This is a franchise that has won two Super Bowls in the past five seasons. A team that plays in arguably the most fanatical sports market in the entire world. When you play in New York there is no hiding from the media, no matter how far down you are on the depth chart. However, there are degrees of notoriety and it is in one of the cracks and crevices of mass media coverage that we find our Secret Superstar for the New York Giants.
The defensive line has been the driving force of the defense in each of the Giants’ two most recent Super Bowl seasons, but it has been the defensive ends that have stolen the show on each occasion. In 2007 the “Four Aces” of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka overshadowed fine seasons from Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield. In 2011 the “NASCAR Front” of Umenyiora, Tuck, Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul took attention away from the good work inside by Chris Canty and today’s Secret Superstar, Linval Joseph.
Rookie Season Aborted
As the 46th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft there were high expectations for Joseph to bolster the interior defense of the Giants as they looked to restock and rejuvenate. However, a combination of veteran players still clinging on and the addition of free agent Chris Canty, meant opportunities for the former East Carolina Pirate were hard to come by during his rookie season. He played only 63 defensive snaps, the lowest amount among Giant defensive linemen. Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of those snaps (44 of them) came in Weeks 16 and 17 when the Giants’ season was on the line after a crucial home defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In spite of having what was widely reported as an impressive training camp, Joseph struggled to make the most of the opportunities that he got in the crunch. Four months on the pine took their toll on his form and he registered a -1.2 overall grade across those Week 16 and 17 games. His highlight of those two outings came when the Giants were down seven in the third quarter against the Packers. Backed-up to their own goal line Joseph flashed his potential and drove through the inside shoulder of right guard Josh Sitton to grab and drag down Brandon Jackson for no gain. Unfortunately for Joseph and the Giants, the Packers scored on the very next play and the team fell short of a playoff berth. However, this is what the Giants needed to see more of from Joseph in 2011 as they bade farewell to Barry Cofield.
Second Season Explosion
After 763 snaps in his second season, Joseph firmly arrived on the scene in New York and was a big reason why there was so little talk of the Giants missing Cofield. However, that excitement at the arrival of another great player on the Giants’ defensive line was tempered by some inconsistency around the middle of the season. During the Giants’ mid-season stretch from their Week 10 loss in San Francisco to their dreadful Week 15 loss at home to Washington Joseph’s overall grade was a mystifying -7.3. That level of play from a defensive tackle for that long is the sort of Achilles Heel that can take a team’s season down.
All the more confusing was that stuck in the middle of that lean spell was Joseph’s best game of run defense during the entire season. When the Packers paid a visit to MetLife Stadium in Week 13 Joseph parlayed that glimmer from the 2010 season against Josh Sitton into a game of utter dominance against the run. Even against teams as driven by the pass as Green Bay the ground game is still integral to providing an offense with some semblance of balance. What Joseph showed in that game was his potential as a player with the bulk (carrying 328 pounds according to his listed weight) and the lateral agility to deal with every type of run that might come his way.
In helping to shut down the type of sneaky delay and shotgun-oriented ground game that today’s explosive offenses are utilizing more and more, Joseph put his abilities on display. He highlighted this particularly in the third quarter by perfectly executing a swim move to the inside shoulder of Evan Dietrich-Smith and taking down Brandon Saine for a loss. All game long he overpowered an undermanned Green Bay offensive line to the tune of an astounding seven defensive stops against the running game. Spot starter Dietrich-Smith yielded five of those but Joseph also took T.J. Lang to task in limiting the Green Bay ground game to a mere 2.0 yards per carry between the tackles.
This mid-season inconsistency was infuriating and formed a part of the reason for Joseph still bearing the label of Secret Superstar. Further explanation is given by Joseph’s form running in parallel to the rest of the team. After a solid start to the season he dipped from Week 10 and then mounted a charge from Christmas Eve through to the Super Bowl. As good as Joseph was down the stretch he was lost in the coverage of the simply astonishing run of his team. There were no column inches available after the press had finished talking about Eli Manning, the defensive ends and the team as a whole taking down the Cowboys, Packers, 49ers and Patriots.
That then is where the Secret Superstar comes to the rescue and Joseph fits the bill perfectly. When it counted most, like that nationally broadcasted game against Green Bay and particularly in the Giants’ surprising Super Bowl run, he delivered in bunches. With an overall grade of +7.0 he was our highest-graded defensive tackle for the playoffs. In spite of recording zero sacks, he managed more total pressures than any other defensive tackle and his four stops were the most at his position in the playoffs.
Building For The Future
It is those kinds of displays that the Giants need to see more often from Joseph for him to develop into a full-fledged superstar and draw some attention away from his teammates at defensive end. If he can eradicate the one-month lean spell next season then he is well placed to establish himself as a quality defensive tackle with all of the skills to be used as an every-down player against even the most pass-heavy of NFL offenses.
Back in 2008, after their last Super Bowl success, the Giants had another mid-round defensive tackle (Jay Alford) who unsuccessfully tried to emerge in the heart of their defense. Four years down the line Linval Joseph has shown every sign that he will be far more successful than Alford was in forging an identity for himself in the NFL media Mecca that is New York City.
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