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Reese's defensive spending spree is paying off.


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PFF names Giants a preseason Week 3 'winner'

New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese is squarely on the hot seat after an Eli Manning-led franchise has missed the postseason for four straight years.

 

He responded by firing off the Giants' most aggressive free agency period in team history -- with all of the big contracts on the defensive side of the ball. Then, he used a first-round pick on cornerback Eli Apple.

 

According to Pro Football Focus, the early returns on his investments are looking strong.

 

After another impressive performance by the first-team defense vs. the Jets -- this time adding Apple with the first team -- PFF Senior Analyst Sam Monson had this to say about Reese's offseason:

 

"If nothing else, you have to admire the size of the gamble Jerry Reese took this offseason in rebuilding the Giants via a colossal free-agency spending spree and a first-round draft choice that seemed like something of a reach. This week, at least, Reese looked to be right on the money. NT
, DE
, and CB Eli Apple—all new additions—were among the highest-graded Giants players against the Jets, with Vernon and Apple, in particular, impressing in their roles. Apple was targeted three times but didn’t allow a catch, while Vernon led the team with five hurries in just 22 pass-rushing snaps."

 

Both Harrison and Vernon have been dominant since their first day at training camp. The run defense has completely transformed with both player on the front this preseason. Starters Jay Ajayi, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte have totaled just 34 yards rushing on 17 carries.

 

In the passing game, Vernon has been a constant force in the opposing quarterback's face. He finished with five hurries in Week 3, as noted above, and one led to an errant incompletion to a wide-open receiver. Harrison, who was mostly billed as a run stopper before signing, has thrived in the passing game while lining up in a 4-3 base for the first time in his career. He tallied a sack and forced fumble in Week 3.

 

Apple is the biggest surprise of the group. After working with the first-team offense at the start of camp, he got bumped down the depth chart when the team signed Hall. Then, in a bit of a surprising move, Apple opened Week 3 as the starter on the outside matched up against Eric Decker. If he continues to play shutdown football like he did in Week 3, the Giants will likely use him and Janoris Jenkins on the outside, with Dominique Rodgers-Comartie in the slot in nickel packages.

 

It's still only the preseason, but the Giants' defense looks like a completely different group than what we saw at any point during the 2015 regulars season.

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Giants' first-team run defense has been dominant this preseason

The New York Giants spent a lot of money in free agency this offseason to fix their run defense, and so far these investments have paid off.

 

Through the first three weeks of the preseason, the Giants' first-team run defense has been downright dominant.

 

The defense has matched up against starting running backs Jay Ajayi, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte, over the past three games, respectively. Ajayi is only in his second season, but both McCoy and Forte are veterans with six Pro Bowls between the two of them.

 

None of that mattered for the Giants' starting defense. In the three games against these starters, the Giants have allowed just 34 rushing yards on 17 carries combined from the three starters above. That's a 2.0 yards per carry average. During the 2015 regular season, the top-ranked run defense allowed 3.3 ypc and the 16th-best allowed 4.1 ypc.

 

The defense's most dominant performance of the three came in their most difficult matchup. McCoy, who dropped weight this offseason in an effort to regain his signature burst. The Bills are also coming off a 2015 season where they graded out as one of the top-ranked run-blocking units, per Pro Football Focus. The Giants' first-team run defense held McCoy to zero yards rushing on five attempts.

 

The revamped run defense starts up front where free agent acquisitions Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison have made an enormous impact. Vernon, who was signed to the richest free agent contract for a defensive end in NFL history, is not just a pass rusher. He has graded out as an above-average run defender his entire career. Harrison was Pro Football Focus' top-graded run defender of all defensive linemen in 2015.

 

The addition of Harrison has allowed the Giants to move Johnathan Hankins over from the nose tackle position to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. Putting aside the added opportunities Hankins should thrive with as a pass rusher, this move also provides a major upgrade for the run defense. Hankins is a run-first defender who is slotted in a role usually filled by undersized defensive tackles with a pass-first profile.

 

Of course, the key to this unit completely the total 180 -- going from the bottom to the top -- is Jason Pierre-Paul. Up until the July 4 fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul was one of the best run-defending defensive ends in the NFL. Following the injury to his hand, he earned his first negative run defense grade from Pro Football Focus in his entire career during the 2015 season. Pierre-Paul has put together an excellent offseason and training camp, by all accounts, but it hasn't yet translated to the preseason.

 

Stopping the run was a major issue for the Giants' defense in 2015. They allowed the eighth-most yards per carry (4.4) and the ninth-most rushing yards (121.4) per game. This put added pressure on the defense as offenses often found themselves in third-and-short situations.

 

If the preseason is any indication of what we can expect during the regular season, the Giants' run defense is going to be the difference maker for this franchise in 2016.

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