If anyone has doubted what the New York Giants were missing while Jason Pierre-Paul recovered from the injuries suffered from his 4th of July fireworks accident, then weeks eight and nine demonstrated the loss -- or gain -- perfectly.
Against the New Orleans Saints, the GIants' pass rush was basically nonexistent. On 50 pass attempts they only pressured Brees 10 times, a pathetic 20 percent. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants pressured Jameis Winston on 19 of his 36 drop backs. That's 53 percent of his attempts.
Granted, these are two different teams with vastly different schemes and quarterbacks. However, when the league's worst pass rush suddenly generates pressure on half of an opponent's passing attempts, something has changed.
That "something" is the return of JPP. So of course I had to take a look at him this week. There were a number of ways I could go about this, but I wanted to see what difference, if any, there was from JPP between 2014 and last Sunday.
JPP vs. Atlanta
I am going to present these without commentary -- except, you know, what's on the gifs themselves. They're from the Friday Film Room after Pierre-Paul's monster performance against the Atlanta Falcons last year. To refresh your memory, that game earned him a +9.1 grade from Pro Football Focus.
JPP vs. Tampa Bay
When a reporter asked JPP at what point he started to feel like himself, he responded "The fourth quarter." So we are going to take a look at that In particular, the Giants' final defensive stand. At this point the defense was protecting a narrow 23-18 lead. This was the point at which the New York defense finally asserted itself.
One of the goals of any defense is to get pressure with four rushers. It's something the Giants have largely failed to do over the previous eight games, but they get it done here.
The Giants are lined up in a basic 4-3 front, with JPP and Damontre Moore as the ends, Robert Ayers and Cullen Jenkins as the defensive tackles.
For JPP, this is remarkably similar to his "non-sack" against the Falcons in 2014. He gets a great jump off the snap, beating the left tackle almost immediately. But rather than starting with a power move before transitioning to speed, JPP goes with speed all the way, using a rip move to get leverage on the tackle, then accelerating around the edge.
This is one of those plays where pressure is production. While JPP can't get to Winston before he gets the pass off, he forces Winston to move off of his spot, changing the angle of his release and pushing the ball out of bounds. Getting the QB on the ground is a nice added bonus, and while this isn't a sack it is definitely a positive play for the defense.
Now we get to see Spags get creative with the defense.
Once again the Giants are lined up with Ayers and Jenkins as defensive tackles, and JPP is the right defensive end. However unlike a "normal " 4-3, Moore is lined up outside of the right tackle as a stand-up rusher in a 2 point stance, but he is essentially the left defensive end. Ayers and Jenkins are both lined up as 3-techniques between their respective guards and tackles.
Attacking the middle of the offense are Jon Casillias and Devon Kennard who are blitzing both A-gaps (with a little twist along the way).
Without knowing the exact play call it is impossible to say whether Moore is only faking a rush but is really dropping into a zone, or if he makes a heads up play to drop into coverage. But whichever it was, it was a good call. Moore keeps his eyes on Winston's eyes throughout the play, and backs off into coverage as soon as he starts looking for the crossing route. He stays with him and in front of the pass for the whole play, helping to force a high throw that ultimately falls incomplete.
The other part of the play comes from JPP. Once again he uses his first step and a pretty good rip move to get leverage on the offensive tackle, and get past him. Once again, the pressure gets to Winston and forces him to move more than he probably would have liked.
Finally we see how JPP's presence can affect an offense.
On this last play, the objective is for the defense to get a free runner on the corner blitz
The Giants line up with three down linemen, JPP, Jenkin, and Ayers, and heavy pressure from Craig Dahl, Kennard, and Casillas. Dahl and Jenkins drop off into zone coverage while Trevin Wade comes in on the blitz.
Because JPP had been beating the left tackle to the outside the previous plays, the running back stays in to help the rookie tackle. On the other side of the line, the confusion created by the blitz basically forces four linemen to block three rushers. So between JPP's presence on the left side and the zone blitz on the right, the Giants have forced the Bucs to use six blockers to account for four rushers, opening a hole for Wade to come through unblocked.
The quick pressure from Wade forces a bad pass from Winston. It might have been intended for the slant route, or possibly for the receiver going down the sideline, but ultimately it winds up almost being a Brandon Meriweather interception.
Is JPP the player he was in 2014? No, at least not yet. And he may never be again, except in flashes.
But that shouldn't take away from what we saw Sunday evening. Not only did he play roughly three times as many snaps as many projected he would, he accounted for roughly a third of the pressure the Giants generated. He is obviously rusty, having been without training camp, pre-season, and the first eight weeks of the NFL regular season. And he is also working to re-invent himself. In previous years he would use his rare combination of length and overwhelming power to beat left tackles. In his first game back, JPP seemed to focus much more on using his first step, length, and bend to get leverage to beat the tackle.
JPP's growth and reinvention will be fascinating to watch from here on out, but the Giants must certainly hope that the rust shakes off sooner rather than later.