The Giants' defense was very solid against the 49ers.
For decades, the Giants' defensive line has been among the best, if not the best in the NFL. Michael Strahan was the defensive end standard throughout his 15-year career from 1993 until 2007, but the reins of the Giants' defensive line are now held by veterans Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, plus the younger Jason Pierre-Paul.
In Weeks 1 through 5, Umenyiora had just 12 tackles and two sacks, while Tuck had 20 tackles and no sacks and Pierre-Paul had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Furthermore, defensive tackle Linval Joseph had 12 tackles and one sack, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard had 14 tackles and one sack, and backup defensive end Adrian Tracy had just three tackles and no sacks.
For the standards of what has been one of the best defensive lines in the entire league for over a decade, these numbers were below expectations, especially the sack total.
However, in Week 6 against the 49ers, a different defensive line showed up and sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith six times. The pressure they provided certainly had a significant impact, as Smith ended up throwing three interceptions as well.
While Umenyiora had just one tackle and Tuck didn't have any tackles or sacks, Pierre-Paul had three tackles, including two sacks, and a pass deflection. Off the bench, Tracy had four tackles and a sack. Joseph added four tackles and a sack as well.
It's important for the Giants' defensive linemen to step up and get back to playing the way they have played for years. Pierre-Paul is coming off a breakout season in which he had 16.5 sacks. Umenyiora and Tuck are both coming off down years in 2011, but each has been a force in the league since 2003 and 2005, respectively. In addition, veteran defensive tackle Chris Canty should be coming back later in the season after suffering a knee injury and should strengthen the Giants' defensive line even more.
The Giants offense has been carrying the team for much of this season, but in order for them to continue their success, the defense will have to keep playing as well as they did against the 49ers. The resurgence occurring in Week 6 was actually very good timing because in Week 7, the Giants will be hosting the Washington Redskins, who are led by the rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III.
In his first six games in the NFL, Griffin has 1,343 passing yards, five touchdown passes, a 70.2 completion percentage and just two interceptions. On the ground, the agile Griffin has 379 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and a 6.9 yards-per-carry average on 55 carries. He has led the rebuilding Redskins to a 3-3 record thus far, and they will look to get to 4-3 against the Giants, whom they defeated twice in 2011.
If the Giants' defensive line is clicking on all cylinders, they should be able to put just as much pressure on Griffin as they did on Smith. Griffin, though, is a lot faster and is a dual threat both in the air and on the ground. With a below-average offensive line protecting him, the Giants' defensive line should be able to sack Griffin and prevent him from completing any big passes or gaining a large amount of rushing yards.
Griffin is the main player on the Redskins that the Giants will have to worry about because the Redskins do not have many other players that can carry the team as much as he has. Running back Alfred Morris has not had a big role thus far thanks to the emergence of Griffin, while aging receiver Santana Moss has been declining in recent years.
Fellow receiver Pierre Garcon has had a limited role thus far despite being a great addition, and tight end Fred Davis has yet to catch a touchdown pass, even though he leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards.
With all the hype in Week 7's matchup between the Giants and Redskins centering around Griffin and how well he will play against the Giants defense, it's imperative that the Giants' defensive line puts pressure on Griffin for the entire game. With a lot of blitzing and solid pass coverage like there was against the 49ers, the Giants' defense can continue to redeem itself after being criticized earlier in the season.
Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are three of the best offensive players in the league, but nonetheless, the Giants won't be able to repeat as Super Bowl champions until their defense consistently puts pressure on opposing offenses and causes turnovers. That is their ultimate key to success, and the Giants did just that in Week 6 against the 49ers.
With Griffin and the Redskins being their next opponent, followed by the Cowboys, Steelers and Bengals before their bye week, the Giants' defense and defensive line in particular may have found the perfect time to start playing at an exceptional level.