Why defense, running game so important to Giants’ Shurmur


When you think of great New York Giants’ teams, you think first of defense and running the ball. The Giants could do both and do them well.

But last year’s Giants could do neither.

They ranked next to last in team defense, 31st in pass defense, were tied for 27th in points allowed and finished 26th in rushing — with fewer rushing scores (6) than everyone but Miami. Worse, they lost 13 of 16 starts before subtracting their head coach and GM.

So, now, with Dave Gettleman the new general manager and former Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur the new head coach, people wonder what’s next — and, judging by what Shurmur told us on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, what’s next could be … should be … a return to what made the Giants successful.

Namely … defense and running the ball.

At least, that’s the hope — especially with a 37-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback — and that should bring some measure of comfort to the team’s supporters. Yes, Shurmur is someone known for his work with quarterbacks, but listen to him detail the coaches who influenced him the most, and it’s easy to see where he wants to take this year’s club.

“Although I coach offense,” he said, “early in my career … and really throughout my career … I’ve been impressed by defensive coaches. My uncle, Fritz (Shurmur, former NFL defensive coordinator), was one. He was a guy who taught me (that) you keep it simple, you’re very physical and you play hard.

“And then when I played for George Perles (at Michigan State) there was one thing you had to be, (and) that was tough and gritty. The rest of it was great, but if you didn’t have the toughness and the grit you couldn’t play in this sport. And it’s a sport where it’s necessary, and that’s what I learned from George. He just had a great sense for working with young people and getting the best out of people.

“And then certainly I was there (at Michigan State) with Nick Saban, and then I worked with Nick Saban, and you’re talking about one of the all-time coaches of all time. It’s no mystery to me that he’s had the great success that he’s had. He understands how important it is to recruit, (and) he knows the game backward and forward. He has a plan and a process, and he just repeats it year after year. And he gets the same results.”

Shurmur did not in his first crack at head coaching. But that was at Cleveland, where nobody has had success lately. Shurmur was 9-23 there and 1-0 as an interim coach in 2015 with the Eagles.

His job now, however, is unlike either of those places. That’s because his job is to put the Giants back on their feet with a descending quarterback, an offensive line scheduled for a major overhaul, a running game buoyed by the arrival of Saquon Barkley and a defense that hemorrhaged far too many points and yards a year ago.

And he must do that in a division with the defending Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles.

So where’s the hope? It may not be in Shurmur’s past as an offensive assistant but in his past as an understudy of smart and successful defensive coaches — all of whom may, indirectly, shape what happens to this year’s Giants.

“Although my track was on offense, I’ve been around (former defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson, who took me under his wing in Philly,” Shurmur said. “Then I worked with ‘Spags’ (Steve Spagnulo, a former defensive coordinator and, later, head coach in St. Louis), and then most recently with Mike Zimmer (in Minnesota).

“So all those defensive guys really impressed me on how important it was to play defense, how important it is to run the football and, hopefully, our team will resemble some of that.”

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