The worst-kept secret around the New York Giants has finally been revealed. After a week of speculation, the Giants finally announced on Saturday that Jason Pierre-Paul has been activated and will make his 2015 season debut Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Giants have placed middle linebacker Jon Beason on season-ending injured reserve to make room for Pierre-Paul on the 53-man roster.
So, now that we know Pierre-Paul is playing the question becomes what can we expect from him? We turned to people like former Giants star and current broadcast Carl Banks, former NFL defensive lineman and current SB Nation columnist Stephen White, and former NFL scout and current Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman for input on that question. With their help, let's try to answer that question.
How much will Pierre-Paul play?
Head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo have been vague all week about how Pierre-Paul would be used.
"Every player wants to play all the time but sometimes you have to protect players from themselves because it's hard to go from not playing very much football at all and playing a high volume of numbers," Spagnuolo said earlier in the week. "So we'll try to be smart with it."
Best guess is that the Giants use Pierre-Paul somewhat like they have used Damontre Moore this season -- perhaps even in place of Moore. That would likely mean somewhere in the vicinity of 15-20 snaps almost exclusively in pass rush situations.
What do the Giants hope to get?
"I expect a lot of energy and effort. I expect him to have a positive impact," said Giants broadcaster Carl Banks.
Obviously, Pierre-Paul is a two-time Pro Bowl player with a pair of double-digit sack seasons to his credit. The Giants, with only nine sacks, are the worst pass rushing team in the league. They hope to get energy, perhaps an emotional boost, and maybe a couple of plays from Pierre-Paul. Is it possible that even with a damaged hand and barely more than a week of practice Pierre-Paul will be the best defensive lineman the Giants put on the field Sunday? Perhaps.
Spagnuolo was asked if Pierre-Paul could be the "savior" of his struggling defense. He wouldn't go there.
"I wouldn't put that on a guy," Spagnuolo said. "We're hopeful. We're not going to know. He's a good football player and hopefully he can go out there and give us some needed pass rush. But I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on him. When I say that, I'm not going to publicly put that kind of pressure on him. I think he's going to put it on himself, he's a prideful guy."
How will Pierre-Paul be different?
This, of course, is the critical question.Here's what we know. Following his July 4 fireworks accident Pierre-Paul had his right index finger amputated. He also lost part of his right thumb, and suffered thumb fractures that have since healed. We know that he will have to wear a glove or club on that damaged right hand, though as of now we don't know which. We know that he weighs 268 pounds, down 10 pounds or so from his playing weight of previous years, and that he hopes to rely more on speed than power. We know that at this point he has not lined up with his right hand in the ground, and that going with only his left hand in the ground will require stance and technique changes. We know that while he says "I know for a fact that I'm still the same JPP," he really isn't. He has adjustments to make.
"This is pretty much uncharted waters for everybody," said White. Hatman said Pierre-Paul will have "a large adjustment" to make.
To begin with, Pierre-Paul will get into a three-point stance with his left hand on the ground no matter which side he lines up on. Throughout his career, Pierre-Paul has used a right-handed stance when coming from the right side. As it turns out, both White and Hatman indicated that left hand on the ground from the right defensive end is actually the technique that is taught in most places.
"Actually you want to put your inside hand down to the football, so for RDE it can help to put your left hand down. Using your right hand at RDE can make it harder to defend your outside shoulder, but it does angle your head better to the football for get off purposes," Hatman wrote via Twitter. "When coaching a younger player you try to teach them proper mechanics, but a guy like JPP will get more flexibility from coaches based on his ability to execute. I'd bet big money he liked that stance/hand combo because he saw the ball better."
White indicated that from a young age he was taught to use a left-handed stance from the right side, not learning to use his right hand until he was drafted by the Buccaneers.
"I would say that having his left hand down on the right side actually wouldn't be the worst thing in the world because when teams try to run the ball away from JPP having his inside leg be the one taking the first step should allow him to get down the line a step quicker. It can also help keep a pass rusher from taking too wide a route to the quarterback which happens a lot when you step first with your outside foot," White wrote. "So I don't think him having to put his left hand in the dirt on both sides will hurt him much if at all."
Strength vs. speed
Pierre-Paul has never been an Osi Umenyiora-like speed rusher. He has been more of a power rusher, a player who manhandles offensive tackles with brute strength and then uses his athleticism to track down quarterbacks. That strength, combined with a relentless attitude, is also a big part of what always made Pierre-Paul one of the league's best run-defending 4-3 defensive ends.
At a lighter 268 pounds, without as much strength in that right hand and possibly wearing a club how will that change his approach? Can a player in his sixth season, a point where most players are slowing down, actually transition to become a speed rusher? That, apparently, is Pierre-Paul's plan. White isn't sure that is going to work.
"The biggest question mark I have now with JPP after seeing pics of his hand is how strong is his grip now? See JPP for all of his crazy athleticism and length is actually a guy who relies a lot on his power, especially with his pass rush," White said. "It's not that he is bull rushing all the time, but rather he comes off, gets his hands on the guy to control him, then after he knocks him a step or two back JPP decides whether to escape off the block inside, outside, or try to knock the pass down. To utilize those kinds of moves, however, he is going to need to be able to use that hand to grab the opposing blocker by his shoulder pads and then also use that hand to snatch and turn him one way or the other.
"I have a hard time, after seeing those pictures, believing his grip will be anywhere close to normal. That's why I'm skeptical he will be all that effective early on because it will take awhile for him to adjust to not being able to do things he has been able to do on a football field for the last decade or so."
Pierre-Paul has, of course, been cleared to play. Obviously, though, his hand is not the same. White wonders how Pierre-Paul will handle the many things that can happen to a defensive lineman during a game." what happens if he goes put there and gets his hand hit on a helmet or stepped on or anything of that nature that happens dozens of times a game to defensive linemen. I just worry about how that will affect him the rest of the game if it happens. And also I worry that his hand is now more subject to injury as it is," White said.
"Who knows, may they give him a club type cast to wear for games which would solve my worries about him hurting that hand again during the game, but would increase my worries about how effective he could possibly be. Hard to rush off the edge with a club these days."
What the experts expect
This goes back to White's "uncharted waters" comment. Coughlin said Friday that he has "been pleased with what I've seen this week." Spagnuolo said Pierre-Paul has been "off the ball pretty good" during practices. What happens in real game action, when Pierre-Paul has to use that hand to battle offensive linemen, to try to make tackles, to bat down passes, is anybody's guess.
"The closest I can come to predicting anything is I think we will still see the athleticism and because he has fresh legs we should still see the explosiveness out of his stance," White said. "I just think if he makes any plays it will probably have to be from running around blocks rather than taking them on. He obviously is athletic enough to do that on occasion but if it ends up being his bread and butter the whole defense could suffer because running around blocks is usually a big hit or big miss proposal in my experience."
Hatman expects "limited impact" from JPP.
"All these little things are why I thought he would have limited impact this season unless they make a deep playoff run," he wrote via Twitter. "Next year can be back to normal since he will have time to adjust."
The Giants, though, are not worried about next year. Or even next week. They need Pierre-Paul to be a force. Now.
The Giants also signed cornerback Tramain Jacobs off their practice squad and waived defensive tackle Louis Nix.