Bill Sheridan knows all about the New York Giants‘ tradition of dominant, physical defenses that opposing teams fear.
The defensive coordinator also realizes this year’s unit is no Big Blue Wrecking Crew. Not right now, anyway.
“It troubles me a lot, but honestly, I’m not worried about the past and the tradition,” Sheridan said Thursday. “We’re just worried about what is the next game. So, I’m well aware of that tradition, but we don’t dwell on it.”
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Sheridan is in his first season as New York’s defensive coordinator after replacing Steve Spagnuolo, and the Giants are ranked fourth in overall defense. Still, the big plays, intimidating presence and the ability to shut down opponents have been lacking.
“I’m responsible for the defense, so if we have subpar performances, that absolutely falls on my shoulders,” Sheridan said. “I have no problem handling that.”
Some fans and members of the media have pointed at Sheridan as the cause because he perhaps lacks the emotional temperament Spagnuolo had.
“I don’t really know how to react to that,” said Sheridan, a defensive assistant the previous four seasons. “I don’t know what kind of response I can give that would be appeasing. That is so far from my level of concern, how I’m coming across.”
Sheridan acknowledges that his performance has been “not good enough” based on how the defense has played and he understands the criticism. He cares more about how his defense is coming across, and believes the Giants will answer questions about their toughness against Dallas on Sunday.
“Yes,” Sheridan said when asked if fans will see a physical defense. “Absolutely.”
Sheridan said he has an excellent relationship with his players, and he has the personnel to turn things around in the last five weeks of the season. Truth is, New York needs to improve quite a bit if it has any plans of making the postseason.
The Giants allowed the Broncos to gain 373 total yards in a 26-6 loss at Denver on Thanksgiving. They gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Atlanta in an overtime victory in their previous game, and allowed San Diego to go on a winning, 80-yard drive in the final minutes the week before.
“When individuals decide that enough is enough and they’re determined to go out there and win their individual battle and not worrying about anything other than getting their job done, then things are going to change,” defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. “Being around this locker room, all the right things are being said.”
They just need to translate to the play on the field.
“We have been very inconsistent in our physical play, sure,” Sheridan said. “The players know that.”
The Giants will face a tough task against the Cowboys, a team that gained 378 total yards – including 251 rushing – the last time they played in Week 2. New York won that one 33-31, but the Giants know they need to be a lot better this time around.
“The key to stopping their offense is making them one-dimensional,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “As good as Tony Romo is, we want to put him in third-and-long situations. They have a great offensive line, they play well together and they have three backs who probably can start for just about any team in this league.”
With Giants defensive leader Antonio Pierce gone for the season with a bulging disk in his neck, New York has been forced to find a replacement at middle linebacker. Chase Blackburn started the last two games, but Jonathan Goff could see increased action.
The fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2008 has played mostly on special teams, but has practiced with the starting defense this week.
“He’s a guy who has been developing and we have a lot of faith in him,” Sheridan said. “We just wanted to give him an opportunity to play. Chase is still going to play. We didn’t feel we needed to make a move. We just wanted to get Jon on the field.”
Cornerback Aaron Ross could also see more playing time against Dallas because starting safety Michael Johnson has missed practice with a strained groin. Since sitting out the first nine games with hamstring injuries, Ross has been playing at safety in a backup role.
“I’m still a corner,” said Ross, who added that he’s getting more comfortable playing a new position.
If Johnson sits, Sheridan said Aaron Rouse and C.C. Brown will start in the base defense, with Ross getting more playing time behind them.
Whoever’s in, Sheridan wants to see more consistency from his defense.
“We look like world beaters on a lot of downs,” he said. “The next down, you don’t look that way. And, to me, that’s been our Achilles’ heel the entire year.”