It's no secret that the pass rush is integral to the New York Giants' success. When they won the Super Bowl in 2007, they had 53 regular-season sacks, which was six more than the next-best team in the league in that category. And when they won it again in 2011, they were one of only four NFL teams with more than 45 regular-season sacks.
In both cases, the rush seemed to get stronger in December, January and early February.
But last year, the Giants' sack total dropped off from 48 to 33, with their sack percentage dropping from 7.5 to 5.8. A high-quality pass rush suddenly became mediocre.
Among the three-headed pass-rushing monster that featured Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, nobody was above reproach, but for the second year in a row Tuck was the least productive of those three defensive ends.
Now that Umenyiora is gone, even more pressure will fall on Tuck to turn his career around. The good news is that 2013 will be a contract year for 30-year-old former All-Pro, which will provide added incentive for him to get it together.
"For me, this year is going to be all or nothing," Tuck recently told NFL Network, according to NFL.com's Kimberly Jones. "I mean that in the sense that I'm going to do all that's in my power to be in the right place mentally and try to convey that to my teammates. I might not have done the best job I could do in that situation in past years. But I'm in a great (mind-set) right now, I really am. I can't remember a time when I was this overjoyed to get back to work."
Logic indicates that nagging injuries will only become more prevalent as Tuck ages, but a renewed commitment could change things.
"He really wants to get back to the old Justin Tuck," said Giants general manager Jerry Reese at the NFL Scouting Combine, per Jones, "and be the player that we know him to be."
So, if he stays healthy, can Tuck get back to where he was in 2010, when he recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks while forcing a career-high six fumbles and making a career-high 76 tackles?
We've seen situational pass-rushers remain effective well into their fourth decade on this planet, and Tuck has shown flashes of dominance as recently as Week 9 last year, when he collected a pair of sacks—half of his total for the season—against Pittsburgh.
He'll have to spread more of that out over the course of the 2013 campaign, because Tuck can't afford another disappointing season, and Pierre-Paul needs more support. Regardless of the fact that he's a two-time Super Bowl hero who was in my mind the vice-MVP of both recent New York championships, Tuck is now fighting to keep his job.
If he doesn't raise that sack total back into the double digits in 2013, his time in New York will probably expire next offseason.
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