– Jim Bearor
The New York Giants have brought more happiness than unhappiness into my life, but I don’t think that statement applies to the defense alone. I know, it’s hard to complain as a fan when your team has won two Super Bowls in the past ten years, but we all know it hasn’t been a smooth decade for Big Blue. They’ve been the epitome of boom or bust, and in a lot of instances, they’ll pull the carpet out from under you as soon as you let your guard down. Last year was a prime example, filled with innovative, headshaking losses. I could go on and on about poor game management and offense’s inability at times to put a knife in the opponent, but the year-to-year inconsistencies of the defense have resulted in the creation of this identity of unreliability and insecurity that the unit has yet to shake.
Steve Spagnuolo left New York to become head coach of the Rams after the 2008 season, and it was one of those breakups where only a couple years later both sides were probably looking back on it, thinking about what could have been, and secretly wishing they had another chance at it. The universe has brought these two back together, but a lot has changed in the six years they’ve been apart.
After Spags left, and before Fewell took over in 2010, Bill Sheridan oversaw an absolute dumpster fire of a defense in 2009 that can’t be forgotten (I’ve tried). The Perry Fewell years (’10-‘2014) were mostly solid. Two out of the five years, his unit was arguably top 10 (2010, 2013), and in 2011, the Giants won the Super Bowl. However, the defense still couldn’t find a level of consistency, from year to year and sometimes game to game. Here’s how they ranked each year in Football Outsiders’ Defensive Efficiency Ratings:
2009 – Sheridan: 27th
2010 – Fewell: 8th
2011 – Fewell: 22nd (won SB)
2012 – Fewell: 20th
2013 – Fewell: 4th
2014 – Fewell: 26th
You can argue it was all worth it because they won a championship during this span, but I’m not trying to get into that. This is about defensive identity and how the lack of a strong one in recent years has led them to the point where these players and defensive coordinators no longer get a benefit of the doubt. On that note, I don’t think Spags is worthy of a free pass that some fans are quick to give him. Here’s how his teams have ranked in Defensive Efficiency since he dumped the Giants for the Rams:
2009 – STL – Head Coach: 32nd
2010 – STL – Head Coach: 18th
2011 – STL – Head Coach: 15th
2012 – NO – Defensive Coordinator: 32nd
In ’13 and ’14, Spags joined the Baltimore Ravens, initially as a senior defensive assistant, then as an assistant head coach and secondary coach.
2015 was the year he rejoined the Giants, and for the third time in his past five opportunities as a playcaller, he fielded the worst defense in the NFL. Going back to the breakup and makeup analogy, they’re the couple that split up, spent some hard, disappointing years apart, then crawled back to each other, only to find that the person they fell in love with is more damaged and imperfect than they remember them. They haven’t called it quits yet, but looking at it from the outside, it seems like the Spags-Giants marriage is a bit on the rocky side.
Even so, I’m excited to see it play out. I wouldn’t say I expect a lot out of them, but this Spagnuolo bookending of pretty tumultuous period will forever be a part of the organization’s history and it’s bound to give us fans some type of closure one way or another. Either Spags cements his legacy as a Giants “Goodfella” or he goes the way of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
-Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)