As the New York Giants battled down the stretch in the 2011 regular season Jason Pierre-Paul began to simply take over games.
None of these were more important than the Week 17 meeting against the Dallas Cowboys to decide the winner of the NFC East. In that game JPP put on a show, notching a sack and five tackles. But beyond the box score, JPP terrorized Tyron Smith and Tony Romo, putting pressure on the quarterback all game long.
That game earned him a solid +3.4 from Pro Football Focus.
This past Sunday, he nearly tripled that grade with a monstrous +9.1 against the Atlanta Falcons.
But how exactly did JPP go about earning a grade like that? The short answer: He was Dominant. (And yes, I do feel I had to capitalize it).
This was one of JPP's most physically dominant performances to date. As far as the box score is concerned, he finished the game with five tackles, three quarterback hurries, two quarterback hits, a sack he was not officially credited with (we'll get to that in a bit), two defensive stops, and a pass defensed.
About the only play he didn't make, was an interception.
Let's take closer look at some of those plays he made:
When Tom Coughlin talks about defense, their first goal is always to stop the run. Well, let's start there.
At the start of the play JPP is at right defensive end across from rookie left tackle Jake Matthews. The Giants are in their base 4-3 defense. In fact, they are in a variation of the "Under" alignment. In this case, since the Falcons have the strong side of the formation to the left, SAM linebacker Mark Herzlich is lined up to JPP's right, just outside of the tight end.
And in fact it is these two players who make the play. JPP does a great job of firing off the ball, playing with leverage, and delivering a hard hit to Matthews -- you can see him jolt backwards when JPP's hands hit. That hit knocks Matthews back and gives JPP control over the rookie.
JPP and Herzlich then work together to pile the left guard, left tackle, tight end, and fullback up on the outside, giving Steven Jackson nowhere to go while Cullen Jenkins comes from behind to make the tackle.
(Note: Contrary to the gif's caption, it is actually right guard John Asamoah who pulls)
Once again we're going to stop the run.
JPP is clearly highlighted in the yellow square. This play features an unbalanced line on the part of the Falcons, with backup tackle Ryan Schraeder lining up next to right tackle Gabe Carimi, and tight end Lavine Toilolo next to Schraeder.
This is a pretty classic power play, with the right guard pulling over to block Pierre-Paul, while the left tackle gets up to the second level to block the SAM linebacker, and the tight end pulls over to help open the hole.
It doesn't quite work out that way for the Falcons.
To start, JPP stands Asamoah up, rather than allowing himself to be blocked by the guard. Next, Herzlich actually does a nice job of shedding Jake Matthews up on the second level, then taking on Toilolo. Between the two of them, they once again set the edge and don't give the running back anywhere to run.
Finally, left with a free run in pursuit, Jacquian Williams tackles Antone Smith from behind for the loss
Now that we've stopped the run, we can get down to the business of rushing the passer.
This play starts out with JPP set up wide of the left tackle. Also, interestingly enough, Jenkins is lined up as the 1-technique, off the center's right shoulder, while prototypical 1-tech Johnathan Hankins is lined up as the 3-technique.
Matthews initially does a nice job of meeting JPP's rush with a wide base, short, choppy steps, and active hands. However he simply isn't prepared to meet Pierre-Paul's power on the second effort. JPP does a great job of getting low, getting his hands inside of Matthews' shoulders, and bulling him back.
The pass is too quick for either JPP, Hankins, or Kiwanuka to get home on the rush, but JPP does what we've seen him do so often -- and Tom Brady still has nightmares about -- and gets his hands up to bat down the pass.
Okay, you remember up above where I credited JPP with a sack? Well, this is where I disagree with the NFL box score. On the field they ruled this play an incomplete pass. However, you can see that Matt Ryan threw that pass from his knees after JPP hit him. To my understanding, that should make him down by contact, and give the sack to JPP.
While JPP normally uses a power move, Michael Strahan has said that every good pass rusher needs a secondary move, just like every good pitcher needs an "Out Pitch".
In this case, JPP starts off with his usual bull rush after a great burst off the snap. He gets his hands on Matthews first. However, rather than locking in and continuing with the bull rush, he quickly transitions to an outside speed move and blows right by the rookie tackle. As he goes by Ryan he reaches out with one long arm and gets enough of Ryan to knock him off balance.
On the other side of the line, DaMontre Moore is doing a number on right tackle Gabe Carimi. Had Ryan managed to stay on his feet -- and not thrown the ball away -- there is a good chance that Moore could have collected the sack.
This really was one of the JPP's best defensive performances, and one of the best defensive performances of the year by any player. When he wasn't directly making the plays, JPP was still having a huge impact on the game, and setting other players up to make plays.
But what makes this performance even more impressive was the mental leap that JPP has taken:
"One time [Pierre-Paul] called something and I was a little hesitant, but decided, OK, let's run it," Ayers said. "He took the tackle down and I came around and got a hit on the QB. The next time he called something else, he got a hit on the QB. It's just about us working together."
- Via New York Post
The Giants should be very encouraged. Not only by JPP's progress physically, but also by his progress mentally. For a kid who came into the league with all of one season of major college football under his belt, his understanding of the game has improved by leaps and bounds. Perhaps this is the work he's done with Michael Strahan showing.
As he promised in the the pre-game huddle, JPP certainly stomped 'em out.