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Fact or Fiction: Strengths & focal points of Shane Bowen's defenses


The crew is presented with four statements and must decide whether they are Fact or Fiction.

Stopping the run is the strength of Shane Bowen's defenses.

John Schmeelk: Fact - In 2022, the Tennessee Titans defense led the league in rush yards allowed per game, rush yards allowed per play, EPA allowed per rush, and success rate against the run. In 2021, they were top five in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed per rush and per play. They dropped a bit in 2023 after losing two of their defensive stalwarts, middle linebacker David Long and safety Kevin Byard, but they still finished in the top half of the league (13th) after allowing 107.7 rush yards per game. The Titans stopped the run as their first priority and I would not be surprised if the Giants do the same this year.

Lance Medow: Fact - In three seasons as the Titans defensive play-caller from 2021-2023, Tennessee ranked second, first and 13th, respectively against the run. Despite a small sample size, that's a strong track record and a big reason the Titans were also effective in limiting opponents in the red zone. When you have a reliable run defense, you force the opposition to lean on the passing game, which is not easy to do in tight spaces. 

Matt Citak: Fiction - The Titans' run defense was undoubtedly dominant from 2021-23 under Bowen. However, the unit's success in the red zone was even more impressive. Tennessee allowed a touchdown on just 37.7 percent of opponents' trips inside the 20-yard line last season, which was the No. 1 mark in the NFL. They finished at the top of this category despite having the league's No. 16 scoring defense overall. And it wasn't just this past season that the Titans performed well with their backs against the wall, as the unit also finished with the No. 7 red zone defense in 2021 and No. 15 in 2022.

Dexter Lawrence will be the centerpiece of the new defense.

John Schmeelk: Fact - It really doesn't matter who the Giants hired as their defensive coordinator, the reply to this would be "fact". He is the Giants' best defensive player, and is the key to everything the Giants do on that side of the ball. I will be interested to see if Shane Bowen changes some of his front alignments to get Lawrence lined up directly over the center. I watched two Titans game from late last season, and he doesn't have a player lined up over the center very often.

Lance Medow: Fact - If you were to ask me who was the most critical player on the Titans defense during Shane Bowen's tenure, I'd say lineman Jeffery Simmons, who was his best run stopper and consistently put pressure on the quarterback. Dexter Lawrence fits that profile so he's the most attractive option with Kayvon Thibodeaux right behind him as the comparison to Tennessee pass rusher Harold Landry, who posted double digit sacks in 2021 (12) and 2023 (10.5) sandwiched around missing the 2022 campaign due to a torn ACL

Matt Citak: Fact - Bowen's promotion to defensive coordinator for the Titans in 2021 coincided with defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons' rise as an All-Pro. Simmons earned back-to-back second-team All-Pro selections in 2021 and 2022 after recording 8.5 and 7.5 sacks, respectively. He would have had a good chance of making it three years in a row had he not missed five games this past season, and yet he still finished with 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. Simmons and Lawrence are the same age and both play along the interior defensive line. I expect Lawrence's dominance from the past two seasons to continue under Bowen in 2024.

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Personnel dictates scheme in football more than the other way around.

John Schmeelk: Fact - Every decent coach in the National Football League is going to customize their scheme based on the players at their disposal. It is a player-centric game and they are the most important factor in how a team performs and how coaches choose to play them from a schematic standpoint on the football field. Coaches that bring a scheme and force players into roles that they are not able to perform are doomed to failure. Given how Bowen uses his defensive linemen, I would not be surprised if adding a more athletic defensive tackle to take Leonard Williams spot at the three-technique (lined up between the guard and tackle) was a priority this offseason.

Lance Medow: Fact - You must scheme around your players' strengths, as the opposite will likely turn out to be a lost cause. For example, if you don't have pass rushers that can consistently win one-on-one battles, you may blitz more to make up for that, or vice versa. If you have strong cover corners, then you'll likely shy away from using a zone defense because the boundary players in the secondary are more effective defending a man as opposed to an area. If you ask most coaches in the NFL and any other level of football, they'll tell you the ideal strategy is to customize the scheme to the personnel or else you'll have issues sooner rather than later.

Matt Citak: Fact - Going all the way back to his introductory press conference, head coach Brian Daboll said that "schemes are going to be what the players are best at." In the two years since, Daboll has remained consistent with that philosophy. Creating schemes that are better suited for the personnel on your roster is by far and way the more productive way to go than forcing players into set schemes, regardless of their skillsets. This is common practice across the NFL.

The most intriguing staff update this offseason is the hiring of OL coach Carmen Bricillo.

John Schmeelk: Fact - Other than a team's coordinators, it is hard to argue that the offensive line coach is not the most important assistant coach on every NFL coaching staff. Getting the players on the offensive line to play together as a cohesive unit is critical to the unit's success, and therefore the productivity of the offense in general. Adding talent to the line will also help this process, but getting continued improvement from younger linemen like Evan Neal, John Michael Schmitz, Josh Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan will be even more critical to that overall improvement. Bricillo did a good job of getting a group of non-first round picks (except Kolton Miler) and journeymen on the offensive line to succeed in Las Vegas, and the hope is he can do even more with a group that has a stronger pedigree here in New York.

Lance Medow: Fact - Carmen Bricillo isn't just an intriguing hire; you can make a case he's the most important addition to the staff as that facet of the team will dictate so many other areas of the offense. The bulk of Bricillo's experience is at the high school and collegiate levels, and that's noticeable because developing offensive lineman is a key part of his job. The Giants still have several young players up front including four that were drafted in the last two years: Evan Neal, Joshua Ezeudu, Marcus McKethan and John Michael Schmitz. The Raiders' line made strides over the last two seasons, and that group didn't showcase an All-Pro player. That's encouraging given the nucleus of the group he's inheriting here in New York.

Matt Citak: Fiction - Bricillo's hire is certainly one of the most important changes to the coaching staff this offseason. But when it comes to the most intriguing staff update this offseason, I'm going with the internal promotions for three coaches. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka added the title of assistant head coach, while quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney was also named offensive passing game coordinator. On the other side of the ball, secondary coach Jerome Henderson added defensive passing game coordinator to his title. All three coaches are well-regarded both internally and around the league, and all three will play a crucial role in the team's success in 2024.


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