Don “Wink” Martindale is flexing his creativity in Year 1 as New York Giants defensive coordinator.
During a 19-16 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Martindale called on star safety Xavier McKinney to play more of a linebacker role. The bold decision helped McKinney and the rest of the Giants defense bottle up Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey in the passing game (four catches for 26 yards).
McKinney wasn’t New York’s only busy defensive back on Sunday. Martindale fielded six or seven defensive backs on 45 out of 54 snaps, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN. The Giants’ top three tacklers in Week 2 were all safeties: Julian Love (8 tackles), Dane Belton (5 tackles) and McKinney (5 tackles).
After the game, Giants head coach Brian Daboll credited Martindale for a tremendous defensive game plan.
“I think we have really good coaches, Wink being one of them,” Daboll said in his postgame press conference, via the Giants’ official YouTube channel. “I have a lot of confidence in Wink. I think the players have a lot of confidence. … Wink’s done this a long time. Wink’s not afraid of failure. That’s really what we want for the entire organization.”
Martindale’s fearlessness was on display late in the game, when the Panthers faced a crucial 3rd-and-6. On that play, Martindale rushed three safeties — McKinney, Love and Tony Jefferson — and it resulted in a sack of Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Watch Love record the sack that helped put the game on ice:
The Panthers punted after this play, and the Giants were able to run out the remainder of the clock on offense to seal the victory.
Xavier McKinney Accepts New Role as Safety-Linebacker Hybrid
When Wink Martindale made the unusual decision to give a safety, Xavier McKinney, the green helmet dot (indicating the defensive play caller) this summer, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. The decision was even more curious, after the Giants surprisingly cut starting inside linebacker Blake Martinez right before the season.
Two weeks in, those decisions are starting to make sense. McKinney has become a safety-linebacker hybrid player, and he’s thriving in that newfound role.
“That was my job this game to guard him (Christian McCaffrey),” McKinney said after the game, via Jordan Raanan of ESPN. “I thought I did a pretty good job doing it, taking him out of the game. It was different. … Different monsters down there.”
McKinney was a menace near the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Not only did he lock up McCaffrey, but he also managed to bat down two of Baker Mayfield’s pass attempts.
The Giants sacked Mayfield twice on Sunday, limiting him to 14 completions on 29 attempts (48.3 completion percent) for 145 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 74.6.
Wink Martindale’s Defense is Thriving on Third Down
The one area where Wink Martindale’s defense is doing exceptionally well is on third down. The Giants have only allowed five third-down conversions on 23 attempts (21.7 percent), which is the best rate of any NFL team that has played two games this season.
This feat is especially impressive when you consider the fact that the Giants have been without their top two pass rushers, Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. New York’s defense didn’t even miss a beat when interior defensive lineman Leonard Williams went down on Sunday.
If New York’s top defenders can get healthy (and stay healthy), Martindale’s unit has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best this season.