. But he's getting more comfortable."

That is obvious from Okereke's prolific contributions. He has led the Giants with double-digit tackles in each of the previous three games – 10 against Seattle and Miami and 11 last week in Buffalo. Eighteen of those 31 stops have been unassisted. Okereke's season total of 53 tackles is 17 more than runner-up Micah McFadden (who missed the Miami game with an ankle injury). He leads the team with five passes defensed – a designation normally held by a defensive back – and is tied with McFadden with a team-high five tackles for lost yardage.

The defense has all five of its takeaways in the last two weeks and Okereke had a hand in four of them. Against the Dolphins, he intercepted a pass and tipped another that was picked off by safety Jason Pinnock and returned 102 yards for a touchdown. In Buffalo, Okereke and McFadden teamed up on two takeaways, a fumble that the former forced and the latter recovered and another pass that Okereke got his hands on and was intercepted by McFadden.

"I guess I just need to follow him around," McFadden said. "That's the gameplan from now on. But I'd like to get one for him now here soon."

"I think Micah is just doing a great job, trusting his instincts, flying to the football," Okereke said. "He plays with great effort. You saw that on the fumble recovery and then that pick. He's got great hands and just made a great play."

Okereke agrees that his recent contributions stem from raising his comfort level in the middle of the intersection, er, defense.

"That's essentially what it is like," said Okereke, who will lead the Giants' defense at home Sunday against the Washington Commanders. "In Indy, I was in a four down, three deep spot drop zone and you're sitting there, you're popping your eyes on the quarterback, you're playing instincts. And now we're blitzing, everybody's got different run length. Every play is basically a run blitz. So, it's really understanding, okay, I'm in this intersection, guys are shooting here, guys are shooting here. So, it's understanding my lane and my attack.

"I feel like with my position, we're in the middle for communication, we're in the middle of the field. Kind of like how Wink said. I just try to take that leadership as a Mike in the defense to run to the ball with effort and to play with physicality. I think as we're all just getting more comfortable understanding everybody else's role and everybody else's play style, we're just jelling and getting better."

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 7 matchup against the Washington Commanders.

McFadden, who most often lines up next to Okereke in the Giants' base defense, is on board with the traffic correlation.

"It's definitely how it looks out on the field sometimes," he said. "Things are crossing and going all over the place and guys are yelling and communicating and the big dogs are eating up front. It gets hectic in there sometimes, but it's part of being a linebacker and kind of understanding where you fit in the defense."

McFadden is not only Okereke's teammate, but one of his biggest fans. He said he "without a doubt" has learned much from Okereke since they first played together in the spring.

"Just having a vet like that in the room and somebody who knows what he's seeing out on the field," McFadden said. "He can explain things that a coach might not always be able to do as somebody who's seen it firsthand on the field. I think that's important. for sure."

As someone with a cluse-up view, McFadden has been particularly impressed with Okereke's recent performance.

"He's been all over the place," McFadden said. "I think it's been really important for us, not only for the team to get those turnovers but just the confidence in our defense. Now it's up to other guys to match that energy and run to the ball and punch out the ball and get a hand up. I think it's only going to help us moving forward."

That's exactly what the defense did last week in Buffalo, holding the high-scoring Bills without a point for three quarters and fewer than 300 yards of total offense. Josh Allen averaged only 5.6 yards on his 30 pass attempts.

"It was pretty impressive," Okereke said. "We all knew (wide receiver) Stefon Diggs (10 catches for 100 yards) is an elite playmaker, Josh is an elite playmaker and to go toe to toe with them, really all the way until the fourth quarter, I think that was a great second step for us.

"I think it's been trending upward, obviously from Miami (where three plays longer than 60 yards helped the Dolphins gain 524 yards). That was an explosive offense but (we) gained a little bit of confidence there and then just building off each week."

The bad news in all this is the Giants will lug a four-game losing streak into their first afternoon home game of the season. Okereke is quick to point to himself regarding the team's struggles.

"It just means I'm not doing my job enough," Okereke said. "I got to just find whatever else I can do to help to contribute to a team win and do whatever else I can do to support my teammates to help to contribute to a team win. Because at the end of the day, that's all we're chasing, wins."

Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s for the 2023 season as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.


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