Don ‘Wink’ Martindale has taken the New York Giants defense to another level in 2022. The rankings are impressive enough, seventh in yards and ninth in points surrendered, but Martindale’s impact goes beyond the statistics.
He’s transformed the style of the defense, from passive, to aggressive. From easy to read, to creative and tough to decipher. In the process, several players have improved on Martindale’s watch, but none has taken as many strides as nose tackle Dexter Lawrence II.
The fourth-year pro who is referred to as a “Rolls Royce” by his coordinator, is being tipped for his first Pro Bowl berth by one NFL writer.
‘Constant Menace’ Dexter Lawrence to be Rewarded
Lawrence is one of three Giants players predicted to earn Pro Bowl honors, by Charlotte Carroll of The Athletic. She also named left tackle Andrew Thomas and dynamic, workhorse running back Saquon Barkley as the others likely to get the nod.
Carroll focused on Lawrence because he’s “been a constant menace for opponents. He’s recorded a team-high 26 pressures. He’s already matched his career high in sacks (4.0) and his 12 QB hits rank ninth among defensive linemen. He’s been so good, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has had trouble taking him off the field for rest, calling him a ‘Rolls Royce.'”
“Constant menace” is an apt way to describe a lineman who has been wrecking both phases of offenses all season. It’s one reason why the 24-year-old has consistently been among the highest-graded young defenders in the NFL by Pro Football Focus:
What’s as impressive as the numbers is how Lawrence has started all eight games, playing 419 snaps, the fourth-highest on Martindale’s defense, according to Pro Football Reference. Martindale has counted on Lawrence’s durability while the rest of his D-line has been decimated by injuries.
The most significant of those injuries has been the MCL sprain suffered by Leonard Williams against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2. Williams was the Giants’ most disruptive interior defensive lineman and his loss has been compounded by nose tackle Nick Williams landing on IR after tearing his biceps against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
Lawrence has been able to pick up the slack along the front thanks to the different ways he’s being used by Martindale.
More Expansive Scheme Has Transformed Dexter Lawrence
It’s no coincidence Lawrence has taken several strides forward as a pass-rusher since Martindale replaced Patrick Graham as play-caller. Martindale is using his linemen, especially Lawrence, in more creative ways to generate pressure.
At 6-foot-4 and 342 pounds, Lawrence has traditionally been thought of as a run-stuffer, but Martindale is trusting the player’s athleticism to expand the looks the Giants show offenses. A great example came against the Seahawks, when Lawrence began as a standup rusher and looped around on a stunt to hurry Seattle quarterback Geno Smith into an errant throw:
It’s no small thing for a lineman of Lawrence’s size to have the range and quickness to attack like this. He’s now being trusted to line up between guards and tackles and win on the outside.
Greater takeoff speed and improved hands usage are also allowing Lawrence to bring the heat from his more familiar alignments. This breakdown by Talkin’ Giants host Bobby Skinner shows Lawrence lined up over the ball against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 and routinely beating gifted rookie center Tyler Linderbaum (64):
Notice how Lawrence still wins with raw power on bull rushes, but he’s also eluding blockers with swat-and-swim moves at the point of attack. Creating this much havoc for offenses is sure to get Lawrence noticed when voting begins for the Pro Bowl.
His performances should also accelerate talks about a new contract. Lawrence is set to earn $10.7 million in base salary next year before becoming a free agent in 2024, per Spotrac, so general manager Joe Schoen ought to act quickly to secure one of the Giants’ brightest young talents for the long haul.