Earlier this season, the Giants’ defense had fans and media alike questioning the whereabouts of their usually tenacious defensive line.
In their first eight games this season, the team racked up a mere 10 total sacks, about a third of their total from last season, and a far cry from the 48 total sacks the 2011 Super Bowl winning team was able to accumulate, according to ESPN.
However, there have been several signs of revival stirring in the last few games. After facing names like Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, and Jay Cutler earlier in their schedule, the Giants have more recently faced a couple of average, or relatively inexperienced, quarterbacks.
Enter rookie Matt Barkley of the Eagles and Josh Freeman of the Vikings.
Barkley played against the Giants in what was only his second NFL game, following the removal of a still injured Michael Vick late in the second quarter of the game. In the textbook definition of an average game, Barkley completed 17 of 26 pass attempts for 158 yards, with only one interception.
Freeman, a former first round draft pick, was released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in the season after failing to earn a single win with the team. In his first game after signing with the Vikings, Freeman completed only 20 passes out of 53 attempts for a total of 190 yards. Again, not a spectacular offensive performance, which could be a contributing factor to the apparent improvement in the Giants’ defense.
But, facing these kinds of quarterbacks may have been just the confidence boost needed to get a strong defensive momentum started.
The Giants defense has also experienced success in containing opposing running backs, such as Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, just to name a few.
In fact, their ability to efficiently shut down the run game has caused more third and long scenarios, creating more opportunity for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to implement more imaginative play calling and exotic blitz packages.
Fewell has been able to experiment with adding additional pressure by utilizing his secondary in passing situations. Case in point can be seen in last Sunday’s game against the Raiders, where Fewell was able to bring a safety blitz, resulting in an Antrel Rolle sack. Being able to rush safeties like Rolle and other secondary personnel adds another dimension to the pass rush and creates confusion for opposing offenses.
The defense has also shown improvement in getting off the field after these third down situations are created.
In their first few games, the Giants struggled in stopping their opponents on third down. In losses to the Broncos, Panthers, and the Chiefs, the Giants allowed more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted, according to NFL.com.
In their victories against the Vikings and Eagles, the opposing offenses were successful in less than a quarter of third down situations. Most recently, in what was considerably their best showing all season, the defense forced the Raiders into 12 third down situations. They allowed only two of those 12 to be converted for first downs.
Also of note is the all-around better level of play coming from many of the defensive players, especially Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Mathias Kiwanuka. All three have shown improvement in winning one-on-one battles, and have been playing more cohesively as a unit.
Although the statistics in the sack department may not show it, the defensive line has been successful in pressuring opposing quarterbacks, oftentimes sending them scrambling or at least disrupting their throw in some way.
Pierre-Paul, whose health has been a concern since undergoing back surgery in the off season, came out before last week’s game claiming he felt “90 percent.” Although he suffered a shoulder injury last Sunday, and has been absent from practice the past few days, the fact that his back is no longer giving him problems is definitely good news.
With another opportunity to face a back-up quarterback in this Sunday’s match-up against the Green Bay Packers, the stage is set for these contributing factors to be present. The only question that remains is whether the resurgence of the New York Giants’ “sack attack” is here to stay.
Alexis Celluro | Featured Columnist
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