Giants draft pick for Martindale Defense

As the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, everyone has an opinion on what the New York Giants needs and how general manager Joe Schoen should approach those needs. There’s a lot of talk about finding the best player available rather than fulfilling a need, but the real goal is to try to make the value meet the need. That’s why teams create large horizontal draw charts that make it easy to compare value at different positions.

But this year, at least in defense, things are different. A Don ‘Wink’ Martindale defense works on different principles than we are used to. These were featured in a great story last summer on the Ravens’ SB Nation site, Baltimore Beatdown.

Some rules of a Martindale defense are:

The first rule of defense is this: you don’t talk about defensive positions.

The second rule of defense is this: you don’t talk about defensive positions.

The third rule of defense is this: bags are not that important. Just hit the QB, the fight is over.

Some Martindale quotes from this story:

“If you own a team and I’m your head coach and it comes down to what you want, I want as many corners of coverage as possible.”

“And I think the bags – we’re talking philosophically now; that’s my opinion on it – I think bags are one of the most superficial filings out there.

“My philosophy is, personally, I’d rather have a corner that can cover than a guy that can rush,” he said, “because I’m going to get guys to hit quarterbacks.”

Martindale wins in defense with “organized chaos”. Intrigue the pressure, play “positionless defense” and get “all 11 players to blitz from the moment we get off the bus”.

The lessons of the Ravens under Wink

League-wide rankings from Martindale’s first three years as defensive coordinator for the Ravens illustrate this well (figures courtesy of Pro Football Reference):

Ravens defensive rating

Year Points allowed Yards Allowed Blitz Pressures Bags
Year Points allowed Yards Allowed Blitz Pressures Bags
2018 2nd 1st 1st 2nd (tied) 11th (tied)
2019 3rd 4th 1st 18th 21st
2020 2nd 7th 1st 4th 14th

Two things are consistent from year to year: Martindale’s defenses consistently lead the NFL in blitzes, and they’re consistently near the top in points allowed — which is, after all, the goal of A defense. Yards allowed have been in the top 10, and pressures sometimes but not always among league leaders. But the Ravens have always been in the middle of the league in the sacks. Martindale wants blockers not to know where the pressure is coming from, wants to force the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, and wants his defensive backs — at least those who don’t rush the passer on a given play — to deny the completions when isolated against a receiver. This last objective leads to a preference for defensive backs who excel in covering men.

The table below shows the annual stats of the Ravens’ top six defensive backs (by snaps) that show how Wink uses his defensive backfield.

Ravens DB performance

“Position” Male % PFF class (M,Z) Quick pass % Skip rush production
“Position” Male % PFF class (M,Z) Quick pass % Skip rush production
Eric Weddle S 33.5 70.9, 71.2 5.2 11.8
Brandon Carr CC 33.8 55.0, 81.5 2.4 14.3
Tony Jefferson S 30.5 80.5, 57.7 5.5 11.3
Marlon Humphrey CC 34.6 68.2, 85.8 0.4 0
jimmy smith CC 34.7 55.9, 65.9 0.7 16.7
Tavon Young CC 35.4 51.0, 71.3 11.1 6.8
Marcus Peters CC 38.2 79.5, 79.4 0.5 0
Marlon Humphrey CC 49.7 74.4, 69.1 6.5 7.7
Count Thomas S 44.7 79.6, 73.9 10.3 11
Brandon Carr CC 46.1 66.5, 68.0 7.3 22.2
chuck clark S 46.4 82.0, 66.5 22.7 6.6
jimmy smith CC 53 62.2, 65.1 0.4 100
chuck clark S 45.3 73.6, 64.6 8.4 13.9
DeShon Elliott S 45.4 70.4, 63.9 8.4 9.2
Marlon Humphrey CC 49.2 47.4, 91.5 3.6 14.6
Marcus Peters CC 46.9 76.5, 66.1 0.6 25
jimmy smith CC 48.8 65.3, 72.8 1.1 25
Pierre Desire CC 27 28.8, 58.6 0.4 0

Martindale’s defensive identity started to show in 2018, but he really pushed his chips forward in 2019 and 2020. In 2018, Martindale’s defensive backs played men’s cover about a third of the time, some excelling in man and others being mediocre. In 2019 and 2020, however, he used men’s coverage just under half the time, with his defensive backs posting good to excellent man ratings almost in every area. Defensive backs were used to rush the passer 203, 295 and 164 times over the three years. Several of them had good “pass rush productivity” (a PFF metric that combines sacks, hits, and rushes against total pass rushes, with sacks weighted more heavily; a Double-digit PRP puts a DB in the top 30 or so across the NFL).

How do the giants compare?

The chart below shows the same stats for all defensive backs who played for the Giants in 2021:

Performance of the DBs of the giants

“Position” Male % PFF class (M,Z) Quick pass % Skip rush production
“Position” Male % PFF class (M, Z) Quick pass % Skip rush production
James Bradberry CC 22..5 40.1, 79.1 0.2 0
Xavier McKinney S 21.8 81.8, 74.8 0.6 12.5
Logan Ryan S 20.3 44.5, 51.9 5.7 12.1
i love jackson CC 23.6 64.3, 84.5 0.4 25
Julien Love S 23.4 44.3, 65.2 5.5 ten
Darnay Holmes CC 21.6 59.2, 59.8 7.5 ten
Aaron Robinson CC 32.9 58.4, 54.1 4.7 12.5
Jabril peppers S 31.1 34.2, 66.4 14.8 18.2
Jarren Williams CC 17.2 51.0, 73.6 0.9 0
Rodarius Williams CC 65 36.8, 55.2 0 0
J.R. Reed S 52.6 72.7, 63.7 5.3 0
Keion Crossen CC 4.8 60.0, 60.0 5 0
Steven Parker S 33.3 76.6, 39.1 5.6 0

The first thing that stands out is that the Giants under Patrick Graham have played relatively little men’s coverage, with only Aaron Robinson and Jabrill Peppers topping 30% among defensive backs with a significant number of snaps. The reason for this is that the Giants currently have very few defensive backs who master men’s coverage. Xavier McKinney had a great 2021, scoring 81.8 in man (while also playing well in zone), and Adoree’ Jackson was pretty good in man at 64.3 although he really excelled in zone (84, 5). The only other Giants defensive backs who played men’s cover well were safeties JR Reed and Steven Parker, who played very few snaps.

This graph may partly explain why Logan Ryan was released and why the Giants did not seek to re-sign Peppers. Both were terrible at men’s coverage and so were perhaps rated as mediocre for what Martindale wants to do. It also highlights why (in addition to his cap hit) Joe Schoen would like to trade James Bradberry.

Another thing to note is that Graham has placed his defensive backs in the pass rush far less often (110 times in 2021) than Martindale did with the Ravens. When he did it was mostly with safeties (Ryan, Peppers and Love, but almost never McKinney), although Darnay Holmes and Aaron Robinson rushed the passer a decent amount of times for the limited number of shots they played. Martindale rushed his safeties more than his cornerbacks, although Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey and especially Tavon Young rushed the passer a lot from what is traditionally the cornerback position. In a Wink Martindale defense, it’s not just EDGEs and ILBs that rush the passer – it can be anyone, including safeties and cornerbacks, on any play. Positionless defense.

What does this mean for the draft?

If so, the type of defensive backs Joe Schoen might be looking for in the 2022 draft are all-around backs who can play a man at the NFL level. @JoeGoodberry compiled a list of top college cornerbacks in the 2022 draft along with how often they played men’s cover in 2021 and how they performed by PFF rating:

Derek Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner unsurprisingly stand out as cornerbacks who played a lot of men’s coverage and excelled at it. That’s why they’re the near-unanimous picks to be the top two cornerbacks in the roster and why the Giants should be looking at both. Others who might appeal to Martindale are Kyler Gordon, Trent McDuffie and even Marcus Jones, who doesn’t have a prototypical height but nonetheless played excellent men’s cover in 2021.

Among the safeties, Kyle Hamilton is the go-to prospect. Conventional wisdom is that safeties have too low positional value to be in the top 10. But in a Wink Martindale defense, a safety with the versatility to play singles and go down just as well, with speed of game and unrivaled football instincts. to affect all areas of the pitch, might be too irresistible to move to No.7, especially if the right tackle has been delivered to No.5 and Gardner is out of the picture. Of the group of safeties expected to be taken late in the first round and early in the second round, Lewis Cine may have the most versatility to please the Giants. If the Giants wait any longer to address the safety position, Nick Cross might be the most suitable for the type of defense the Giants are likely to field in 2022.

If we take Wink Martindale at his word, don’t be surprised if the Giants go OT, CB and S with their top three picks, in some order, if the value is there when it’s their turn to pick. And EDGE? Martindale can be happy just “getting the guys to hit the quarters” in the third round.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Formely known as ‘TarkentonToJones,’ Tony Del Genio is now part of the Big Blue View front-page staff.]

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