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New York Giants’ pass rush is a true wild card entering 2019

05/10/2019
Russell Baxter

The New York Giants are hoping free agent and rookie additions are enough to improve the elusive pass rush plaguing the franchise.

This offseason, a New York Giants team coming off a 5-11 campaign and with a combined eight wins the past two seasons have their share of needs to fill. And one of those was finding a way to make enemy quarterbacks a little more uncomfortable on a weekly basis.

Getting after opposing passers always seems to be the name of the game in football. The late, great Al Davis once said that “the quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”

Chasing down enemy signal-callers hasn’t necessarily been the forte of the New York Giants in recent seasons for any number of reasons. In 2018, the club finished with just 30 sacks and the team leader was Olivier Vernon, now a member of the Cleveland Browns via a trade in mid-March. The one-time member of the Miami Dolphins has missed a total of nine games the past two years after being a six-game starter in his first season with the franchise in ’16.

This past season, he played and started the G-Men’s final 11 outings and totaled an impressive seven sacks during that stretch – six of those in the final five weeks. But he’s now once again a teammate of Odell Beckham Jr., who was also dealt to the Browns this offseason.

So it was presumed that this offseason, the Giants this offseason would look to bolster that pass rush either via trade, the draft or free agency. When it came to the latter, the club inked 28-year-old Markus Golden to a one-year contract. During his first two seasons in the desert, he emerged as quite the find. In 2015, the Cardinals named James Bettcher defensive coordinator as a replacement for Todd Bowles – who left to become the head coach of the New York Jets.

As a rookie with the Cards, the former University of Missouri product played in 15 games and made six starts while also seeing action on special teams. He finished with 30 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. One year later, he was one of the league’s big-play defensive performers and certainly benefitted from the arrival of Chandler Jones via trade from the New England Patriots. He played in all 16 games but made only three starts. And while Jones finished with 11 QB traps, it was Golden wound up pacing the team and Bettcher’s defensive unit with 12.5 sacks. Add in a career-best 51 tackles and four forced fumbles and the future looked very promising.

But in the fifth game of 2017, a torn ACL ended the standout defender’s year. This past season, he was miscast in new head coach Steve Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb’s 4-3. He played and started in 11 games, finishing with 30 tackles and only 2.5 sacks while knocking down a pair of passes. The four-year pro was allowed to test free agency this offseason and Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman and the team opted to reunite Golden and Bettcher.

All told, the move made plenty of sense, especially of Golden can recapture the form of his early days in the league. His one-year, $3.75 million deal is a low-risk gamble for Big Blue. Then again, are the expectation high that the talented pro can step right in and make a difference immediately? He will likely be in a designated role this year behind second-year pro Lorenzo Carter.

The 2018 third-round pick from the University of Georgia played in all but one game this past year and made a pair of starts. But he finished third on the team with four sacks, behind Vernon and defensive end and fellow 2018 third-round pick B.J. Hill (5.5). Now Carter is expected to be a weekly starter on Bettcher’s defense. Of course, it’s a unit that needs more than just increased pressure on enemy quarterbacks. New York finished 24th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game this past season.

New York Giants

The last time the Giants had a player total double-digit sacks in a season was back in 2014 when Jason Pierre-Paul finished with a solid total (12.5). That year, the team finished with 47 sacks. But over these past four seasons, the club hasn’t gotten close to at least 40 sacks in any of those campaigns. The team’s last 64 regular-season outings have added up to a total of 115 sacks, which means the club has averaged less than two quarterback traps per game over that span. Ironically, Golden’s aforementioned 2016 season saw him finish with 12.5 quarterback sacks.

To be fair, Gettleman did look for more help in terms of the pass rush and like Carter a year ago, it may be coming via the third round. In April, the Giants used the 95th overall pick on Old Dominion edge prospect Oshane Ximines. The 6-foot-3, 253-pound prospect received this analysis from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein prior to the draft:

Edge defender who needs to prove himself as run defender, but he could earn early reps as a nickel rush option. Ximines played as an even front end, but 3-4 teams could still have him on their radar depending on his athletic testing. His fully furnished repertoire of rush tactics could get him a look on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) and give him a good chance to become an eventual starter in either a 4-3 or 3-4.

Ximines may also offer Bettcher some versatility on the front seven. Yes, the Giants did add defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence with the second of their three first-round picks. But he’s an interior defender who should help the team improve on its play against the run from a year ago.

So when it is all said and done, it could prove to be a huge year for Golden. In essence, he signed a one-year prove-it deal that could pave the way for a comeback of sorts. The Giants need him to stay healthy and bring the kind of heat that he did in his first two seasons with the Cardinals.

It may be a little unfair to place such a heavy burden on a player that has missed more games (17) than he’s played in the past two seasons (15). But it’s also a “Golden” opportunity for a performer who could help himself and his new team with a solid performance.

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