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Defense must close out games with "W" on the line

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two weeks ago, the Giants owned a seemingly-comfortable 17-point fourth-quarter lead at home against Tampa Bay before three late Buccaneers touchdowns forced them to sweat out a 38-35 victory.

Last Sunday in Philadelphia, the Giants held leads of 16 points in the second quarter and 19-14 in the fourth, but lost to the Eagles, 25-22.

Today, in his weekly meeting with the media, defensive coordinator James Bettcher was asked how he can teach his players to close out games when victory is there for the taking. Bettcher said the key is not pressing when the game is on the line.

“That was a big part of our message this week, and we kind of talked about that for a couple weeks now,” Bettcher said. “We don’t have to press, you don’t have to do more than your job. If your responsibility is being in A-gap, then you need to be in A-gap. Now, there’s obviously more that goes into it than that, that’s very simply stated; but at the end of the day, that’s really what it amounts to. Tough moments where you feel things pressing on you, when you feel the pressure of the game, that’s when you have to fall back on fundamentals and technique. When things feel like they’re haywire in a game, when a game’s not going good, you have to fall back on something and that’s fundamentals and techniques. We just have to continue to work the process to continue to improve in that way so in those moments we play better.”

Inside linebacker and defensive captain Alec Ogletree used different words than his coach, but delivered essentially the same message.

“(It’s) just executing at the end of the game,” Ogletree said. “We start out well, but we just have to find a way to finish the games. We work really hard. We know what we need to do. This week is a great opportunity for us to do that, to get up and get the lead and if it comes down to the defense being out on the field the last possession, we have to step up to the plate and go out there and make those plays that needs to be made.”

The Giants will next play Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears, who are 8-3 and riding a five-game winning streak. Although they hold a 317-211 scoring advantage on their opponents this season, the Bears have been outscored in the fourth quarter, 109-82, suggesting if the Giants have a late lead, they would have an opportunity to leave the field winners.

But that would require the defense to stifle a Bears team that is fifth in the league in scoring (with help from their defense, which has scored six touchdowns).

“When you don’t execute at the end of the day, you’re going to find yourself making mistakes in crucial moments,” Ogletree said. “Last week, we had an opportunity to be out there and win the fourth down, we didn’t do that (on a critical fourth-down play). That’s just guys, all of us, not doing our job. You have to find those moments and make sure you execute at the end of the day.”

Bettcher candidly noted the defense must improve its execution the entire day, particularly against the run. The Eagles rushed for 127 yards last week, making it four games in a row and nine times in 11 games this season the opposition has exceeded 100 yards on the ground. The Giants are 26th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 125.5 yards a game.

Philadelphia took a 22-19 lead early in the fourth quarter on a seven-play drive that included six rushes, including five-straight runs to end it, the last Josh Adams’ one-yard touchdown. Adams then ran the ball again for the two-point conversion.

Asked about his unit’s shortcomings in that facet of the game, Bettcher dismissed a suggestion the issue is a lack of effort and instead cited the concerns about pressing.

“I haven’t seen where we have an effort problem, I really haven’t,” he said. “I’ve just seen where at times in critical situations, we’re trying to press, and I can’t press as a play caller and we can’t press as a defense. That might be the three technique, that might be the shade, that might be a linebacker, that might be a safety – there’s not one moment where you turn on the tape and it’s the same guy repeatedly. That’s the thing you see, and we continue to work that and talk about that. Some of that is youth at positions. Some of that is just maybe a vet trying to do too much, and we just can’t try to press. Just do our jobs. We’re in a single gap defense, win your gap, win your responsibility. There was certainly not good enough run defense late in the ball game.”

The Giants get another opportunity to improve on Sunday, against one of the league’s hottest teams.

“We just have to remember our gap assignments, fundamentally be sound technique-wise, and running to the ball as fast as possible,” said safety Landon Collins, the other defensive captain. “Every guy should be in their mind and say, ‘I want to make a play, I want to be the guy to make this stop and get us off the field,’ and stuff like that. There has to be a mentality. Even though it’s a team sport, you want to be that guy.”

*Tight end Evan Engram (hamstring) and rookie linebacker Lorenzo Carter (hip) were the Giants players who were unable to practice today. Engram missed his second practice in a row, while Carter sat out after working on a limited basis yesterday.

Five players were limited today: defensive lineman Kerry Wynn (concussion); linebackers Tae Davis (ankle) and B.J. Goodson (neck); cornerback Grant Haley (hamstring); and safety Curtis Riley (shoulder).

*The Giants, New York Cares and Hoodies for the Homeless are inviting Giants fans to help those in need by donating new or gently worn coats and hoodies to their 23rd annual Coat and Hoodie Drive on Sunday, when the Giants host the Chicago Bears. Coats and hoodies can be dropped off with the New York Cares and Hoodies for the Homeless volunteers, who will be stationed at stadium entrances.

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