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New York Giants Defensive Line Poised to Return to Form in 2013

May 3rd, 2013 at 10:07 AM
By Paul Tierney

'Justin Tuck' photo (c) 2012, Mike Morbeck - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ After storming through the NFC and winning their second Lombardi Trophy in five seasons, the New York Giants failed to make the playoffs in 2012 with a team that arguably possessed more talent than the one that took home Super Bowl XLVII. Although there are a number of factors that contributed to the Giants' failures a year ago, the lack of production along the defensive line inhibited defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defense from operating efficiently. 

In 2011, the rejuvenation of the Giants defensive line enabled the defense to compete with the top offenses from around the NFL. Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady all succumbed to the pressure produced by Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck during the final six games of the season. The Giants were able to sack the quarterback on 7.51 percent of all passing plays, which ranked Big Blue fifth in the NFL.

Last season, without a healthy or effective Chris Canty to play in the middle of the defense, the Giants sack percentage dropped to 5.82 percent. Over the final three games of 2012, the team was able to get to the quarterback at a dismal rate of 1.94 percent, which was good for the second worst ratio in the league. For the Giants to establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders next season, the defensive line must rebound from its pathetic performance in 2012. With the loss of Osi Umenyiora and an aging Justin Tuck, it's a task that may seem unrealistic, but general manager Jerry Reese has prepared the team for this moment throughout the offseason.

With the additions of Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Jonathan Hankins at defensive tackle, the middle of the Giants defense has gone from a point of great weakness, to potentially the deepest position on the roster. In 2012, the Giants finished 23rd in the NFL in sacks per game, with 2.1, but 18th in sack percentage. It's a small discrepancy, but it says a lot about how opposing offenses attacked Big Blue last season.

Without an athletic middle linebacker or a healthy defensive tackle unit, running the football was how team's beat the Giants. Opponents ran the ball an average of 29.1 times per game against the Giants, and averaged 129.1 yards per contest. By running the football down the throat of the defense, the Giants were unable to let their pass rushers take off up-field and get the quarterback. Additional injuries in the secondary to Kenny Phillips, Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara made blitzing a risky proposition, as it was nearly impossible for he team to play effectively in man coverage without a safety over-the-top.

By all accounts, 2012 was a train wreck in every way, shape and form on the defensive side of the football. Weak secondary, scarce athleticism at linebacker and injuries at defensive tackle made for one of the most disappointing performances by any Giants team in recent memory. However, these concerns were addressed by Jerry Reese this offseason, and then some.

The newfound depth at defensive tackle is going to create a more cohesive and diverse defensive line. LInval Joseph and Jenkins will be able to rush the passer, while Hankins and Patterson use their rather large frames to plug the middle and stop the run. Dan Connor will provide a minor, yet noticeable upgrade over Chase Blackburn at middle linebacker, which will also go a long way in helping to stop the run. Even the re-signing of Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas will provide depth in the secondary that was not present a year ago. 

With the selection of Damontre Moore in the third-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, along with Mathias Kiwanuka's likely move back to defensive end, this team has the talent to replace Umenyiora's production from a year ago. Reese has provided Fewell all the necessary tools needed to establish the pass rush as a strength of this unit, and it's up to Fewell to find a way to make that happen. If he doesn't, the team will likely be searching for a new defensive coordinator in 2014.

Also…

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, Aaron Rodgers, Chase Blackburn, Cullen Jenkins, Damontre Moore, Dan Connor, Football, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jerry Reese, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Osi Umenyiora

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7 Responses to “New York Giants Defensive Line Poised to Return to Form in 2013”

  1.  James Stoll says:

    I don’t think finishing 9-7 in 2011 can be considered storming

    •  Kevros says:

      No, but when you look at the D line play which was the theme of the article, sacks dropped dramatically. 2010: 46, 2011: 48, 2012: 33. So, while the whole team might not have stormed, the D line certainly did…

  2.  fanfor55years says:

    Good point Paul about this being a make-or-break season for Perry Fewell. The guy can go anywhere from out of a job to being a candidate for a head coaching position based upon his defense’s 2013 performance.

    He has the tools (okay, the cornerback position may be a bit light, but if TT’s knee is sound even that is not true). Now he has to use them right.

  3.  norm says:

    I’m not sure there’s ever such a thing as a “make or break” season for any coach or executive on a Mara-owned team. That’s not how they roll.

    Remember: Original owner and family patriarch, Timothy J. Mara, was deeply entrenched in the Tammany politics of his day from whence he learned the value of loyalty to one’s cronies. This value was passed on to sons and grandsons and remain one of the guiding principles of the franchise to this day.

    This owner, this head coach (who would probably have veto power over any firings of assistants suggested by the owner) have a staff in place that brought this team to the highest pinnacles of the sport just 15 months ago. That’s the NFL equivalent of delivering a landslide victory for a Tammany pol; such performance tends to cement a lot of sinecures for the folks responsible.

    Fewell has now been here three years, one of which included a magical Super Bowl run. He’s practically family. Only a 4-12 debacle (or worse) would threaten his job security. If the team manages anything better than that, Fewell (and all the other coaches) will have nothing to worry about.

    •  fanfor55years says:

      Generally true, but perhaps not now. Mara knows that they have one more run at a couple of rings in Eli, and that after that it could be a long drought before we see another franchise quarterback. I think the front office knows they cannot afford a clear “weak link” when the sands in the hour glass are starting to accrue at the bottom. Reese shored up the defense in the off-season. The front and the back of the defense look pretty sound (although missing KP could make that statement look foolish in a few months). I don’t think they will view patience as a virtue in 2013.

      •  norm says:

        Obviously, as a fan who wants nothing more than to see this team staffed with coaches best equipped to optimize the talents of its players, I hope to God you’re right.

        But until presented with evidence to the contrary, I’ll continue to have my doubts that John Mara sees things in quite the same way.

        No better place to be for a sports owner loath to make changes than the NFL. Every season is itself a small sample size and provides enough built in excuses (injuries, refs, funny bounces) to write off any poor year as a statistical outlier and resist the inevitable calls for change.

        While we Giants fans may feel a growing sense of urgency as Eli nears the end of his career, Mara has no reason to share it. From the standpoint of an owner for whom his team is, first and foremost, a business enterprise he’s already gotten far more than he could have ever hoped. His new stadium is built; the PSLs are all sold (while his co-tenant continues to go begging); he will soon host the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl in NFL history; and his children’s coke dealers are not clamoring to be paid. He knows the people who made all of those dreams come true are still in his employ. The sense of gratitude and loyalty that a grandchild of Tammany must feel toward them is far greater than any of us could possibly imagine.

        And, in a final ironic twist, I’d argue that Eli’s continued tenure as the Giants’ starting QB makes change even less likely, not more. We Giants fans look upon the remainder of the Eli Era as a window for additional rings; Mara looks at it as a continued, sure-fire gate draw. So long as The Greatest QB in Giants History remains under center, people will keep on buying tickets to see him, Super Bowl titles or not.

        So I’ll continue to stand by my contention that 2013 will be a “make or break year” for no one; that all the coaches on staff will return for 2014 barring a complete collapse, or leaving for somewhere else of their own accord.

        The preceding post written in loving memory of Frank K.

        •  Sonny Mukhopadhyay says:

          I don’t know about ‘Make or break” either, I think Coach Coughlin has a job for as long as he wants it.

          That said, I think Fewells job security relies less on Mara and more on Reese and Coughlin.

          Coughlin isn’t going to be here forever, his age is getting up there, and he wants to win at least one more before riding off into the sunset to spend time with the grand kids.

          His patience, may not be long if he sees a clear deficiency. He also has a history of firing his assistants when they fail him, including both of his coordinators at various times (and his history with D.C.’s should make Fewell nervous).

          Jerry Reese may also not be as patient with Fewell as others may be inclined to be. Getting and acquiring players, and building a team, and seeing a weakness from one of the coaches, can get frustrating.

          Reese is from the old old school, where G.M.s get the talent and the coaches manage them (i.e. as Parcells would say, they do the grocery shopping and expect the coaches to stay in the kitchen and cook). If Reese feels the players are fine, he may “talk” to Coughlin about shaking up the staff.

          One thing Giants fans have been very blessed with, we have stable ownership that doesn’t meddle in the team and an owner who doesn’t think he is a G.M.and gives people the resources and the time to succeed.

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