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Mailbag: Most underrated players on Giants' defense


Jeff in Rhode Island: How would you evaluate Dexter Lawrence's performance this season. From listening to Bob Papa and Carl Banks on the radio, I don't hear Lawrence's name mentioned very often during the game.

John Schmeelk: Lawrence is busy doing the dirty work, so players like Leonard Williams can get sacks, and Blake Martinez can compile tackles. Lawrence will find himself double-teamed a lot inside on run plays as a two-gap defensive lineman. He has not had eye-opening production, but it doesn't mean he hasn't filled his role well. Lawrence is eighth on the team with 36 tackles (one behind Dalvin Tomlinson) and tied for second on the team with three sacks. He also has six quarterback hits and 22 total pressures. Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson have almost the identical number of snaps (461 vs. 467) and average about 39 per game. Their play against the run is essential to the team's success.

Luke in New York: Patrick Graham's ability to scheme defenses week-to-week is unmatched, but at the end of the day it comes down to how the players perform on the field. Outside of the Ferocious Five (Leonard Williams, Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, Jabril Peppers and Logan Ryan), who on this defense deserves more attention or credit for the defense's incredible level of play this year?

John Schmeelk: The interior defensive linemen do not get talked about enough. Lawrence, Tomlinson, Austin Johnson and B.J. Hill deserve credit for their role in stopping the run (along with the linebackers), which allows the Giants to keep both of their safeties deep. The team's ability to start their alignment in a two-safety shell on most snaps allows them to disguise coverages far easier, and morph post-snap movement into different looks to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Playing two safeties deep as often as the team does also allows them to prevent big plays. Only two teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Giants' 31. Their ability to occupy offensive linemen also allows Peppers to play as a quasi-linebacker on many downs and flow to the football.

In that same respect, Julian Love does not get talked about nearly enough. Love has played the seventh-most defensive snaps on the team, behind Bradberry, Martinez, Ryan, Peppers, Williams and Fackrell. He has logged 445 snaps as the lead free safety. With Peppers often playing a quasi-inside linebacker position next to Martinez, Love and Ryan play deep. And Love has been very disciplined not allowing deep passes down the field. Love might not be involved in a ton of plays, but the fact teams aren't targeting him or the deep parts of a defense is a credit to his play and discipline.

Lenny in Missouri: I'm a longtime fan and retired USMC Major, who was born in New Jersey. And, I really appreciate the podcasts, because I don't get to watch games in the Ozarks of Missouri. Is Xavier McKinney returning to the secondary?

John Schmeelk: Thank you for your service, Lenny. Remember, the games are on the radio web stream through every week! The Giants are working McKinney back in very slowly. They have that luxury because of the performance of Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love and Logan Ryan this season. They are playing at a high level in the back-end of the defense, so there is little reason to up-end the apple cart and change things.

In his two games back, McKinney has played a combined 12 defensive snaps. He has played eight snaps near the line of scrimmage and four at free safety. He has been a larger presence on special teams, with eight snaps in kick coverage and six on punt return. His body is still acclimating itself to full-contact football, and the team will be sure not to give him more he can handle from a physical or mental standpoint.

Brian in Ohio: How far can the Giants go in the playoffs?

John Schmeelk: First, the team needs to make the playoffs. With Washington upsetting the Steelers on Monday and the two teams tied for first, it is still going to be a battle until Week 17. If the Giants qualify for the playoffs, they should be considered a very dangerous team. If they can win in Seattle with a backup quarterback and hold Russell Wilson to 10 points, what team can't they beat?

Jim in New Jersey: Throughout the year, I've noticed C.J. Board is catching everything that's thrown to him and has shown toughness. Do you think he can work his way to the starting lineup?

John Schmeelk: Board has proven to be a tough, physical possession receiver. He can thrive in that role, but I'm not sure he is going to supplant Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton or Golden Tate as one of the team's top three receivers this year. Joe Judge wants to use all the players on his roster, so he will make use of Board's skills.


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