EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It's safe to say that James Bettcher feels as good this week as he ever will after a defense of his allows 510 yards in a game.
The Giants gave up that unsightly total last week against Tampa Bay, only the 13th time in franchise history an opposing team has gained that much yardage. They also yielded 359 passing yards, 31 first downs, and a 67 percent success rate on third down (the Bucs converted six of nine attempts).
There were, however, significant bright spots for Bettcher, the unit's coordinator. The primary highlight, of course, is that the Giants won the game, 38-35. And despite those big numbers put on the stat sheet by Tampa Bay, the Giants won in large part because of the defense.
The unit had a season-high four takeaways, all on interceptions. Three of the picks came on consecutive possessions spanning the second and third quarters. Michael Thomas, Alec Ogletree and Curtis Riley intercepted passes thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick, while B.W. Webb caught a desperation heave by Jameis Winston to snuff out the Buccaneers' last flickering hope. Ogletree returned his interception 15 yards for a touchdown that gave the Giants a 21-7 lead.
"I think all defensive coaches would probably say this, the most important stat in the game is the number of turnovers, and that's been one of the most telling stories to winning percentages is the turnover margin," Bettcher said. "Also, just defensively, the number of turnovers you create,
when you create two, there's a 10-year winning percentage when you create three. Then when you score on defense, there's a winning percentage, and those things just don't lie. Some stats are week-to-week, year-to-year, and sometimes, being a really good run defense might be 3.4 yards a rush, and the next year it might be 3.8. You might say there's some play with those kind of stats and numbers, but turnovers is one that always matters.
"At the end of the day, creating turnovers, creating field position, getting some fourth down stops, like we did in the game, and finding a way to get the ball into the end zone on defense is important, especially with the way offenses are playing right now."
The numbers prove the Giants really improved their chances to win the game by forcing the Buccaneers to cough up the ball. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams that have forced at least four turnovers this season are 20-1-1.
"The turnovers certainly are important," coach Pat Shurmur said. "We really had five when you talk about the stopped quarterback sneak (on a fourth-down on Tampa Bay's opening possession). I think in our three wins, we're plus-eight in turnovers, and in our seven losses, we're like minus-eight. I pointed that out to the team and it's very important. Those turnovers are key, especially when (Ogletree) turned one into a touchdown. That's excellent."
Shurmur and Bettcher will gladly accept the takeaways, but they'd also like to see the defense be less generous in allowing yards and points. That will certainly be the case on Sunday, when the Giants visit the Philadelphia Eagles. On Oct. 11, the Eagles had 23 first downs, converted nine third down opportunities, and had a five-minute time of possession advantage in a 34-13 victory against the Giants. Carson Wentz threw three touchdown passes and, perhaps most significantly, the Giants did not force a turnover.
If the Eagles post numbers similar to what Tampa Bay did last week, it's likely the Giants will have a difficult time defeating the defending Super Bowl champions on their home field.
"I think all phases of the game need to play better than we did last week," Shurmur said. "With regard to the defense, I said it was a mixed bag because first, to the good, we're finally getting turnovers in a way that you need to get them in order to win games. We did give up some big plays at critical moments that we can't have happen, but we still need to do what we have to do to keep them out of the end zone. We need all three phases to play well, not just the defense."
Bettcher's focus, as it is every week, is on stopping the run. Tampa Bay rushed for 151 yards, the second-highest total by a Giants opponent this season.
How can they improve against the Eagles (who ran for 104 yards vs. the Giants last month)?
"Number one, we have to win our gaps," Bettcher said. "When you're a single-high team for the most part like we are, it's being gap responsible. That's up front, that's second level, that's secondary run support from the perimeter. It's as simple as that. Just winning our gaps, doing our jobs. Sometimes, it's eyes that shows up on tape. Sometimes it's bad footwork. Those two things are just fundamentals and techniques, and we've got to keep working on those things, because those little things are what – there's some runs that should be two, that should be one, and end up being four, because we're pressing a little bit, we're looking a little bit. We just got to continue to do our jobs."
*Defensive lineman Kerry Wynn has been declared out of the Philadelphia game because of the concussion he suffered last week vs. Tampa Bay. Wynn has played in all 10 games this season, starting five, and has 22 tackles (17 solo), including 1.5 sacks.
*Philadelphia listed five players as out, including three defensive backs: Jalen Mills (foot), Avonte Maddox (knee/ankle) and Sidney Jones (hamstring). All three started against the Giants last month (Maddox at safety). Also sitting out will be linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) and running back Darren Sproles (hamstring).
Another cornerback, Rasul Douglas, is questionable with knee and ankle injuries.
*The Giants re-signed kicker Marshall Koehn to their practice squad. He was previously on the squad from Oct. 9-12. Koehn was with the Giants in training camp but has never kicked in an NFL regular-season game.
"This time of year, and you'll see as we go through the season, we're just kicking the tires on guys," Shurmur said. "Obviously, he competed well for us during camp and we brought him back in midseason. You just never know when you might need a guy, and kicker's the same as any other position."
The practice squad contract of tight end Garrett Dickerson was terminated to make room for Koehn.