New York Giants: 3 Good Reasons Defense Will Hold Up in 2012-13 NFL Season
After earning a postseason berth in week 17, the G-men ultimately finished a streak that was highlighted by clutch quarterbacking and stingy defensive play with another epic upset over the Patriots.
New York allowed just 14 points per game over their last six contests, and totaled 23 sacks during that stretch. Despite surrendering the fourth-most passing yards in the league, the late-season run that was indicative of their true talent could translate into an even more dominant defensive unit this year.
As always, the front four will lead the way for the Giants in 2012-13. A group that has anchored both Super Bowl squads for New York returns a trio of stars that combined for 30.5 sacks a year ago.
Unfortunately for the rest of the NFL, those numbers may only increase.
Coming off an All-Pro year that featured 16.5 sacks, Jason Pierre-Paul figures to see the occasional double team this season. But with Justin Tuck on the other side of the line and Osi Umenyiora ready to fill in, the relentless pass-rush should inevitably post enviable sack totals before it is all said and done.
The Giants finished last season with the NFL's third-ranked pass rush despite a down-year from their defensive captain. Justin Tuck recorded just five sacks for the G-men last year, and he and Umenyiora combined to miss a total of 11 games because of injury.
But the dynamic duo enter the 2012-13 campaign in good health. And even with an injury to starting left tackle Chris Canty, the Giants D-line looks to be one of the league's best yet again.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has seen vast improvement in Tuck's energy and play in the early-going according to Tony Williams of Metro New York, and first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara should help patch up the secondary when he returns from his high ankle sprain in the coming weeks.
I think the rivaled Patriots will tell you that there is nothing harder than repeating as Super Bowl champions in the modern NFL. But then again, Tom Brady might rank beating New York in February as a tougher task.
After all, the Giants are the only hitch standing between the decorated New England quarterback and five rings.
Their title-defense got off to a slow start last night in the Meadowlands as the Giants fell to Dallas in the season opener. But early struggles are nothing new for New York.
Unpredictability is the nature of the NFL, and midseason adjustments can change the entire outcome of a season. Fortunately for the G-men, head coach Tom Coughlin knows a thing or two about improvement over the course of a 16-game schedule.
The old saying, 'defense wins championships' wasn't coined for no reason—I think the Patriots can attest to that.
So can Eli count on the boys to keep putting his offense back out on the field? Or will injuries and underachievement plague the boys in blue?
Here are a few reasons the New York Giants' defense will hold up in 2012-13.
Osi Umenyiora has two Super Bowl rings, two All-Pro selections, and two Pro Bowl appearances. He led the entire NFL in sacks in 2005 and forced more fumbles in 2010 than any player ever has in a single season (10).
Yet he doesn't even start at defensive end for the New York Giants.
Umenyiora's nine sacks in nine games last year proved he hasn't fallen victim to age just yet. The 30-year-old product out of Troy University showed critics he hadn't lost a step during the 2011-12 campaign, and a continued resurgence is expected this season.
The end position speaks to the depth the Giants possess on their defensive line.
While you would likely be hard-pressed to find another team in the NFL on which Umenyiora wouldn't rank first on the depth chart, New York can rest easily knowing they have a potential Hall of Famer to fill in for their defensive player of the year candidate (Jason Pierre-Paul) when he needs a breather.
In addition to the ends, the Giants have three solid tackles on their roster. Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard will start the year at left and right tackle respectively, but the return of Chris Canty from injury could solidify them as league's most dominant defensive line.
At linebacker, the G-men have three veteran names (Mathias Kiwanuka, Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley) all with starting experience and at least one Super Bowl ring. Perhaps more importantly, they possess at least two very capable backups in Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich.
With Prince Amukamara sidelined, the cornerback position may be the weakest link on the Giants defense. But veterans Corey Webster and Michael Coe aren't the most pitiful pair of corners—even in their own division, and Amukamara's return should pay dividends.
Experience is critical for any NFL team over the course of a rigorous 16-game schedule.
Fortunately for the Giants, they have plenty of it.
New York has 62 combined seasons of NFL experience and 15 total Super Bowl rings lining up on defense each and every Sunday. And that doesn't even include two-time champion and 10-year veteran Osi Umenyiora.
To make matters worse (at least for their opponents), the Giants' youngest player is perhaps their best. 23-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul enters his third season in the league after breaking out as one of the game's premier pass-rushers in 2011-12.
Until Amukamara returns from injury, New York's defense will be stacked with guys who have been there before and know what it takes to win at the highest level. The veteran leadership took a hit when Michael Strahan retired in 2007, but emerging stars like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were able to benefit from his mentoring and step into the leadership roles accordingly.
Now, the Giants have a solid core of veteran players who all still have gas in the tank. Despite the average experience of 5.6 years per starter, New York's defense remains relatively young. The eldest of the group is Rocky Bernard at 33, and the average age rounds out to about 28 years old.
In a league where preparation is key, and every single game holds playoff implications, veteran presence on both sides of the ball typically translates into success. The brutal nature of a 16-game season often poses problems for inexperienced rookies accustomed to the NCAA's 10-12 game schedule, and at least for now, the Giants won't have to worry about that.
Of course health is always a factor when dealing with aging players. And though New York's defensive unit is by no means old, there is some history of injury amongst the group.
But the G-men are entering this season in good health and sharp form. Barring any major setbacks, their talent and experience should help the defense return to one of the league's best.
Pressure Is King
One of the ways to contain an aggressive passing game is to pressure the quarterback. And for the league's fourth-worst pass defense, a barrage of sacks can prove extremely beneficial.
It is no secret that the anchor of the Giants' defense rests in their defensive line. A unit that racked up 48 sacks in 2011-12 got to the quarterback more than all but two teams a season ago.
This year, New York's pass-rush may be even better. And with multiple key injuries in the secondary again, they will likely need to be.
In a perfect world, the G-men would have Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora active together in all 16 games. But in a realistic one, I'm sure Tom Coughlin would be happy to take 12.
I often argue that the sack is one of the more undervalued statistics in football. Yes, I know it is already glorified and I realize the NFL's elite pass-rushers rank amongst the highest-paid players in the game.
But think about it.
A sack doesn't just take a toll on the quarterback or knock the opposing team back eight yards.
It ruins drives.
It turns 2nd and short into 3rd and long. Sacks demoralize an entire offensive unit and crush their crowd.
They end the play before the play can even begin.
Pressure on the quarterback disrupts game plans. It changes the entire dynamic of the game, and in some instances, dictates the outcome.
The more Tuck, JPP, and Osi can pressure the QB, the less pressure is applied to the Giants' shoddy secondary. The less pressure on New York's secondary, the greater the chance the defense can get off the field and rest.
In the end, I think I'm in the majority when I suggest that New York's defensive success will hinge upon the health and production of their defensive line.
Sacks and QB pressure will be key for the G-men in 2012-13, and look for both to be plentiful.
Did you hear that, Mike Shanahan? Extra blocking will never be a bad idea for RGIII when facing the Giants.