Kareem Martin played in James Bettcher’s defensive system in Arizona in each of his first three NFL seasons. The Cardinals’ defense ranked fifth, second and sixth in yards allowed over those three years from 2015 to 2017.
Then they both went to East Rutherford, where there was work to be done.
The Giants, who overhauled their coaching staff and front office last offseason, were coming off a 3-13 season in which they allowed the second-most yards in the NFL. They climbed seven spots in a year to 24th, a minor consolation prize. The reality is they finished 5-11 with eight of those losses decided by seven points or fewer.
“We obviously aren’t where we want to be, but I feel like we made a lot of strides from the previous season,” Martin said. “I think we have a lot of build on to be excited for next year.”
Seventy-three games were decided by three points or fewer in 2018, the most in a regular season in NFL history. The Giants played in seven of them, winning two and losing five. That included back-to-back defeats by a single point to end the year. Furthermore, 68 percent of all games played (175 of 256) were within one score (eight points) in the fourth quarter, tied for the third-most in a season in NFL history. Twelve Giants games (75 percent) were decided by seven points or fewer. They were 4-8 in such margins.
“I don’t think we’re that far (off) at all,” Martin said. “You look at some of our games and it’s just one or two plays that would hurt us, and I feel like with another year, another offseason, in the defense together we’ll nip those things in the bud.”
Thirty-one teams thought the same thing when their season ended in disappointment. All they were left with was the hope of finding answers in the offseason, which brings us to the current period between the Super Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of the month.
While draft analysts are projecting quarterbacks – and the occasional offensive lineman – for the Giants with the sixth overall pick, it’s best not to forget what general manager Dave Gettleman said at the end of the season when he provided a window into his thinking with regard to plans for the roster.
“It’s not easy to win games when you don’t have playmakers,” he said the Wednesday after the season finale. “We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.”
Only the Raiders (13) had fewer sacks than the Giants, who had the same total (31) as the Patriots. The similarities ended there. The Giants will pick near the top of the order and the Super Bowl champion will draft 32nd yet again. Execution, Martin said, is the key to closing out tight games.
“We’ve all been through it this year and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Martin said. “I don’t think anybody wants to have that feeling that we had, so I think every guy is going to look themselves in the mirror and whatever we need to do to be the best team in the last few minutes of the game, we’re going to do this offseason heading into next year.”
The Giants got major contributions from their rookie draft picks in the front seven. Defensive lineman B.J. Hill set the franchise rookie record with 5.5 sacks. (Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor had 9.5 sacks in 1981, the year before they became an official statistic.) Lorenzo Carter, an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that Bettcher transitioned the Giants to in 2018, was third on the team with 4.0 sacks. He and Hill were drafted three picks apart in the third round.
“They grew up really fast,” Martin said. “By the end of the year they weren’t playing as rookies. They looked like veterans out there, and that’s what you need because experience is big in this league. Having them be able to get this experience their rookie year, it’s only going to get better form there for them.”