As Andy looked at in his game review from Sunday—the Giants finally have been getting some quality efforts from the LB position. Anyone who spends time on the site knows, we in the UltimateNYG community have been baffled by the lack of attention paid by the organization to the position over the last several seasons.
And to state the obvious—the production on the field has in turn left plenty to be desired. While less than five games is certainly a miniscule sample size, the results have been promising since MLB Jon Beason found his way into the starting lineup.
Beason does not grade out well on PFF (he has totaled a -2.6 so far in his five starts with the Giants). Most of his poor grades come in pass coverage, where he has been less than extraordinary throughout his career. A bulky MLB, Beason may not have the quick feet to regularly keep up with receivers but he does have (as he showed last week) the instincts to make a big play in the passing game.
I am blanking on the exact term that Carl Banks used to describe that pick but he credited Beason on making that play "before the snap" using the context clues of the situation (down and distance, receiver alignment, formation) to confidently drop and make the interception. Coming from Banks –good enough for me. Side note—in his next football life, Beason should be a short-yardage RB. I think he broke about 10 different tackles on his INT return.
The Giants can live with Beason's athletic deficiencies knowing the un-quantifiable aspects that Beason brings to the team, the defense and most importantly the positional group. Let's not forget that Beason is a sure-tackler who makes impressive fills on run plays and knows how to finish hits. This kind of sound, disciplined tackling has been absent from the position since Antonio Pierce's better years with Big Blue.
Beason, much like Pierce, provides value in ways that, while we can not see, are certainly there. It seems as though Beason's biggest contributions take place before the ball is snapped. Getting guys into the proper position and understanding the situation (down and distance, formation) to give the defense any advantage they can get in an NFL where they are afforded very few of them.
Take this quote from Antrel Rolle- “He is something that we needed. He is a voice from the linebacker position, the middle linebacker position. We needed someone that was going to stand his ground, we needed someone who was going to get everyone lined up real snappy, no BS-ing around. Just his play-making ability, his passion for the game is tremendous and I think he’s just beginning now. It’s only the beginning.”
Another interesting development that we have seen with the arrival of Beason, coincidental or not, is the advancement of Jacquain Williams. The super-athletic linebacker showed great promise on both special teams and defense in 2011 and has been more or less absent as a contributor since. Often slowed down by injuries, Williams struggled to gain his footing on the Giants defense.
For whatever reason, the arrival of Beason has led to incredibly improved production from the third-year linebacker.
The chart below gives you an idea of Williams' snap counts so far this season—plenty of playing time early, bottoming out around weeks 5 and 6—right as Beason was inserted to the lineup.
Chart courtesy of PFF premium stats.
Beason's first game (Week 6 vs Chicago) was also the week that Williams received just 5 of 68 defensive snaps, a low for him on the season. Since then, Williams playing time has once again begun to increase highlighted last week as he was on the field for all but 2 of the 54 defensive plays against the Packers.
Much like Beason's arrival serves as a fulcrum when analyzing Williams' playing time, it serves in a similar capacity when breaking down the PFF grades.
Williams accumulated a -3.1 overall grade and a 0.2 pass coverage grade on 39% of the (179 of a possible 461) defensive snaps in weeks 1-6.
Since then, the LB has been on the field for 77% of all defensive snaps (194 of a possible 251) and the numbers have been impressive to put it lightly.
Over that span, Williams has totaled a 5.2 overall grade and even more impressive AND IMPORTANT is a 5.4 pass coverage grade from Williams during that window.
The four game stretch brings Williams to a very strong 2.1 on the season (good for 14th amongst all 4-3 OLBs, highest amongst ALL Giants LBs) and an even more impressive 5.6 pass coverage grade (good for 5th amongst ALL NFL OLBs and in the top 10 amongst ALL NFL LBs).
While it is true that we have seen flashes from Williams before, this is his best and most consistent play (albeit just for four games) since being drafted back in 2011. At just 25 years old there is no reason that the improvement shouldn't continue—health permitting. This is something that should have Giants fans cautiously-giddy.
In today's NFL LBs who have coverage skills are constantly in demand. As we have learned over the last few years, the middle of the field has become virtually impossible to defend in the passing game. An influx of quick slot receivers and big athletic tight ends along with the emphasis on tackling safety have made it nearly impossible to slow down a competent passing attack who sets its sights down the middle.
Having excellent cover guys like Williams at least gives you a fighting chance. This makes players such as him such valuable pieces in the 2013 version of the NFL.
Williams improved play could not be any more timely, as the group faces the task of slowing down TE Jason Witten this week. While Witten has not been his usual excellent self in 2013 (this probably has more to do with the Cowboys' passing game as a whole) he is healthy and certainly has had his fair share of success against the Giants in the past.
Over his last two contests against NYG he has produced 26 catches for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While we don't know if Williams will match up with the TE for most of the game, it would certainly be wise to give him the opportunity to do so.
Although it is still far too early to pass judgment on the situation, Jon Beason's positive effect on the LB corps, and Jacquain Williams in particular, is something to monitor for the rest of the season and beyond as the Giants look to restore some talent and pride to a position that was once a staple of Giants football.
Once again big thanks to the dudes over at PFF for letting us use some of their awesome statistics in data to allow us to strengthen our analysis.!!!
Is there a particular positional group/player/area that you'd like to see us break down with the help of PFF stats? Let us know!