New York Giants: Justin Tuck & Osi Umenyiora Need to Step Up for Defense

Pete Schauer@@Pete_SchauerCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:   Justin Tuck #91 and  Osi Umenyiora #72 of the New York Giants celebrate after a sack in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are the leaders of the New York Giants' defense.

Or at least they're supposed to be.

This past summer, defensive captain Justin Tuck told reporters (via ESPN) that he lost focus and was unprepared last offseason during the NFL lockout and that he was rededicating himself for the 2012 campaign.

It's easy to blame Tuck's nagging neck issues for his subpar play in 2011 (37 tackles and five sacks in 12 games), but Tuck even admits himself that he questioned his play at times last season.

"I wanted to be out there. But I'd go two or three games and just get a half sack. I started to wonder why I was playing when there were other people who could do a better job. There's a difference between playing hurt and playing injured."

After hearing multiple media outlets predict a down season for the G-Men this year, Tuck appeared poised for a big season, along with fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who settled his contract issues during the offseason and called the Giants, "the best team in football" (h/t New York Times).

But the best defensive ends for the best team in football aren't playing like the Pro Bowl defenders Giants fans are used to seeing.

Neither Tuck nor Umenyiora has recorded a sack through two games, and while this may come off as a little far-fetched, they just don't look as hungry as they used to be.

Tuck recorded four tackles in the season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys while Umenyiora contributed just one take down, with neither reaching Tony Romo for a quarterback hit.

In Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the duo again failed to put any pressure on Josh Freeman, combining for a mere four tackles and zero QB hits, leaving much of the pressure on 2011 standout Jason Pierre-Paul.

JPP has emerged as the Giants' leading pass-rusher after leading the Giants in sacks last season with 16.5.

Pierre-Paul has been the leader of the Giants' defensive line thus far in 2012, with 12 tackles (including two for a loss) and a sack, as well as a team-leading eight tackles and one sack in a thrilling win against the Bucs last Sunday.

The lack of performance from Tuck and Osi has put a lot of strain upon the rest of New York's defense. The Giants defense is built on pressure from the defensive line, forcing sacks and errant passes from opposing quarterbacks, which in turn leads to turnovers.

The Giants currently rank No. 22 in opponent passing yards allowed and No. 16 in opponent rushing yards, two marks that Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell can't be pleased with.

Big Blue's defense is at its best when Tuck, JPP and Osi are attacking opposing offensive lines from every angle and getting after the quarterback, but we've yet to see that this season, which is why the Giants have surrendered a combined 58 points in just two games.

It's time for Tuck and Umenyiora to return to their 2010 form, when they each recorded 11.5 sacks and were regarded as one of the best quarterback-sacking duos in the league.

New York will need Tuck and Osi to be at their best on Thursday night, when they travel to Carolina to take on Cam Newton and the Panthers.

Carolina is coming off of a huge win at home against the Sean Payton-less New Orleans Saints, where Newton threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and ran for 71 yards and a TD.

Newton has taken just four sacks in two games this season, mainly due to his strength and elusiveness with his legs.

If the Giants can attack Newton from different angles with their three-headed pass rush, Newton and the cats will be in for a long day.

We know Pierre-Paul will show up. 

Will Tuck and Umenyiora?

Follow me on Twitter for all things Giants football: