New York Giants veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora is on his way to posting his best season as a pro and rookie defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is just scratching the surface. But if the Giants want to see Osi remain effective deep into the season they should start limiting Umenyiora’s snaps and increasing Paul’s, now.
In seven games this season Umenyiora already has more sacks, eight, than he did all of last season, seven. And seven of this year’s sacks have resulted in forced fumbles, and his run defense, which was horrendous last year, has been markedly improved.
Forget Comeback Player of the Year award, many prognosticators are trumpeting up Osi as a contender for Defensive MVP.
And Jason Pierre Paul? He has no sacks and no splash plays.
So why on earth should the Giants limit Osi’s snaps if he is doing so fantastically and increase Jason Pierre Paul’s? Health and experience.
While Osi has not suffered any new injury in the last two years, he is still dealing with painful lingering side effects from previous injuries. In the 2006 season Osi missed five games due to a strained hip flexor and in 2008 he missed the entire season due to damaged cartridge and a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.
While the knee is still getting better from the surgery he had performed two years ago Osi still has recurring swelling and pain in the knee. But the hip injury from 2006 has gotten much worse. It has denigrated to the point where team physicians have told Osi he will need offseason hip injury to fix the problem.
To keep Umenyiora healthy for Sundays the Giants do not allow him to practice with the team on Wednesday and severely limit him on Thursday and Saturday practice.
So the reason for limiting Umenyiora’s snaps is obvious, the Giants want to keep him healthy for a possible late-season playoff run.
And Pierre Paul is the guy the Giants should use to limit Umenyiora’s snaps, because while he hasn’t posted the stats people like to see he has shown fantastic improvement in his rookie year. Already one of the best special teamers in the league, Pierre Paul has really started to come on for the Giants.
While I have concern about Pierre Paul’s ability to turn the corner, his first-step quickness and power are truly things of beauty. And while he has no sacks, he has started to develop a nice sophistication to his pass-rushing arsenal and has become much more consistent with his pressure and run defense. In other words, the sacks and splash plays will come with Pierre Paul when he gets more playing time and experience.
But while Pierre Paul’s progression has to have made the Giants happy so far this season, with Mathias Kiwanuka officially on the Injured Reserve they need his progression to take the next step. And the best way to do that is with increased playing time.
But while the Giants need to limit Umenyiora’s snaps and increase Paul’s they need to be very careful in how they do it. Osi in an intelligent, prideful and complicated man, reports have repeatedly surfaced that the Giants coaching staff needs to play mind games with Osi to keep him in the right state of mind for Sundays.
And all Giant fans know how turbulent last year was for Osi. He walked out on a defensive meeting during training camp in protest of Bill Sheridan, he was benched for poor run defense and he then publicly stated he would rather retire than come off the bench for the 2010 season. And on top of this it has been rumored that Osi has been pestering the Giants for a new contract, a guaranteed starting job or a trade.
So how on earth do the Giants limit Osi’s snaps while increasing Pierre Paul's without making Osi angry? Because remember, a happy Umenyiora is a productive Umenyiora, but an angry malcontent Osi can be a real pain in the butt.
The answer is John Abraham in 2008.
Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham has been one of the most feared pass rushers since he entered the league with the New York Jets as a first-round pick in 2000.
But Abraham also had serious durability issues, which is one of the reasons why the Jets were so comfortable trading him to the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 despite his insane talent.
While Abraham’s first two years were decent with the Falcons it wasn’t until head coach Mike Smith was hired in 2008 that the Abraham plan was created. Smith knew Abraham had durability issues, had only played in back-to-back full 16-game seasons once and that he had played the full 16-game slate in 2007. In other words based upon prior history, Abraham was due for another injury-plagued season.
Smith needed a way to keep Abraham healthy, but Abraham wasn’t a situational player. Like Umenyiora, he is a three-down lineman who takes pride in that fact.
So to keep Abraham healthy, Smith devised a snap count for Abraham similar to a pitch count in baseball. Abraham would play in just a little over 50 percent of the defensive snaps, but would not be a situational player. More or less Abraham played every other defensive series.
Not only did Abraham manage to stay healthy all 16 games, but he had his best season as a pro, posting 16.5 sacks on the year and leading the Falcons to the playoffs.
The brilliant thing about what Smith did was that he kept Abraham a starter, kept him a three-down player, but still drastically cut his playing time. This allowed him to play that much harder when he was on the field, making him that much more dangerous while ensuring his health over the course of the season.
This is what Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell should do with Umenyiora. Keep him the starter, don’t make him a situational pass rusher, but drastically cut down his playing time for the sake of his physical health.
And while limiting Osi’s snaps, they can dramatically cut the learning curve of Pierre Paul by giving him the extra snaps. Pierre Paul’s rapid progression has become much more important with Kiwi being gone for the season and the only way to speed up the process is with more playing time.
If executed correctly the John Abraham plan will preserve Umenyiora’s physical and emotional health for the rest of the regular season and playoffs while speeding up Jason Pierre Paul’s progression into an effective pass rusher.
This way, when it matter most, the playoffs, the Giants will have a healthy Osi, a seasoned Paul and the always underrated Justin Tuck batting around helpless quarterbacks like rag dolls.
A scary thought for the rest of the league, but the perfect scenario for the Giants.