What's Ailing the New York Giants' Usually Dominant Pass Rush?

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What's Ailing the New York Giants' Usually Dominant Pass Rush?
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Giants have gotten by on their pass rush for quite some time now.  They had 48.0 sacks last season, which ranked third in the NFL, on their way to the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl victory. 

Still, many expected the pass rush to be even better in 2012, as New York continued to flaunt its three-headed monster: defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniora.

But after the first two games of the season, something has clearly been missing.  The trio hasn’t been as disruptive as history would lead you to believe, and so far Dallas’ Tony Romo and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman have reaped the benefits of a little bit of extra time in the pocket.

In fact, two of the team’s three sacks so far have uncharacteristically come from the interior defensive line (Rocky Bernard 1.0, Linval Joseph 1.0).  The lack of pressure on the quarterback has had a noticeably adverse effect on an already struggling secondary, as the shorthanded unit is being asked to hold up coverage for far too long.

Before the season began, not only did linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka claim that Pierre-Paul has the potential to break the current single-season sack record (22.5), he also claimed that Pierre-Paul could be the first player to reach the 30-sack milestone.

Right now, Pierre-Paul is on pace for less than a third of that total.  After he was shutout against the Cowboys in Week 1, Pierre-Paul finally recorded his first sack of the season in the second quarter of the Giants’ Week 2 match-up with the Buccaneers.

Some may attribute Pierre-Paul’s slightly slow start to the fact that opposing teams are beginning to game plan against him this year.  Pierre-Paul had the element of surprise working in his favor as he climbed his way up to 16.5 sacks in only his second season as a professional. 

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While that may explain why he stumbled out of the gate, it’s not an excuse that can last all season.  After all, take a look at players like Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and Minnesota’s Jared Allen; everyone knows that they possess elite pass rushing ability, yet they’re able to record double-digit sack totals year after year.  If Pierre-Paul wants to be considered elite, he'll have to be able to fight through some of those double teams.

It’s still assumed that Pierre-Paul will eventually come around, though.  Even though he has struggled to bring down the quarterback, his eight-tackle (two for a loss) performance against the Bucs was still admirable.  He’s been able to hurry the quarterback in a few situations, and hopefully his freak athleticism will help him turn a few of those instances into game-changing sacks as the season goes on.

The problem lies more in the production of his teammates.  Through two games this season, neither Tuck nor Umenyiora have been able to record a single sack.  Both players were optimistic this offseason after finishing the 2011 season strong, so it’s surprising that the two have gotten off to such a quiet start.

Tuck admitted earlier this summer that an unfocused offseason combined with a lot of injuries and personal loss contributed to a subpar performance in 2011.  He posted 5.0 sacks—his lowest total since becoming the full time starter—last season.  But the defensive captain turned it on when it mattered most and recorded 3.5 sacks in the playoffs.

Tuck was focused and motivated entering training camp this year, and for the most part, he was able to stay healthy throughout the preseason.  Despite seemingly ideal conditions, he still hasn’t been able to reach the passer. 

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Tuck’s longtime partner in crime has an equally befuddling situation.

Umenyiora started his 2011 offseason with a contract dispute with the organization and followed that up with an arthroscopic knee surgery, which caused him to miss the first five weeks of the season.  In spite of the setback, Umenyiora collected 9.0 sacks in only nine games played.  He added 3.5 more in the playoffs, as well.

This summer, Umenyiora fired his agent and agreed to a restructured deal all on his own.  For the first time in a long time, Umenyiora entered the season happy and healthy.  Sure, he’s had to split snaps with Pierre-Paul, but he’s gotten plenty reps on sure-passing downs, which have always been his specialty.

The Giants defensive ends have already gotten off to a poor start, but there’s more than enough time to turn things around.  However, if they thought Romo and Freeman were elusive, wait until they have to chase around Carolina’s Cam Newton on Thursday and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick in Week 4.

A tough road lies ahead for the Giants' pass rush.

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