2004 New York Giants: Aggressive Defense
By BigBlueInteractive.com Reporter/Photographer David Oliver
Somewhere between Pocono Speedway and Hershey Park, it dawned on me that not everyone appreciated my writing style. I had another several hours of driving and several hundred miles to go, so I thought I’d outline a little introduction for my next piece. It’s really difficult to explain to people just how boring it is spending hours and hours away from your nice little computer and your honey-do list, of course, there is a honey-do list because most so-called men today couldn’t get away from Momma and the house apes to even attend a game, let alone 20 weeks worth, plus camps, plus other assorted ventures, so I laughed as I thought of these High Life warriors and their honey-do lists, making light of my writing style, twisting in agony which each new non-football derivation, extending on into countless characters and voluminous words in the same sentence. My entire life, it seems, has been dedicated to finding new ways of pissing off the orthodox, of not giving anyone anything they wanted in the way they wanted. And so, at this stage of the journey, and believe me, it has been a journey as I ride through the desert on a Horse with no name, I have found it. I can get more obtuse, more Byzantine, more prosaic than I ever thought possible and I have a captive audience of wanna be imitators, each panting to open the next episode to see if they can find a way to get under my skin, to titillate their fellow readers, hoping that it will be at my expense, but then, since everything I do here is at my expense, as it is well-known that critics and imitators are cheap pricks, no matter what the venue, it really doesn’t matter. My only remorse is that real Giants’ fans have to wade through my really poor efforts, often mirroring the text book illustrations of how not to do it, or as we used to say in writing class, the pissing in a clear stream approach to communications. To those, I must offer a humble, well, not apology, but explanation. See, I’m reaching the end of this particular journey, maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but soon enough; ok, so it’s not soon enough to please the real geniuses here, the Xs and Os mavens, the literati, the full paying membership in the I can do it better club, but soon enough, nonetheless, as it is easier to just take photos, difficult in its own right, but now with digital technology in full bloom, much as the recently departed cicadas, photography is relatively effortless compared to actually writing some of this stuff. I’m getting tired of listening to taped interviews and reviewing scribbled notes, then transcribing them because if I put them into MP3 form and posted them somewhere, most folks wouldn’t be able to get to them. So the journey winds down, agonizingly slow for some, maybe too quickly for others. For me, it has come down to, whatever!! (grin).
Having walked away from virtually everything in my life, religion, politics, a paying job, everything except family and the Giants, it is difficult to cut cjac’s umbilical to the Giants. There is no knot to tie, or untie, no snips steeled enough to cut through the cord, no force on earth, save possible eventual ennui and lapse into Alzheimers, which can make me walk straight away from the Giants. Which is probably the deep-seated psychosis driving my obstinate attempt to link the Giants games and players with the other facets of my own life, as for some the saying is ‘football is life’, but for me, it is a truism, ‘football (Giants version) is life,’ sina qua non, finito. It’s not Madden, or X-Box, or a casual way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Now, I know there are some that say, ‘get a life’, ‘it’s only a game’ and other such platitudes, and for those I feel sorry. If you dig deeply enough into the antecedents of man, what makes homo sapiens, or uomo, or hombre is play, and music, and explored on an even deeper level, play and music are essentially mathematics. So the ‘game’ is really the Esse of humanity, and the Giants are the essence of the game. If you can’t accept that, I guess we, you and I, can never communicate. At any rate, this entire concept, which I suppose is closer to d’Maistre than Jung and which would probably infuriate Nietzchke, who being gay couldn’t really understand the whole syncretic process of an aggressive defensive strategy, has led to enormous frustration, beginning with the meltdown in San Francisco and continuing on to the final denouement and the firing of Coach Fassel and most of his staff.
I mean, the whole thing boils down to one word – aggressive. Not passive, not passive –aggressive. Not read-and-react, not one-gap or two-gap, but the simple term, aggressive. It doesn’t matter if you are a Darwinian, or a Christian, or a Muslim, if you read Orwell or Huxley (any of them), if you are a Clintonite or a Busher, the entire progress of man, as we are today, is the result of that single term, aggressive. Whether we are a viral form, a stage on the way to Oogenesis, in the image of God, or whatever, we have survived and thrived by being aggressive. So, to see the Giants running around on the field like the headless horseman, or rather the headless chicken – for those too young to remember, chickens were killed by cutting their heads off, after which they would run around headless until the blood was gone – this past year was misery personified. That team was not aggressive, on either side of the ball, from special teams to the QB to the entire coaching staff, and so, in classic Darwinian fashion, it did not evolve. It has been ruthlessly replaced.
But the replacement remains in chrysalis; we have the words, but have not seen the unveiling, in fact, there aren’t many who can give us even a preview, other than by using avuncular imagery. Multiple and aggressive, people come to spots, flying to the ball all allude to, skirt around, touch on, but avoid the simple term aggressive. Communication is based on common understanding; semantics are more than nuance. Multiple terms result in progressions of difficulty, and ultimately breakdowns, as theory is actualized. I continue to chase the common understanding of an aggressive defense, which I started with Coach Lynn. It seems incongruous to indulge in a semiotics of football, but that is what it is. Coach Lynn continually used the term aggressive, but any defense with a Coach Rust involved proved itself over time to be something less. Coach Lynn never backed off aggressive, notwithstanding a defense plagued by breakdowns, both in understanding and communication. Coach Coughlin uses the term in a phrase, but the phrase is supplemented, modified and explained differently by each and every member of the team.
My starting point for aggressive is the defense designed and deployed by Coaches Parcells and Belichick for the world Champion NY Giants, led by LB Lawrence Taylor and his cohorts. It relied upon stalwart interior linemen, playing a two-gap set and a host of linebackers, all of whom crashed the line and converged on the ball. They were backed up by a secondary which sealed off lanes and defended against the big play. The closest thing to it was the old Steel Curtain of the Steelers, but semantically, it had a different construct. In application, it produced similar results. Today, we are told, the game has changed, the role of the linebackers has changed. This being the case, the use of the word ‘aggressive’ has little meaning to me. It appears as if the current version of the Giants linebackers may be among the weakest in a dozen years. Nick Greisen, if he develops, might be close to a Gary Reasons type player, but Emmons and Green don’t look as if they could crack the starting linebackers on the LT teams. Time will tell. Nick is a happy man right now. I don’t know if he has heard the whispers that the coaching staff might not be comfortable with him as the starter going into the season, but even if he has, he feels this is his opportunity and he’s not letting it pass. I asked him what was different for him, in attitude, from last year. He told me, “ I felt last year like I was slotted at #2 no matter how well I played, Mike was going to be the starter; no matter how poorly he played, Mike was going to be the starter.” He went on, “This year, it’s all changed.” There is a new coach, who came in with a ‘clean slate’ approach, and so Nick felt, “Everyone will start over, it’s a new opportunity.” He talked about how he felt, “almost like I was a rookie again, new faces, new guys I didn’t know, a new defense. The difference was that I had more experience.”
We talked about the term aggressive and what he was seeing in the defense. He told me, “They let us go to fly to the ball, let us open up.” He was positive and effusive about these aspects of the new D, but when I asked him if it would be more aggressive than last year’s aggressive defense, he told me that we wouldn’t know, he wouldn’t know, until they put the pads on. So we have the coach’s characterization of a multiple-aggressive defense in which people come to spots and try to strip the ball, which he acknowledges has not developed to date, and we have another characterization, similar, about opening up and flying to the ball, again with an acknowledgement that it is still theoretical. LT was the greatest at flying around, coming to the ball, or a spot and stripping the ball. There was only one LT.
I not only wanted to talk about being aggressive, I wanted some special team input. MacDuff, the Baron, Read had all failed at the mission. The last really good special teams man for the Giants was Coach Sweatman, and he has returned. I vividly remember him strolling up and down the sidelines, yelling and exhorting his troops; which was different than Coach MacDuff extending farther and farther out of the box, bending with hands on knees, trying to see something, anything, which would indicate if his message was sinking in. It didn’t. Part of the reason was in Coach Fassel’s rigid belief that subs and scrubs played special teams. It appears that failure was a concomitant of this approach, regardless of who the coaches of the squad happened to be. Coach Sweatman has always tried to recruit one of two highly motivated specialists for his unit. This year it might be Jack Brewer, who was brought in primarily as a special teams maven.
Jack and I talked about speed and aggressiveness, as he told me, “Speed, that’s how I get down the field, whether it’s kickoff, punt, whatever, be the first one down the field.” Jack is an engaging personality who laughs a lot and is having fun in the game. He told me that special teams are “where I made my mark in the League.” I reiterated, “special teams,: and he quickly answered, “Yes sir, special teams. It’s fun. I’ve enjoyed special teams from the first day I came into the League; I had a knack for doing it. I always get to the ball, just have fun out there.” His joie d’vivre is infectious, and he went on and told me that he was having a lot of fun, that, “I love the City, love the Organization, it’s first class, they take good care of you, the transition was very easy for me.” It seems as if Jack Brewer and several other recruits, as well as some of the holdovers, have not been put off at all by the head coach’s style – they are here to play football and to have fun. Of course, none of them has reached super star status yet, and not many are wearing rings, but they came looking for an opportunity, they feel they are getting that opportunity, and football is the name of the game.
We talked about the aggressive nature of the defense and he told me, “It’s very fast, speedy, everybody’s flying to the ball; it’s going to be fun to watch for the fans, and fun to play.” He said, being aggressive is “what we’re preaching and what we are all about, flying to the ball, we practice it, practice making turnovers, stripping the ball; whenever you do that, and it’s the focal point, you’re going to make a lot of plays during the season.” I asked him if there was a difference in philosophy between the NFC and the AFC coaches and he told me, “Sometimes you see coaches change between the divisions, but I don’t think there is too much of a difference. From my time in the NFC, it is a tough division as far as running the ball. The few AFC teams, I couldn’t tell much of a difference, some teams throw the ball all around the lot; for the most part the parity is there, so there’s not too much of a difference.”
I finished up by asking if he was preparing for and hoping to be a starter some day and he said, “Special teams, regular lineup, whatever, whatever the team needs; I just want to win. I think we’re doing the right things to do that.” I asked him if he’ll be here in September and he laughed and said emphatically, “I’LL BE HERE.” And a welcome addition he’ll be.
There you have it, the continuing saga of the making of an aggressive defense. Whether it’s a four, three, or a three, four, we are being told it will be a convergence defense, designed to strip the ball and cause turnovers. This could result in some missed tackles, but if it works, if it plays on the field as it is being designed in the classrooms, it could be an exciting defense, for us as well as for the players. Let’s hope this is not a semantics exercise once again and that everyone is on the same page about the meaning of aggressive.