Don “Wink” Martindale uses his creativity in Year 1 as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants.
In 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 daring decision helped McKinney and the rest of the Giants defense pot up Panthers who ran Christian McCaffrey back in the passing game (four catches for 26 yards).
McKinney wasn’t New York’s only busy defense 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 great defensive game plan.
“I think we have really good coaches, Wink is one of them,” Daboll said during his post-game 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 has been doing this for a long time. Wink is not afraid to fail. That is really what we want for the entire organization.”
Martindale’s fearlessness was on display late in the game when the Panthers got a crucial 3rd and 6th. In that game, Martindale rushed with three safeties – McKinney, Love and Tony Jefferson – and it resulted in a sack of Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Watch Love pick up the bag that helped put the game on ice:
The Panthers kicked after this game and the Giants were able to use the rest of the clock on offense to seal the win.
When Wink Martindale made the unusual decision to give a safety, Xavier McKinney said, the green helmet dot (referring to the defending player) This summer, many people had their heads scratched. The decision was even more curious, after the Giants surprisingly started cutting inside linebacker Blake Martinez shortly before the season.
Two weeks later, those decisions start to make sense. McKinney has become a hybrid safety linebacker player and he is thriving in that new role.
“My job this match was to guard him (Christian McCaffrey),” McKinney said after the match, via Jordan Raanan of ESPN. “I thought I did a pretty good job taking him out of the game. It was different.… Different monsters down there.”
McKinney was a threat near scrimmage on Sunday. Not only did he lock up McCaffrey, but he also managed to knock out two of Baker Mayfield’s passing attempts.
The Giants sacked Mayfield twice on Sunday, limiting him to 14 completions on 29 attempts (48.3 completion percentages) for 145 yards, one touchdown and a pass score of 74.6.
The only area where Wink Martindale’s defense is doing exceptionally well is in third place. The Giants have allowed only five third-down conversions after 23 attempts (21.7 percent), which is the best percentage of any NFL team to have played two games this season.
This feat is especially impressive when you consider that the Giants have been without their top two pass rushers, Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. The New York defense didn’t even miss a beat when interior defender 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 become one of the NFL’s best this season.