EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Perhaps the Giants' defense should pretend the opening kickoff of their game Sunday against Washington is the start of the second half.
The defensive players should certainly do something to create a second half environment, because they've performed much better after halftime in the season's first three weeks.
The Giants have allowed fewer points in the second half than the first in each of their three games. In the opener in Dallas, the split was 21-14. Two weeks ago vs. Buffalo, they gave up 21 points in the first two quarters and only seven afterward. In last week's victory at Tampa Bay, the Giants trailed at halftime, 28-10, before surrendering only a field goal in the Buccaneers' final seven possessions, a key to their 32-31 comeback victory.
Add it all up and it's 70 points allowed in the first half and only 24 in the second. That former figure is the league's highest; Miami, which is 0-3, is second with 65 first-half points surrendered. The latter number ties them with Dallas for the fifth-lowest total of second-half defense in the NFL through the season's first three weeks. The 46-point decline between points allowed in the first and second halves is far and away the league's largest. Philadelphia was second with a 22-point decline (which is now a 35-point gap after the Eagles' victory in Green Bay last night).
So, why the big difference in defensive performance for the Giants between halves? Are they making halftime adjustments? Or is the unit simply playing better in the second half?
"If there was a magic pill for that answer, I would 100 percent already give it to you," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "The truth to the matter is this, we have to call things better, we have to coach things better in the position meeting rooms and we have to execute better. That's both scheme, that's technique, that's eyes, those things have to occur for us to play more consistent."
"I do think sometimes it's just a mindset," coach Pat Shurmur said. "The (Buccaneers) had the ball six times and scored six times (in the first half) and then they came out in the second half, and we had some backups playing, but they came out in the second half and I thought we were more disruptive, we created an interception - unfortunately, we turned it right back over - but we created an interception, and ultimately they only scored three points. We still gave up big plays, but they only scored three points in the second half.
"I think we're always talking about situational football and (that) was a game where defensively, I guess it would be their offense, but defensively they were one for five in the red zone, where we were much better, and I think that's where it comes to. So, even in the midst of playing through the big plays that they made against us, when the rubber sort of hits the road and they were in the scoring zone, we did a better job of getting them stopped."
Bettcher volunteered as an example cornerback Janoris (Jackrabbit) Jenkins, who had a rough outing in Tampa. Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans caught eight passes for 190 yards and three first-half touchdowns. Evans beat Jenkins for a 44-yard reception on Tampa Bay's final drive that would have set up the game-winning field goal had Matt Gay not pushed his 34-yard attempt wide right.
Keep an eye on these five players when the Giants play the Redskins in Week 4.
"You might ask me about Jack and his performance," Bettcher said. "It falls on not one person. When Jack's in coverage, someone has to rush better, someone has to win a one-on-one. I maybe have to make a better call so he's in a better position. Then, ultimately, him or anyone else in coverage has to play with better technique. That's the true solution, that's how you get better.
"I think some of the stuff we did in the second half balanced the coverages. I think some other stuff didn't and we just played better. I think if you went call by call, play by play, in the second half, you maybe see some snaps where it was Jack or whoever it was, there was still some one on ones and there was still some one on ones in our rushes. I think it's having a good balance and mix, and I think the process to improvement starts with me, to our position coaches, to our players taking ownership of those fundamentals and techniques we have to get better at."
No matter what is behind the reasons for the first and second half dichotomy, the players firmly believe they must perform better in the game's first 30 minutes if the team is to continue winning. The first issue is identifying and rectifying why the first halves have been so unsatisfactory.
"It's a number of things, I guess you could say," said inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who is one of the defensive captains. "It's one of those things where you miss an assignment here, or they threw a screen on one of the plays last week and we should have just buried the back. It's just little stuff that we have to take care of to not have those big plays happen."
"We've just got to come out better," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "I don't think it's any one thing, but just how we come out. I really can't put my finger on it, but I do know that if we come out like we come out in the second half, we'll be in a lot of ball games in the first half, much more so than we are."
Is the defense not as aggressive as it should be early in games?
"I don't think it's that, because I think we come out with the right intention - aggressive, ready to go," Peppers said. "Either I don't know the word for it or I just don't know how to put it into words, but that's just what it is. We've just got to get out of that habit. That's hard to do in the National Football League, is keep playing from behind. Especially now we've got a rookie quarterback (Daniel Jones), we've got to try to give him the greatest field position possible, don't let him go out there with a 10-point, 14-point deficit. Just come out there the way we're supposed to and keep games close in the first half, and then come out like we do in the second half, and I think things will start going our way."
"I thought they performed pretty well in the second half," said Ogletree, who missed those two quarters after injuring his hamstring. "We need to do that at the beginning of games and do it throughout the game, where we're not waiting until halftime to make those adjustments and play well in the second half. Granted, you want to play well in the second half. Most games are won in the second half. We were able to get some great stops out there, a turnover, and kind of just end the game. I was proud of the guys for continuing to fight and finish. But there are definitely some things you wish you could do in the first half that will help you play even better."
The Giants' defense intends to do just that early in the game on Sunday against Washington.
*Three players, including two starters and captains, have been declared out of Sunday's game: Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Ogletree (hamstring), plus linebacker Tae Davis (concussion). They are the only players on the Giants' final injury report.
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