It’s third and long.
The New York Giants stout defense needs to make just one more play to get the ball back for their offense.
At the edges are Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, drenched in sweat but determined.
The ball is snapped and while the Giants edge rushers fire off to the best of their ability, their first steps are relatively sluggish and they can’t get to the quarterback in time to stop the pass that keeps the drive alive.
That specific play never even happened Monday night, but it’s still something that’s occurred all too often lately. There has been a lot made of the fact that for all the talent on the Giants’ defensive line (generally through the lens of the money spent, as though it’s the observer’s money), and all the pressure they’ve generated, the Giants just haven’t been able to come up with sacks. They have only four, with Vernon and Pierre-Paul each having only one.
Part of it is the injuries that have ravaged the defensive secondary the last two weeks. Simply put, the talent drop-off from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple, and Darian Thompson to Leon Hall, Trevin Wade, and Andrew Adams is a steep one.
But a big part of that is the duo of Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are tired. They just HAVE to be.
Vernon has played the second most snaps in the league among defensive linemen at 268 snaps (94 percent). JPP tops the charts, playing 280 snaps, a whopping 98 percent of the defensive snaps. Put another way, the Giants’ defense has played 285 snaps all season, and JPP has missed one more snap than games played so far.
That’s just ridiculous.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
Vince Lombardi, a former Giants’ offensive coordinator who had a good enough run as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach to get the championship trophy named after him, said that.
I’m not suggesting that JPP and Vernon are scared to rush by the end of games. I’m suggesting that they are running out of gas at the most important moments. These guys are extraordinarily well-conditioned athletes, especially for their size and position, but even the best need breathers. Everson Griffen, the centerpiece of a fierce Vikings pass rush only played 54 snaps, or 82 percent of the Vikings’ defensive snaps against the Giants.
At the other end of the spectrum, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the 2015 third-round pick, has played 56 snaps, or just 19 percent of the defensive snaps this year. He played just 11 snaps against the Vikings, his lowest total of the season. Romeo Okwara, the impressive undrafted free agent has played 55 snaps. Okwara, like Odighizuwa, played only 11 snaps vs. Minnesota.
Johnathan Hankins has played 167 snaps so far, or 80 percent of the defensive snaps. Hankins can be a force when he is well rested, he has the size and power to be a true nose tackle, but uncommon quickness at his size to play the 3-technique. He did both for the Giants against Minnesota, playing the 3-technique in base sets while moving to the nose tackle in nickel sets.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would do well to remember that Hankins’ fall to the Giants in the second round of the draft was caused by over-use in his final season at Ohio State.
Defensive tackle Jay Bromley, the 2014 third-round pick, played just 16 snaps against Minnesota, and he too has 56 snaps on the season.
Would it be so hard to give JPP, OV, and Hankins a couple series off? To give Owa, Okwara, and Bromley the opportunity to show that they belong on the field while saving your best players for the biggest moments?
Spagnuolo has said that it is hard to take players like JPP, Vernon, and Hankins off the field. He’s said that they need to do a better job of working their depth players onto the field. He needs to be true to his words.
And it needs to happen fast.