New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has turned in some dominating performances this year. He has largely dominated against the run game, combining with Johnathan Hankins to make running on the right side of the Giants' defensive line a dicey proposition at best.
For most of the year, however, his pass rush productivity has largely been limited to generating some pressure and batting down passes. That began to change two weeks ago against the Jaguars, and continued against the Titans. JPP has racked up 3.5 sacks in the last two games, and an impressive number of hits and hurries.
Granted, neither the Jaguars nor the Titans have impressive offensive lines at their best, and they were playing back-ups. And that certainly contributed to JPP's success.
There have also, however, been some key differences between the last two weeks, and the preceding weeks.
First, rather than playing across from Mathias Kiwanuka -- who has given his all to the franchise, but just isn't the player he used to be -- Pierre-Paul has been playing across from Robert Ayers and DaMontre Moore, and now Kerry Wynn. Ayers and Moore especially are much more productive and efficient pass rushers than Kiwanuka, which forces offenses to respect the rush from both sides, and preventing them from rolling protection to the quarterback's left.
Second, with the emergence of linebacker Devon Kennard, the Giants finally have a linebacker who can blitz effectively. That allows for yet another source of pressure for offenses to account for.
Finally, there is how the Giants have employed Pierre-Paul these last two weeks. Until recently, JPP has played most every down as the right defensive end, lined up across from the left tackle. In theory that puts the Giants' best end against the oppositions' best offensive lineman. In practice, however, it made the defense predictable. Most defenses move their premier players around. The object is to create and exploit match-ups. These last two weeks, Pierre-Paul has moved around the defensive front far more than before, maybe even in total. He has played on the right, on the left, inside, and even as a rush linebacker in three man fronts.
So, the question going in to the Giants game with the Redskins: How will Perry Fewell use JPP? Will he go back to leaving him on an island against Trent Williams? Will Moore's touchdown erasing mental gaffe affect his playing time, or will his good play garner him more snaps? And will the Giants continue to increase Kennard's role and play him aggressively?
While Trent Williams is capable of winning battles with JPP, the right side of Washington's line is a major weakness. By moving Pierre-Paul and Moore around, it would give the whole line more to account for.
Likewise, Moore, for all his lack of discipline, is a talented pass rusher. He can generate pressure and be disruptive. Both Pierre-Paul and Moore should be able to win against the right side of Washington's offensive line, and Moore is a different enough player from JPP that putting them both against Williams would force him out of a rhythm.
And finally the Giants simply need to keep building on Devon Kennard's own budding stardom. He is capable of bringing pressure from through every gap and from a variety of angles. That increases the effectiveness of the entire front seven.
With the season over from a playoffs perspective, there aren't really any "critical" match-ups. However, that doesn't mean there aren't match-ups to watch going forward, And one of those is how the Giants use JPP.If they continue to move him around and support him with the rest of the defense, and his pass rushing renaissance continues, that could be evidence that he still is the player he was in 2010, 2011, and 2012. If so, that could go a long way in determining whether or not coaching was the contributing factor in his play, and what his -- and Perry Fewell's -- future is with the Giants.