The New York Giants, for many years now, have been a defense built on one thing -- terrorizing the opposing quarterback with a fearsome pass rush. Slice it any way you want the biggest reason for the inconsistency of the Giants' 2012 defense -- ranked 25th in the league giving up an average of 25.0 points per game -- has been the team's sporadic pass rush.
Using a pedestrian statistic like sacks, we can see that there is an obvious drop off in productivity from a season ago. The Giants had 48 sacks in 2011, second in the NFL. This season they have 32 thru 14 games, 16th in the league and on a pace for 36.5
Carl Banks, the former great Giants' linebacker and current radio analyst, called it like he saw it during Sunday's 34-0 shellacking by the Atlanta Falcons.
"You’ve got pass rushers who aren’t even getting there (to Matt Ryan)," he said. "They have become just average pass rushers."
Those pass rushers, of course, are the four defensive ends the Giants like to employ in a variety of ways -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. Those four are the players primarily responsible for generating pressure on quarterbacks. As they go, the Giants' defense goes.
Again, the pure sack numbers tell us part of the story:
|Player||2011 Sack Total||2012 Sack Total|
|Umenyiora||9 (in 9 games)||6.0|
|Tuck||5 (in 12 games)||3.0|
Let's also not forget that the Giants got five sacks from reserve defensive end Dave Tollefson last season. Tollefson moved on to the Oakland Raiders this season, where he has only a half-sack for the entire season.
The pure sack numbers, though, are only a piece of the statistical story.
Football Outsiders' definitive pass rush stat for defensive lines, Adjusted Sack Rate, shows that in 2011 the Giants' generated sacks 7.4 percent of the time on pass plays. This season, that number has dropped to 6.7 percent, a small but significant drop when you consider the number of passes teams are attempting.
Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus, writing for ESPN Insider, recently examined the Giants' woes, and had this to say specifically about the pass rush.
It's easy to see where the problems are for the Giants on defense, with their defensive line struggling to match what they were able to do last season. It seems that right now there's simply too much being asked of Jason Pierre-Paul, the only player who seems to be on the rise. He's our third-ranked defensive end this season, though a lot of that is because of his fantastic work in the run game.
Elsewhere on the defensive line, the player performances have slipped. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora aren't getting to the quarterback as they have in recent seasons, while Mathias Kiwanuka -- given his playing time and lack of impact -- is proving to be an incredibly poor value.
Elsayed went further, breaking down the 'Pressure Percentage' for each of the big four pass rushers the past two seasons. It looks like this:
|Player||2011 Pressure Pct.||2012 Pressure Pct.|
Pierre-Paul's pressure percentage has actually gone up, despite his number of sacks going down. My apologies, JPP, for anything disparaging I may have said about your play recently. As you see from the other numbers, it's not Pierre-Paul's fault that he isn't getting much help.
Umenyiora's percentage is down, probably expectedly, from a phenomenal run in 2011. Kiwanuka is down slightly. The biggest dropoff is with Tuck, which is a problem since 2011 was looked as an off season for the Giants' defensive captain due to a myriad of injuries and personal issues. What are we to make of his play this season? Is he hurt again and not telling anyone? Has he lost a step after eight years in the league?
There are only really two things that can be concluded when you look at these numbers:
- First, these four players need to find a way to turn back the clock to last season's playoff run if the Giants are to make another run at a Super Bowl title. It is fair, though, to wonder if they can.
- Second, especially with Umenyiora likely on his way out the door after this season, don't be surprised if a pass-rusher is high on GM Jerry's Reese's 2013 NFL Draft shopping list.