Giants’ struggling defense facing monumental test vs. 49ers

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By Susan Comstock

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It is always a conundrum, isn’t it?

When it is not going well, when all the plans have gone awry, how much do you scrap and change and how much do you revise and retain?

Of all the struggles the Giants revealed in their first two games, their porous and often placid defense has been the most unexpected and alarming development.

Was it a shock that their offensive line stumbled out of the gate?

Did it stun anyone that the anticipated bigger-play passing attack was not an immediate hit?

It was the immediate ineptitude of a defense, especially up front — the supposed strength of the unit — that was so glaring and disturbing.

Somehow, the Giants are 1-1 despite such alarming failings but there is real potential for their defense to get embarrassed Thursday night, facing the 49ers’ rhythmic offense at Levi’s Stadium, unless corrections are made and attitudes are adjusted.


Leonard Williams, talking with the media at the team hotel in Arizona, said the defense's demeanor remains the same despite its poor start to the season.
Leonard Williams, talking with the media at the team hotel in Arizona, said the defense’s demeanor remains the same despite its poor start to the season.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

In the first five series (the entire first half and the first series of the third quarter), the Giants, specifically on defense, allowed 20 points to the Cowboys: field goal, field goal, touchdown, punt, touchdown.

A week later, there were 28 points by the Cardinals in the first six series on defense: missed field goal, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown.

Putting this all together, in the first 11 series on defense, covering the 40-0 loss to the Cowboys and the 31-28 comeback victory over the Cardinals, the Giants’ ledger: four field goals, five touchdowns, one missed field goal and one forced punt.

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And the reaction to all this?

“I think nobody’s demeanor on the defense has changed,’’ defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. “We’re all the same, we show up to work the same.’’

The same? There is something to be said for staying the course and there is also a time when putting a foot down is in order.

Williams said the demeanor of Wink Martindale, the defensive coordinator, also has not wavered.


Leonard Williams said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale (above) told the defense not to be defined by their first two games.
Leonard Williams said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale (above) told the defense not to be defined by their first two games.
Noah K. Murray / NY Post

“I think his overall message is just showing us that this is a good offense that we’re about to face and it’s a challenge and I think he’s inviting us to take on that challenge,’’ Williams said. “Not shy away from it and not let those last two games define who we are and it’s time to rally together.’’

There will be no rousing rise from the ashes against this opponent if the Giants again fall behind fast — they have been outscored 46-0 in the first half thus far this season.

After beating the Steelers and Rams on the road, the 49ers in their home opener figure to be primed for prime time.

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Stream the game live on Thursday night on Amazon Prime Video


They have won their last 12 regular-season games (the next-longest streak, surprisingly, is the Falcons, at four games) and it is a healthy debate whether it is their offense or defense that drives an engine for a team that has played in the past two NFC title games.

When Giants coach Brian Daboll called the 49ers “a team full of Pro Bowlers or All-Pros” he was not blowing smoke. There are 11 players on the San Francisco roster who have been in a Pro Bowl or named to the All-Pro team.

The offensive firepower: running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, future Hall of Fame left tackle Trent Williams.

It is all put in motion by Brock Purdy, the former Mr. Irrelevant draft pick who makes like a point guard and distributes the ball where it needs to go, and orchestrated by Kyle Shanahan, the cutting-edge offensive mastermind.

On defense, there is Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave up front and Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw as ball-seeking linebackers.

“I mean, the list goes on and on,’’ Daboll said. “I’d say their team is well-constructed.’’


The Giants' beleaguered defense will have to find a way to slow down 49ers' star running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Giants’ beleaguered defense will have to find a way to slow down 49ers’ star running back Christian McCaffrey.
AP

You think?

It might be near-impossible for Daniel Jones to get much going against this group, especially with Saquon Barkley missing the game with a sprained ankle.

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The Giants are going to need Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux to shed their invisibility, for Adoree’ Jackson and Jason Pinnock to make more tackles than they miss and for the entire group to wake up.

Can there be any resistance from a defense that finally showed up down the stretch in Glendale, Ariz., keeping the Cardinals scoreless in the last four series? Shutting down Josh Dobbs and his crew saved the Giants from the ignominy of going 0-2.

“Always good to get a win, but don’t like the fashion and how it happened,” Jackson said. “Being down 20-0 and then being down 21 points, happy we won, but at the same time, it’s not really much to be happy about other than we won the game.’’

It will be difficult to win again in that manner.

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