The New York Giants historically play their personnel cards close to the vest.
However, after completing the 2015 season with the league’s worst-ranked defense and the third-worst pass rush, it was obvious to anyone with eyes and a basic understanding of the game that the pass rush would be tops on the team’s to-do list once free agency got underway.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what the Giants did, re-signing one of their own in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul on Tuesday. He confirmed the news of his plan to re-sign with the Giants despite what Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo characterized as a last-minute “strong push” by the Arizona Cardinals to land the 27-year-old defensive end’s services.
What does this pending transaction—the team has yet to announce it—mean?
Look around the NFL. Almost every team has a small core group of players around whom it builds.
Look at the Giants. On offense, their core includes quarterback Eli Manning, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and offensive linemen Ereck Flowers, Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh.
Defensively, however, other than defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who is there for New York to build the defense around?
The return of Pierre-Paul, even if NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com's Conor Orr) reported that it’s just on a one-year deal, gives them another piece to that foundation.
By now, we all know the sad story of the Giants' pass rush, how they couldn’t get into the backfield to save a damsel in distress from an ongoing runaway freight train.
Forget about sacks, which is the glamor stat everyone seems to focus on. Let’s instead look at what I call “backfield disruptions”—sacks, hurries and hits—the total of which I calculated by going through each team’s defensive metrics as provided by Pro Football Focus:
|2015 NFL Total Defensive Backfield Disruptions by Team|
|Team||Total Backfield Disruptions||Team||Total Backfield Disruptions|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
As the table above shows, the Giants' 2015 defense finished with the 12th-fewest disruptions in the league.
Pierre-Paul, who played in eight games, finished as the defensive leader in quarterback hurries with 34 and third in quarterback hits with six.
The takeaway? Pierre-Paul might not have gotten the sacks, but he was a disruptive force on the pass rush in half a season and with a club on his right hand.
In looking at his return from the Giants’ perspective, there is clearly hope that the latest surgery Pierre-Paul had in January to restore more range of motion to his right hand will ultimately lead to him being able to perform with nothing more than a specially fitted glove on that right hand instead of the big ol’ oven mitt.
If Pierre-Paul’s back, shoulder and whatever other past ailments affected him after the 2011 season are all resolved, the lethargic pass rush of 2015 now has another key piece to the puzzle.
Let’s talk about the run, which is the other half of a defensive end’s job—and an overlooked half. Pierre-Paul typically lines up alongside defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to form a duo that has quietly developed into a solid one against the run.
In 2014, Pierre-Paul and Hankins placed first and third, respectively, in stops (tackles for zero or negative yards) with 49 and 30 (former linebacker Jameel McClain was second with 38), with teams quickly learning to run away from that tandem that season.
There’s no question that the hand was an issue for Pierre-Paul and his performance last season, perhaps even more than he thought it would be.
Assuming the Giants have positive forecasts from Pierre-Paul’s doctors, there’s no reason to think that a fully healthy Pierre-Paul can’t help fix the ailing pass rush and help restore the 32nd-ranked defense to respectability in 2016.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.