The heat is on.
And Wink Martindale is the one turning up the thermostat as high as it can go.
The intention is to burn as many of the Giants’ opponents — especially the quarterbacks — as possible.
“You want to dictate to the offense instead of sitting there and letting them dictate to you,” Martindale, the Giants’ new defensive coordinator, said Thursday after an organized team activity practice. “I would rather they have the headache and stay up five nights before we play them figuring out what we’re going to do and try to present different looks every time we play — because pressure does break pipes, that’s our philosophy.”
What Martindale wants to pound into the Giants is not cool on the playground at recess and gets you sent to the principal’s office. There is a new sheriff in town and, given his track record as a defensive master in the NFL, the guys wearing the blue or white jerseys this season will be a whole lot more frisky than before.
“He tells our defense all the time that we’re building a bully here,” said defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, who was retained by Martindale.
It may be better, it may be worse, but there is no doubt the Giants’ defense with Martindale pulling the strings will be different, as in more aggressive. Any study of Martindale in his four years running the defensive show for the Ravens reveals he is the NFL’s most pressure-crazed coordinator.
In 2018, the Ravens blitzed on 39.6 percent of their defensive snaps, tops in the league. In 2019, the pressure soared to 54.9 percent, again tops in the league. In 2020, it was 44.1 percent. Care to take a guess where that ranked among NFL defenses?
In 2021, Martindale’s pressure calls dropped to 31.1 percent, only the sixth-highest blitz frequency. The pressure reduction was a direct response to the Ravens getting decimated in the secondary, with three cornerbacks — Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters — all missing significant time with injuries. Peters was out the entire season. This forced Martindale to ditch his favored Cover 1 (man coverage) for far more Cover 3 (three-deep zone) calls, making it impossible for the Ravens to apply the beloved pressure that Martindale prefers.
The Ravens the first three years with Martindale as the defensive coordinator were first, third and second in the NFL in points per game allowed, and sixth, third and first in yards per game allowed. Everything crashed in 2021, as the Ravens, devoid of quality and depth at cornerback, fell to 18th in points per game and 24th in yards allowed.
“Don’t go to DoorDash to find a backup corner,” Martindale said.
The Giants are not exactly teeming with proven cornerback talent, as the release of James Bradberry – quien signed with the rival Eagles — leaves the depth chart extremely shaky, with Adoree’ Jackson and second year Aaron Robinson the presumptive starters and rookie Cor’Dale Flott or Darnay Holmes possible options as the slot corner.
This, understandably, leads to outside anticipation that the Giants’ defense will struggle this season.
“Look, we’ll control the narrative,” Martindale said. “That’s what I’ll tell you. We control the narrative. People can say what they want to say.”
Those who remain from the 2021 roster are getting indoctrinated to a whole new ballgame on defense, as Martindale’s approach is on the other end of the spectrum from where the Giants’ defense resided under Patrick Graham, now with the Raiders. His unit from him was 16th in the league last season with a blitz percentage of 25 percent. Graham’s specialty was keeping opponents out of the end zone, as the Giants’ red-zone touchdown percentage on defense in 2021 was an NFL-best 48 percent.
That mindset was to survive and advance. This is attack mode.
After the season, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the team and Martindale had “agreed to move forward in separate directions.” Martindale, 59, makes no secret of his desire to become a head coach, and he and Harbaugh agreed to move on might help him realize that goal. There are no hard feelings.
“I love John Harbaugh,” Martindale said. “He’s a brother. He always will be.”
Martindale two years ago interviewed for the Giants’ head-coach position that went to Joe Judge. It says something about first-year head coach Brian Daboll that he is entrusting the defense to someone he had no previous experience with, other than knowing Martindale’s system presented all sorts of challenges for an offensive play-caller. Daboll called Martindale “a very genuine guy,” and rather than be scared off by Martindale’s big personality, Daboll is embracing it.
Case in point: Daboll noticed the first time this spring Martindale stood in front of the entire defense the room was “pretty quiet,” with Martindale doing most of the talking. Nowadays, when Daboll walks into the defensive meeting room he sees and especially hears a different vibe.
“Now when I go in there, the first five minutes, it’s like a party for five minutes,” Daboll said. “Everybody’s talking, laughing, telling stories, so I think he’s done a good job of loosening those guys up.”
Safety Xavier McKinney, a key player for Martindale, described the new scheme as “just so much aggression.” The goal, Martindale says, is: “You want the quarterback on his back.”
The heat is indeed on.