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.
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