EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Tim Lewis has taken the New York Giants' traditional 4-3 defense and added a twist of the old Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4 to it.
The combination has turned the Giants (4-1) into one of the NFL's top defenses and made them one of the league's biggest surprises this season.
"Tim has done a great job of making a lot of different things look the same," linebacker coach Billy Davis said. "That's why people struggle to figure out where people are coming from. He has taken the 4-3, which is a little easier for offenses, and disguised it very well."
What's also remarkable is that Lewis has transformed a defense that didn't look very good in the preseason and a season-opening loss to Philadelphia.
Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens combined for three touchdown passes as the Eagles ripped the defense for 31 points.
"We ran into a pretty good team the first game and they got us," Lewis said Tuesday as the Giants started work during their bye week. "There were situations we didn't make plays and they did.
"I don't think at any point the players or coaches felt like we were out of this or we're not as good as we thought. I think everyone kept their wits about them and went back to the grindstone."
The improvement since the first week has been dramatic.
New York has given up 41 points in its four-game winning streak and has a league-best plus-11 differential in takeaways.
A major part of that success has been Lewis' ability to confuse opponents by moving his players around. Defensive ends have lined up as if they were linebackers and vice versa. Defensive backs have been used often as blitzers.
"We are just trying to get these guy in positions each week where they can be successful," Lewis said. "That's the bottom line to play calling."
While the defense appears to be aggressive, Lewis was careful not to compare what he's doing this season to what happened with the Steelers a year ago. Lewis was fired after last season because Bill Cowher wanted his defense to be more aggressive.
When Tom Coughlin took over as the Giants' coach, his first move was to hire Lewis as his coordinator.
Despite the early problems, Lewis saw glimpses during training camp and the preseason that were encouraging.
Lewis also has been smart enough to cut back at times. Every Friday, he sits down with his defensive assistants and looks at a grease board with all the plays for that weekend. What he doesn't like, he eliminates.
Lewis also has each of his assistants prepare a list of their top defenses in 15 categories facing particular scenarios.
"Then I'll make a call sheet on how I feel," Lewis said.
The defense also goes into each game with goals. Lewis wants to allow 17 points or fewer. He also wants three sacks, an interception each 22 passes, two or more fumbles a game and a certain percentage of third-down conversions for the opposition.
So far, Lewis likes what he sees from his defense.
"They are starting to pick it up, they are starting to understand the blitz zone and the fire zone and man coverages and zone coverages and the multiple fronts and stunts," Lewis said. "They are starting to understand where they belong."