Entering the 2013 season, the New York Giants defensive line faces a slew of key questions following a disappointing 2012 campaign.
Last season, the Giants recorded just 33 sacks as a team, which ranked 22nd in the NFL. During New York’s Super Bowl run in 2012, the Giants tallied 48 sacks, including a career-high of 16.5 by Jason Pierre-Paul.
Pierre-Paul had just 6.5 sacks last season, but still managed to lead a unit that experienced a 31 percent drop in sacks from 2011. It should go without saying that the 24-year-old Pierre-Paul is the most important player on New York’s defense. According to ESPN Stats & Info, 29 of New York’s 33 sacks were recorded with JPP on the field.
Unfortunately for New York, Pierre-Paul finds himself on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing back surgery on June 4. The fourth-year pro is unsure whether he’ll be ready for New York’s season opener against Dallas on Sept. 8.
“It’s not really the doctors’ decision. It’s basically on me. It all depends on my recovery and how my back feels and if I can go out there and practice with the team,” said Pierre-Paul on Wednesday, according to ESPN.
In the meantime, the Giants need to pick up the slack until their injured star is ready to return. After recording just nine sacks during the past two seasons, Justin Tuck is looking for a bounce back season in the final year of his contract. The Giants are testing out Tuck in pass coverages at linebacker, according to the Star-Ledger, but his main role will be to apply pressure on opposing QBs.
This past offseason, general manager Jerry Reese recognized a need to rebuild the team’s defensive line after a sub par season and the subsequent departures of Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty.
The Giants drafted defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (second round) and defensive end Damontre Moore (third round) to inject youth into the unit. Moore might be leaned on to player a bigger role than expected given the uncertainty of Pierre-Paul’s return.
Reese also signed former Eagle Cullen Jenkins to provide the Giants with a run-stopper. Jenkins will play alongside gap-filler Linval Joseph while Shaun Rogers and Hankins will see plenty of reps as backups.
Mathias Kiwanuka, who has bounced between defensive line and linebacker during his eight-year career, is also moving back to line full-time this season. How will he respond to another position change and a potential starting role?
It’s clear that the Giants recognize that the success of the front-four in the overall effectiveness of Perry Fewell’s defense.
In 2012, the Giants allowed 254.2 passing yards per game, which came to fourth-worst in the NFL. Big Blue surrendered 8.1 yards per pass attempt, tying New Orleans for the worst mark in the league.
New York’s ability to pressure the quarterback will make the jobs of the linebackers and secondary-both with plenty questions of their own-much easier.
The key to New York’s success this season largely hinges on the return to prominence of their defensive line. For now, the most important question is when will Jason Pierre-Paul be ready to return?
Not even JPP can answer that right now.
Follow Jon Krouner on twitter, @jkrouner.