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Giants defense isn’t the scapegoat for this winless start

Turn on the fan (the oscillating kind, not the long-suffering kind) past medium, to high, when listening to the midweek rhetoric coming from NFL coaches. So much smoke in need of dissipating.

It was Sean McVay’s turn, and the Rams still-young (34!) head coach sounded as if he were anguished when he took stock of the Giants defense his team will face Sunday in Los Angeles.

“I’ll tell you what, this is a real pain to get ready for this defense,’’ McVay said. “They do a great job of activating a handful of different personnel groupings. They are huge inside and they do a great job of really limiting the space that you can create. This is a very difficult defense. This is a great challenge for our offense.’’

The Rams have scored 20, 37 and 32 points in their 2-1 start to the season and their four touchdowns in the second half of last week’s loss in Buffalo show they can shred a top-notch defensive unit. The Giants expect to be without one of their top players, strong safety Jabrill Peppers, continue to search for a decent No. 2 cornerback — a significant issue — and wore down amid too much time on the field in the unnerving 36-9 Week 3 loss to the battered 49ers.

But when assigning blame for the 0-3 start — how long you got? — defense is not one of the first items on the agenda. The Giants are 13th in the NFL in total defense (yards allowed). They are 10th in pass defense (234.7 yards per game) and 20th in run defense (123 yards per game). They are on pace for 43 sacks; there have not been more than 36 sacks in a Giants season since 2014.

Not great. But not terrible. Not good enough to produce consistent winning. But not bad enough to never win a game.

Giants cornerback Logan Ryan
Giants cornerback Logan Ryan in action against the 49ers during Week 3.AP

Big bucks were spent on James Bradberry and Blake Martinez and both are huge upgrades, especially Bradberry. The signing of Logan Ryan was a godsend. Lorenzo Carter shows signs the light is turning on. More is needed from Dexter Lawrence, but he has upside. Leonard Williams is a fine player, but not worth $16 million. Julian Love has potential and we shall see what prize rookie Xavier McKinney looks like if he can return from foot surgery.

If the offense could get out of its way long enough to score more than 12.6 points per game, this defense would give the Giants a fighting chance.

A real pain to get ready for? That is a stretch, though.

“I think we bring a lot of elements teams have to prepare for,’’ head coach Joe Judge said Thursday. “That being said right now, that offense we’re gonna see this week is tremendous. They’re more than a pain.’’

Holding the Rams below their three-game average of 29.7 points would be a win for the Giants defense.

“I can’t speak for coach McVay. But we got good players,’’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. “If I were in an offensive coach’s shoes, yeah, it’s hard to deal with. There’s a lot of good players on the field and we got to find a way to string it together.’’

Graham says he focuses on certain areas. First and foremost, the win-loss record.

“So, obviously it’s not good enough,’’ he said.

Next, situational data. “The stuff we’re going to be defined by,’’ Graham said.

To wit: Stopping the run when you know the opponent wants to run the ball. This was lacking against the Steelers and 49ers.

“We’ve got to do a better job of that,’’ Graham said. “Period, point blank. It starts with me. In this league games are won on third down, red area and two-minute. I would say this, statistically, from the naked eye, we’ve got to do a better job. I got to do a better job of coaching that stuff. And the last part of it is turnovers, we need more turnovers.’’

The one glaring weakness: third-down defense. Opponents are converting 58.1 percent on third down, the worst in the league. This may be about unfamiliarity with six new starters. Whatever the cause, a cure must be found.

“It’s not good, it’s not the standard, it’s unacceptable,’’ Ryan said. “You just have to do better. Football isn’t easy but it’s simple. You have to get off the field. The best defense you can play is on the bench, honestly.’’

For sure. This defense is far from a finished product and far away from emerging as a compass to steer the Giants back to winning. It is further along than the offense. For what that is worth.

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