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Stout Giants defense always looking to improve


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He wouldn't do it every week, but Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale entered the game last Sunday against Baltimore perfectly willing to concede rushing yardage to the Ravens.

"Last week was different, because we were going to give them some runs and try to contain (Ravens quarterback) Lamar (Jackson) as much as we could," Martindale said today. "All I kept saying was, 'If they get some runs, it's just like Aaron Rodgers completing the deep pass. Just find a place to stand, and play great in the red zone,' which we did because they weren't as effective in the red zone (one touchdown in three trips). Last week was a unique run game."

The Giants rallied for an exciting and dramatic 24-20 victory. But the Giants' defensive players were quick to find flaws in their performance because Baltimore rushed for 211 yards, 35 more than any other opponent this season. Even with Martindale's plan to allow for some yardage, that figure perturbed those tasked with stopping the Ravens' rush.

"Absolutely," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "Especially with the type of guys we have in this locker room, this defense, our tenacity, the physicality we play with. Anytime you give up 200 yards rushing, whether you're playing a quarterback who runs well, it doesn't matter. It comes down to execution. It comes down to block destruction. It comes down to beating the guy next to you and making the play, making the tackle. So that's something that Wink has discussed as we've worked this week; it's a fundamentals thing, for sure."

Running back Kenyan Drake ran for 119 yards on just 10 carries, one a 30-yard touchdown. Jackson added 77 yards. They combined to average 11.5 yards a carry.

"It definitely bothers us, and especially me specifically a defensive lineman," Leonard Williams said. "Something we take pride in up front is stopping the run, and I think long-term this is something we need to fix and stop to go where we want to go. We're working on it, and I think it's getting closer. We just have to dial in on the small details."

The issue is relevant because the Giants this week travel to Jacksonville to face a Jaguars team that last week ran for 243 yards in a loss to Indianapolis. They did not run for more than 151 yards in any of their first five games.

The Giants rank 31st in the NFL in run defense, allowing 144.8 yards a game. Asked if the Giants must tighten up that part of their game in Jacksonville, Martindale said, "without a doubt."

"I think when you're part of a defense, the first step really is to stop the run," safety Julian Love said. "I think we fell short of that last week, but we're a resilient group. We have practiced hard this week so far in correcting that. The Ravens had a really good rushing attack. It's a good challenge because right now, the Jaguars have also an extremely good rushing attack. It's a process. These teams are very successful running the ball, so we have to stir that up on our defense."

The Jaguars are the only NFL team with two 300-yard rushers. James Robinson has 340 yards and three touchdowns on 80 carries. Travis Etienne, who started for the first time last week, has 54 attempts for 301 yards.

Martindale said the two backs have different styles.

"Etienne has more wiggle," he said. "Robinson has more power. And (Jaguars running back JaMycal) Hasty has broken some runs, too (including a 61-yard touchdown against last week). So, they really have a three-headed monster back there. You can't afford to go to sleep on any of them back there. Phil Rauscher does a great job with the run game – the offensive line coach there – and we just have to stay focused and get 11 hats to the football."

Even with their success this season, the running backs aren't close to being the biggest names on Jacksonville's offense. That designation belongs to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence has eight turnovers – four fumbles and four interceptions – but he's also completed 65.5% of his passes and thrown for nine touchdowns. His 91.9 rating is 14th in the NFL.

"If he has time, if he can plant his feet, he's a really good quarterback," Martindale said. "…I think that it's a perfect marriage between he and (Jaguars head coach) Doug (Pederson) and Mike McCoy, the quarterback coach. Doug has always had a good quarterback and they always play well with his offense. It's pretty cool to see just because of how much I respect Doug and Trevor because he was the first player taken in the draft. You know he has talent."

Love doesn't need to be reminded of that. In 2018, he was in his third and final season at Notre Dame and Lawrence was a freshman at Clemson when the teams met in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers rolled to a 30-3 victory as Lawrence completed 27 of 39 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Nine days later, Clemson crushed Alabama, 44-16, in the national championship game.

"He's had success for a long time," Love said of Lawrence. "When I played him in college, he was a freshman leading his team to a national championship. He's an extremely talented quarterback. He's just getting better and better each game, and we have to be really locked into him."

Giants coach Brian Daboll recruited Lawrence during is one season (2017) at the University of Alabama.

"It was the same year (Chicago Bears quarterback) Justin (Fields) came out," Daboll said. "From Cartersville, Georgia – tremendous high school football player. You go down there and watch a practice. He can play on Sundays when he's down there in high school. He was really, really talented. He's really talented now. I think he's doing a great job in coach Pederson's offense. He's big. He can throw it accurately. He can move. They run him on some quarterback, not just keepers, but also quarterback designed runs, too. So, athletic, smart. He's a really good person, too. He's going to be a good player in this league for a long time."

The Giants will do all they can to make sure he's not good on Sunday.

*Safety Xavier McKinney joined the list of Giants players who did not practice, but his absence was not injury related. McKinney is the only Giants player who has been on the field for all 371 defensive snaps this season.

The other five non-participants were repeats from yesterday: wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (hamstring); linebacker Oshane Ximines (quad); and defensive backs Cor'Dale Flott (calf) and Jason Pinnock (ankle).

The same four players were limited: running back Saquon Barkley (shoulder), tackle Andrew Thomas (elbow), center Jon Feliciano (groin) and defensive end Azeez Ojulari (calf).

Daboll has said all week Barkley's shoulder is not a concern and the star running back reiterated that today.

"It's annoying, but it's not something that's going to stop me from going out there and being able to produce," he said. "Just like anything throughout the season, it's every year – it's football, something is going to happen. Just got to stay with it. The trainers have been doing a really good job of setting up a program for me and also getting in the strength room, setting up a great program too. Just stick with it.

"I play running back in the National Football League and kind of every time I touch the ball I'm getting hit in my shoulder. Like I said, it's really nothing that I'm really concerned about. Do I get worked on? Yeah, not just only that, but all of my body. I'm big on rehab and big on trying to get my body right not just for the game but throughout this whole season and that's what I'm going to continue."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 7 matchup against the Jaguars.


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