NFC East: NY Giants Justin Tuck Osi Umenyiora and Company NFL's Best
Let's imagine, for the sake of the following arguments, that the lockout has ended. The Giants have retained Barry Coffield and Mathias Kiwanuka and have returned Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Add to that the addition of Marvin Austin, and what you have is the NFL's best defensive line. There are game changers (Umenyiora), feared defenders (Tuck), interior play killers (Coffield), versatile threats (Kiwanuka) and a possible star talent Defensive tackle (Austin) who has something to prove. And let's not forget last year's second round pick, Linval Joseph, or last year's first round pick, Jason Pierre Paul.
Though it can't erase the lack of depth at linebacker, all of these guys can be solid playmakers in Perry Fewell physical scheme and help make up for the weakness they have between them and the secondary. Here's why.
The Game Changer: Osi Umenyiora
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Look at him. Watch him live when he is on top of his game. Take your eyes off of him when the pocket collapses; I dare you. I promise you will miss something special.
Osi Umenyiora is the most disruptive defensive end in the NFL, forcing an NFL record 10 fumbles. He also had 11.5 sacks (ho-hum) and this while both he AND Justin Tuck were being double teamed at times. I had the pleasure of seeing Osi play in person, and his physical skills are off the charts.
His first three steps are short, but very deep. He essentially pushes of a mound he creates, generating leverage even against power linemen. His lateral moves are also above average, and his hand work is exceptional. At times, his foot work gets sloppy. As a result, he can be overpowered, while watching the free running back he should've caught blow by him.
Once free, Osi can be fooled by the more nimble QB's if they see him coming, but this doesn't happen very often. Osi aims directly for that football, not the QB, and that is what makes him great. He takes powerful angles to the ball side and his terrific speed means if he hit something, odds are the ball is popping out. Though not a vicious tackler like Tuck or Kiwanuka, Umenyiora is in all likelihood the most sure, a product of his aforementioned strong hand work and leverage.
As a sack/strip specialist, there is no one in the league who can compare... except maybe this next guy.
The Feared Defender: Justin Tuck
Football gods, let Justin Tuck be a Giant until he retires and never get injured in the meantime. I know, I'm ridiculous, my apologies There simply isn't to say about possibly the the NFL's premiere defensive lineman. Thats right Julius Peppers, Trent Cole, Jared Allen and you too, Osi. Justin Tuck is what you call the real deal. I have seen him initially get beat at the line by massive OT's, only to see him outwork them, force them down and destroy anything carrying a football. Mark my words; he will go down as one of the greatest DL of his time. Let's look at his 2010 season:
16 games (all starts)
Six force fumbles
76 tackles (leading all Defensive ends)
What is telling about these stats is in how they illustrate the different facets of the defensive game Tuck adresses. He lines up as a DT at times to create match up problems. His powerful tackling is an tremendous asset when dealing with running backs who rely on going through you rather than around you. After a game last year, a sideline reporter asked a running back for the opposing team what they can do to help him with Justin Tuck. He replied "Put him on the bench."
Whereas Osi relies on technique, Tuck relies on instinct. He has a nose for the ball and is constantly around it, even if he gets no credit for the play. I've seen him run down LeSean Mcoy, obliterate Desean Jackson on a shallow crossing route and then bust through the middle of the line to squash Michael Vick. He singlehandedly gave the Eagles a three and out. Did I mention he lined up as a defensive tackle, linebacker and defensive end in succession on those plays? Not many players can do that, and that is why they fear him.
Fear isn't the only thing that give you an edge as a defender, as you will see next.
The Interior Playkiller: Barry Coffield
Barry Coffield. Never mentioned when it comes to the league's best DT's/NT's. My assertion is not that he is one of the best, but ask yourself this: How many teams would want him clogging up the middle of their defensive line? Coffield is constantly moving forward, and he makes his fair share of plays in the back field because of this. He can be susceptible to pulling guards and tackles, but he is excellent at wrapping up running backs and actually has above average anticipation in space.
Coffield's greatest strengths are with his technique and his vision. Much like Justin Tuck, he is always around the ball and even gets the to quarterback a decent amount of the time (5.5 sacks). This is actually a high number, considering the defensive scheme he plays in relies on DT's creating interior pressure on the O-Line, rather than getting after the quarterback.
As a DT, Barry Coffield may never get the credit he deserves, but he is an undeniable force in the middle, and many a time sends plays to the edge because of his ability to get into the backfield. Simply put, he stops plays before they happen, and every defense aims for just that. The problem is that he doesn't do it consistently enough to be considered elite, and with the recent draft moves the Giants have made, his future looks doubtful.
The Versatile Threat: Mathias Kiwanuka
So many Giants fan disagree with my faith in Kiwanuka, but he is a freakish athlete with dominating strength, footwork, explosive tackling and hand control. Watch the footage above. It isn't flashy, but it is the perfect example of what Kiwanuka can do. He pushed head on at he center, rolled his weight off to the far side and made a beeline for the QB, who clearly was expecting more time. Unfortunately, we haven't seen enough of Kiwanuka to really judge his body of work.
Talent wise, he is long and powerful, enabling him to disrupt passing lanes at the line of scrimmage. His coverage skills leave something to be desired, but his quality tackling (the best of the bunch when he is fully focused) makes up for that in part. He can play at the DT position, at DE or at LB. He can also be a force getting to the quarterback and is devastating when the opposing team's O'Line is occupied with Tuck and Umenyiora. Giving Kiwanuka free roam is like letting a bull inside a china shop. But this isn't the whole tale.
Kiwi has about as much talent at the position as anyone. He is young. But he is fragile, and fragile at the worst possible times. He started last season with four sacks, a forced fumble and 11 tackles in three games (one start). I thought between him, Tuck and Osi, the D-Line would establish itself as the premiere unit in the league.
Injuries to Kiwanuka derailed his season. I am personally a fan of Kiwi's. I've seen more footage of him, and seen him live more than any other Giants defender, believe it or not. With his impressive set of skills, and his abilitiy to play three positions capably, in fact adeptly, make him, arguably, the most dangerous potential member of this unit.
The Freak: Jason Pierre Paul
This guy is a freak. He is lean but powerful, fast and possessing a strength more fitting of a defensive tackle than a DE. I see big things in Jason Pierre Paul's future if he can master his body. Some players get by by having high motors, or even sheer will. Others get by by knowing how to maneuver their bodies for maximum speed, power and deflection.
Paul has to be this type of player. Physically, he is a freak of athleticism, the best of this bunch. He is madly driven toward the quarterback, but that leads to his shortcomings. He gets beaten upright far too often and has not yet developed the moves to leverage bigger linemen. But these are all coachable flaws, and if the Giants staff can address these issues, they will have a monster on their hands
It seems to me that the Giants always have strong DT's and DE's, and past drafts show that it is probably the highest priority for this organization (Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Jason Pierre Paul, Marvin Austin, Linval joseph). This is with good reason. Strong defensive lines are the best start to a consistent stifling defense.
Jason Pierre Paul is a prime example of this. He was definitely a project coming out of college, but under the tutelage of Tuck and Umenyiora, he can definitely do some damage. He rarely gets beat off the snap, but his technique is raw, again something that can be coached with patience and dedication.
And now, to the future of the Giants D Line...
A Gift from Heaven: Marvin Austin
When I saw Marvin Austin still available on the board and the Giants were three picks away, I didn't care about their needs at linebacker or offensive Line. They got a wrecking ball. Austin has the build, the technique and the discipline to succeed in the NFL, and I project him as a perennial Pro Bowler if he can just crack the starting rotation. No small order. All the tools are there for him to be a star.
Austin does something that surprisingly few DT's do: He runs THROUGH the ball. By placing his target immediately behind the ball carrier, he can explode through the defender and makes plays up and down the line of scrimmage. Few power backs will get past him, and even stronger linemen will be hard pressed to keep him away from the pocket due to the powerful toppling angles he takes on the O-Line. But his game has holes.
There are conditioning questions surrounding him, and many teams are still chirping that the character issues go deeper than anyone is really saying. But this is Jerry Reese, who picked Mario Manningham, signed Plaxico Burress and dealt with Jeremy Shockey, all players who had character issues. And he made it work. Furthermore, Tom Coughlin won't stand for any crap, and though many players in the locker room don't like him PERSONALLY, they go to war for him every Sunday. Austin should be no different.
The Irresistable Force: Linval Joseph
Power, power, power. Linval Joseph is a battering ram, and if you watch footage of him from college, you'll see that in his junior year, even double teams weren't working consistently. He has the potential to be so disruptive in the backfield, the kind of player Offensive Coordinators plan around. BUT, there's one problem: his head.
Joseph has been known to take plays off, get distracted and he is not known for his football instincts. As a nose tackle or playing in deep at the line as DT, there is no denying that once his engine starts, he is looking to wreak as much havoc as possible. He has an explosive second step, which sets up his third step push very well. His problem is that he allows himself to get pushed upright far too often. While not as raw as Paul, Joseph will still require a great deal of coaching, but this staff can get it done.
The next, and final slide is the one that will probably have the longest ranging effects of any of these preceding ones...
Two All Pros. Two more potential Pro Bowlers. Above average performors and young, hungry talent on the way up. And best of all, none of them are over 30. The Giants receiving corps is getting alot of attention, but this defensive line should be putting the rest of the NFL on notice. This unit will be the NFL's best. And now, let the debate begin.