New York Giants Defensive Line Showing Signs of Returning to Old Form

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 11, 2014

FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2014, file photo, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) pressures Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (5) on a throw in the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J. Pierre-Paul is starting to show signs that he is over the injuries that limited his effectiveness last season. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Everybody who knows the New York Giants can tell you that this team wouldn't have won two Super Bowls in a recent five-year span without an elite pass rush. Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka have headlined recent championship seasons, with plenty of help from top-notch interior defensive linemen. 

So while the secondary has undoubtedly improved and the team will only go as far as Eli Manning brings it, a major X-factor entering the 2014 preseason was a defensive line that no longer has Tuck, Strahan or Umenyiora and also lost the steady Linval Joseph in the offseason. 

The Giants know they're going to have to get more from Pierre-Paul, who has been hampered by back and shoulder problems ever since a 16.5-sack sophomore season in 2011. And they know they'll have to get breakout performances from second-year D-linemen Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore, who were selected in Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2013 draft, respectively. 

So far, so good. 

Two weeks into the extended 2014 preseason, Hankins has proved to be a run-stopping stud, freeing up Moore, Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka to get after the quarterback. 

The sample size isn't large, but a team that had the league's fourth-lowest sack percentage in 2013 certainly seems as though it'll have a chance to get a lot more pressure in what is essentially a make-or-break season for both the core and the coaching staff.

NFL's lowest sack rates, 2013
TeamSack rateTotal sacks
Dallas Cowboys5.234
Philadelphia Eagles5.237
Jacksonville Jaguars5.331
New York Giants5.434
Detroit Lions5.533
Pro Football Reference

They haven't been perfect up front—there were plenty of occasions Saturday against Pittsburgh in which the Giants simply got no pressure on the opposing quarterback despite having plenty of time to manufacture some heat—but Hankins, Moore and Pierre-Paul have all had extremely promising individual efforts. 

Here's Moore making Steelers right tackle Guy Whimper look really, really bad...

NFL Game Pass

And while it doesn't show up on the stat sheet, Hankins has been a hero against the run. One solid example against Buffalo...

NFL Game Pass

The reality is that we didn't see third-down pressure like this often enough last season...

NFL Game Pass

It's a good sign that JPP was leading the way on that rush because this team simply won't succeed this season if its best pass-rusher isn't bringing it. 

The Giants have a lot of kinks to work out between now and the Sept. 8 opener in Detroit, but it has to be encouraging to see the pass rush get back on track.