EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – James Bradberry has been everything the Giants hoped he would be when they made him one of their marquee offseason acquisitions last March.
The Giants' left cornerback, Bradberry's nine passes defensed are four more than anyone else in the NFL. He intercepted a pass spectacularly in Chicago, and he is fifth on the team with 10 tackles (nine solo).
"He's been very productive on the ball, he's been very steady, very reliable," defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said. "There are areas where he has to get better as well. But he's been very productive on the ball. He's done a good job there."
Now the Giants need the rest of the secondary to catch up to Bradberry.
The unit has been beset by inconsistency and injuries through the first three games and will face its biggest challenge of the young season when the Giants visit the passing proficient and high-scoring Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Coach Joe Judge is confident they can meet it.
"I think the guys are all working hard," Judge said. "We see a level of improvement on a weekly basis. We have to make sure we keep playing good football and take some bad plays off our plate, but that's up to us as coaches. We have to keep putting guys in the right position and they have to execute on the field when they're asked to."
"With the whole secondary, we have to play more consistently at a high level," Henderson said. "We have times where we play at a really high level and we have times where we're making errors and mistakes that are causing us to get beat. We have to get those things fixed as a group."
They must first identify who will be in the group. Corey Ballentine started the first two games at right cornerback before Isaac Yiadom – who was acquired in a trade on Sept. 3 – took the position last week against San Francisco. Yiadom was relieved in the second half by another newcomer, Ryan Lewis.
"Ike got a chance to play there the other day and played solid at times," Henderson said. "There are a couple of things we can do better. Then Ryan Lewis got a shot to play a little bit. … You'd love to settle on one guy and Ike's going to get the chance to be that guy again this week and play. And I expect him to play well."
Jabrill Peppers and second-year pro Julian Love started at safety in the first two games. Eight-year veteran Logan Ryan, who joined the team on Sept. 4, stepped in for Love in the package the defense opened with last week.
"The thought with that was to get Logan's experience and versatility on the field," Henderson said. "He's got great leadership, he's got great energy, he's played in a lot of football games, he's been productive in a lot of games. It's just trying to get him on the grass. It's nothing against Julian, it's more getting the experience and leadership on the grass."
The plan required an adjustment after just nine defensive snaps when Peppers hurt his ankle trying to block Robbie Gould's field goal. Love returned to the field and with Adrian Colbert inactive with a quad injury, Nate Ebner played 13 snaps – increasing his two-game total to 18, or 17 more than he had the previous three seasons combined with New England.
"Jabrill's a good player and he's a starter," Ryan said. "Any time you lose a starter, whoever you're bringing in normally isn't as good, that's why that guy is a starter. There's definitely an effect on that, but the 49ers had a lot of guys go out the game as well. Jordan Reed went out the game and they came in and executed better. We might've had to change some things on our end, but I pride myself on my versatility. If I have to move from one position to the other, that's what the team brought me here to do. To bring position flexibility, bring leadership and to make plays regardless of the position. Whether that be strong safety, free safety, star, corner, perimeter, outside linebacker, I've played it all, I lined up at it all and I pride myself on being able to play it all. It's just another day at the office honestly. I wish we could have executed better, and we hope Jabrill gets back quickly because he is one of our better players for sure."
What happens if Peppers is sidelined on Sunday?
"It will probably be similar to how we played once he went out of the game," Henderson said. "When you play with Jabrill, you play with him as the down safety. When we played with those other safeties, we were rotating and they both played some down and both played some deep. We'll look at what's the best combination as we game plan with Pat (Graham, the defensive coordinator) this week what's the best thing to do. And whatever Pat thinks is the best thing to do, we'll try to get that executed.
"The best situation would be to have Jabrill right there playing. He's been playing well. I hated for the kid that he tweaked his ankle. I just hope he gets back soon."
The secondary movement continued today, when cornerback Brandon Williams, who was inactive vs. San Francisco, was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. That opened up a roster spot for the expected signing tomorrow of yet another cornerback, Madre Harper, who is completing Covid protocols and a physical.
Peppers didn't practice and Love (knee/ankle) and Colbert (quad) were limited.
No matter who lines up on Sunday, the Giants' must be ready to improve on last week's performance and combat the NFL's third-ranked offense, one averaging 449.7 yards a game.
"We're back to work," Ryan said. "It's the fourth week of the season, nobody is in their final form yet. Obviously, you want to win every week. We didn't execute, we didn't win the game. We didn't play how we wanted. Like I said, it was unacceptable. There's no panic button right now. The Rams don't care what we looked like last week. It's about how we practice, how we execute, how we clean up the things we did wrong and don't let them happen week to week. We have to fix the mistakes, the self-inflicting wounds and go out there and play a good game against the Rams. That's all that matters this Sunday."
*Ryan played the previous two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, who this week had several players and staffers test positive for Covid-19, forcing the postponement of their scheduled Sunday game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's definitely an eye opener," Ryan said. "I think it's an eye opener for our whole country. This thing is still around, it still needs to be accounted for. I haven't spoken to them too much, I have my own things right now that I'm busy with trying to accomplish here with the Giants. … Wear a mask, wash your hands. It shows you anybody is susceptible. It doesn't matter your age, this sickness is definitely still around and can affect our season, it can affect our games. It's a reality check to everybody, for sure. I wish them the best of luck and tell those guys to wash their hands a little more and don't come around me."
Judge was also asked about the Titans' outbreak.
"We have a lot of confidence in the protocols the league came out with," Judge said. "We've been very diligent since the beginning of following it. Our team and our coaches have been very committed to following the rules. It's not changing anything we're doing. It's just reaffirming we have to stay diligent in the process of making sure we follow the steps in place."