EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)Coordinator Wink Martindale has been excited about his defense all season, and he believes his New York Giants unit is coming together heading into the playoffs.
Martindale sees all the signs of the Giants (9-7-1) being a ”playoff defense.”
There’s a brotherhood among the players. They care for each other and they don’t care who makes the play as long as it’s made. They are also on-point in their preparation.
The other thing that has Martindale excited preparing for Sunday’s wild-card game in Minnesota against the NFC North champion Vikings (13-4) is the defense is almost healthy.
Safety and co-captain Xavier McKinney returned from a broken hand on Jan. 1 in a playoff-clinching win over Indianapolis. All signs are pointing to top cornerback Adoree Jackson playing for the first time since a knee injury on Nov. 20.
Coach Brian Daboll said Thursday that Jackson has simulated covering receivers at full speed. The only question is can the six-year veteran do it play after play.
”I said something to them during a loss that we’re building a playoff defense here guys, make no mistake about it, and I feel that way,” Martindale said Thursday.
”That’s guys that can just play it one play at a time and they don’t flinch, they’re never flinching. If there’s a mistake, we correct it. If there’s a play, we celebrate it, and then we get ready to go play the next play.”
This will be the second time Martindale has had to make a game plan to stop the high-scoring Vikings, who are led by the NFL’s best receiver this season, Justin Jefferson.
The teams played on Dec. 24 in Minnesota and the Vikings earned a 27-24 win on Greg Joseph’s game-ending 61-yard field goal. Martindale referred to it as a half-court shot at the buzzer.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who will be playing in his first playoff game in eight NFL seasons, remembers Martindale talking about the unit becoming a playoff defense.
”What I take from it is that he has a lot of confidence and belief in our defense and he’s reminding us because we should too,” Williams said.
”He always talks about how this is a great group and one of his best groups that he’s coached. I agree, this is one of the best groups I’ve played with.”
What the players enjoy is the aggressive nature of Martindale’s defense. The Giants blitz as much as any team. In the game last month, they sacked the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins four times and hit him 11 more times.
Martindale wants to see that trend continue Sunday. If Cousins has less time to throw, it might help in covering Jefferson and tight end T.J. Hockenson. Jefferson had 12 catches for 133 yards last month and Hockenson had 13 receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
”That’s what us as edge rushers are brought here to do, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do,” rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said.
Martindale was eager to note the Giants have gotten sacks from 19 different players this season.
”It is fun because it’s not just one person making plays,” said defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who led the team with a career-best 71/2 sacks. ”It’s the whole defense making plays and guys you love to play with making plays. It’s good to see the different excitement levels and different celebrations. It’s fun. Those things kind of build along that attacking-style defense.”
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