Some defensive coaches gravitate to playing it safe, given the rule changes that tend to favor the offense in today's NFL. Not Don Martindale … and not the New York Giants as long as he's on watch.
"I'm not built that way," Martindale told Giants.com in his first interview since head coach Brian Daboll hired him to run the defense. "We're not built that way. We like to attack … and pressure breaks pipes on these offenses as well. I just don't want to sit back and say, 'OK, let's see what you've got.' I want them to sit back and see what we have."
Martindale cultivated that mindset throughout his 35 years in coaching, including 17 in the NFL. His influences, he said, include Skip and Lou Holtz, Buddy Ryan, Al Davis, and Ozzie Newsome. Martindale spent the previous decade with the Baltimore Ravens, the last four as defensive coordinator. He joined the team as a linebackers coach in 2012, the season Baltimore won Super Bowl XLVII.
Along the way, his defenses gained a reputation for frequent and creative blitzing.
"Everybody says right away 'pressure,' but pressure can be viewed in many forms," Martindale said. "A lot of the times that we had free runners in the past, it's just been on four-man pass rushes. Now, it's different guys coming, but I think that's our trademark. We know how to attack protections, and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing here."
Although Daboll has experience coaching both sides of the ball – he began his NFL coaching career as a defensive assistant for the Patriots in Bill Belichick's first year – he gained notoriety for his offensive prowess. Daboll most recently called plays for and developed the Bills into an AFC powerhouse, and Martindale kept tabs from the same conference. After all, no one studies an offensive coordinator more than an opposing defensive coordinator - and vice versa.
"I've always respected him as an offensive play-caller because of his background working on both sides of the ball," said Martindale, who didn't have a previously close relationship with Daboll but knew him from league events such as the NFL Combine. "It really excited me, and I was really happy for him that he got this job. I'm very fond of the Giants, and I just think it's a perfect fit for us."
Now that Daboll has assembled most of his staff, the coaches are in the process of evaluating what they have in addition to what they need in the upcoming draft and free agency period.
"It is a deep dive, and it's [about getting] to know them personally as well to find out their makeup," Martindale said of the Giants' current roster. "But a good football player is a good football player. We all know that. It's our job to put them in the best position to make plays because this game always has been and always will be about the players."
He didn't have to dig deep to find exciting pieces already in place, such as Xavier McKinney, who as a second-year pro was the only defensive back in the NFL with at least 90 tackles, 10 passes defensed, and five interceptions. Now, Martindale will get to draw up schemes for him.
"No doubt, that's going to be fun," Martindale said. "That's the fun part. Then you have to see where you think your weak link is and work on that too. People would be surprised, it's never as bad as it seems; it's never as good as it seems. People will be surprised with what we can do with what we have already and [we're] just looking to add to it."
And at the end of the day, Martindale, who expressed a deep appreciation for the history of the organization he just joined, knows how much Giants fans rally around their defensive legends.
"I think that you're going to be excited coming to the game to watch the defense as well as the offense," Martindale said when asked for his message to the fans. "It's going to be an attacking style, old-school Giants football that you've seen in the past. I look forward to every day being out there with them and being with the fans on Sunday because this is a great organization with great fans, and I already know it."
View photos of the 2022 New York Giants coaching staff, led by Head Coach Brian Daboll.