New York Giants: Pierre-Paul/Tuck Shift Could Yield Stronger Run Defense

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2013

DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck will switch sides in 2013.
DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck will switch sides in 2013.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If the New York Giants’ defense looks backward when it first takes the field in 2013, it’s probably because defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are expected to exchange duties.

Pierre-Paul will assume Tuck’s old role on the left edge of the line, and Tuck will relocate on the right side, according to Dan Pompei of National Football Post.  Pompei suggests that the Giants do not wish to replace Osi Umenyiora’s rotational pass rusher role, relying instead on Tuck and Pierre-Paul to handle the majority of the snaps at defensive end.

Last week, head coach Tom Coughlin clarified that the team’s top priority this offseason is “fixing the run defense,” according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.  The Pierre-Paul/Tuck shift could be the Giants’ first step toward achieving that goal.

Tuck, who has played primarily left end since the Giants drafted him in 2005, has always been one of the team’s best run defenders.  Pierre-Paul’s athleticism, however, makes him the best all-around player on New York’s defensive side of the ball.

Since the Giants’ are looking to improve their run defense, it only makes sense to send their best player to the run-heavy left end.  Pierre-Paul has the size (6'5", 278 lbs) needed to shed run blocks, and he’s been formidable from the right side with over 100 tackles in the past two seasons combined.

The Giants have been openly disappointed in Tuck’s performance in recent years; the eight-year veteran considered an early retirement during the 2011 season, and general manager Jerry Reese had to have a ”long conversation” about elevating his play in 2013.

New York still has faith that Tuck, the team’s defensive captain, can revive his career, resembling the All-Pro defensive end Reese says he “knows him to be.”  Perhaps a shift to the blind side could do Tuck some good.

Traditionally, the Giants’ top pass-rushers have come from the blind side—Michael Strahan’s prolonged success from the left end position was a bit of an anomaly.  A full-time job on the right side could yield a double-digit sack season for Tuck, a feat he hasn’t reached since 2010, his most recent Pro Bowl season.

But considering Coughlin’s comment, this move’s main purpose isn’t to bolster Tuck’s sack count.  It’s to seal off both edges more efficiently, after a season in which the Giants were consistently torched by outside runs to the sidelines.

New York gave up over 100 yards rushing in 10 of its 16 games in 2012, including the final six games of the season.  Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for over 200 yards in a humiliating Week 16 loss.  Washington’s Robert Griffin III-Alfred Morris combo also racked up over 200 yards on the ground—twice.

Not all the fault should fall on Umenyiora’s shoulders, although he was, at times, one dimensional, only useful on pass-rush situations.  On NFL Network, Umenyiora expressed his resentment for the “situational” tag associated with players of his skill set, especially since the league is 60 percent passing oriented.

While not the whole problem, the Giants find Umenyiora’s role expendable, now that the team has placed a focus on gearing against the run.  The Giants may or may not be the sack-happy team we’re used to in 2013, but stopping the run is usually a prerequisite for pass pressure, as was proven last season.

With Tuck and Pierre-Paul playing more permanent roles, the gaps for playing time narrow for New York’s young talent.  The competition between up-and-comers Adewale Ojomo, Adrian Tracy, Matt Broha and Justin Trattou will be heightened in training camp.

And where does Mathias Kiwanuka fit into this plan?  Will the use of the NASCAR package decrease with the team’s growing influence on stuffing the run?  It has always been expected that the Boston College product would eventually make the permanent shift back to his natural defensive end position, but the versatile 30-year-old has been milked of the past two years of his prime at strong-side linebacker. 

It’ll be interesting to watch New York’s defense in 2013, and—as it has been since the team switched back to a 4-3 base after Lawrence Taylor’s retirement in 1993—it is sure to be a unit that is defined by the play of its defensive ends.  After two consecutive seasons in which his platoon has given up historically large amounts of yardage, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is absolutely in a make-or-break year.

Keep an eye on the simple, yet notable Pierre-Paul/Tuck switch; it could be the beginnings of a defensive turnaround for the New York Giants and a career-saving move for Fewell.


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