Jerry Reese and the New York Giants know how important an ingredient the defensive line is to a winning team. The Giants won Super Bowls behind the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul creating incredible pass rush on the defensive line, but in the years since that dominance has somewhat faded. This year the Giants are going back to their roots.
Jerry Reese addressed last year’s abysmal defense as he opened up the checkbook to four defensive players whose salaries total $203 million ($113 million guaranteed). These four players are defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. With Damon Harrison joining Jonathan Hankins in the interior of the line combined with Vernon and Pierre-Paul on the outside, there’s no reason to think that the Giants defensive line can’t be among the league’s top units, experts are starting to predict this may in fact be the case for the Giants.
The Giants made Olivier Vernon the highest paid defensive end in the NFL this offseason. In four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, the defensive end totaled 196 tackles (43 for loss), 74 quarterback hits, 29 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus puts Vernon in elite company, ranking him as the 3rd ranked edge rusher behind All-Pro Khalil Mack and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. He’s already showing great production; in the first preseason game against his former team, Vernon recorded three quarterback pressures in only two series.
Vernon may be the flashy pickup, but it’s Damon Harrison who might be the most important signing of the offseason. "Snacks" was a one-man wrecking ball with the New York Jets last year. Harrison won the Pro Football Focus inaugural Ted Washington Award, given to the best-run stopper in the league. The 350-pound Harrison put up outstanding run-stopping numbers, recording the highest PFF grade against the run among all interior defenders (97.3), made a defensive stop on 18.1 percent of all running plays (best ever recorded by PFF), led the league in defensive stops against the run (49), and only missed two tackles all year. Two tackles! Harrison will compliment Hankins nicely in the interior, as Hankins is more of a pass rusher than run stopper.
After a summer thankfully ignoring the temptations of July 4th and such, Jason Pierre-Paul is back to being the captain of the defensive line. Despite only playing 317 snaps, Pierre-Paul was ranked the 11th-best pass rusher by Pro Football Focus last season. Pierre-Paul is feeling good.
"I’m out there running and banging people, so I feel good. My hand feels like my left hand, just a missing couple fingers."
On paper, the Giants defensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the league. With two dominant edge players and the best run-stopping interior defender in the league, the Giants seem set. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas can already tell how special this unit can be saying
"You have two of the best defensive ends in the game and the best run-stopper in the game. It’s a dream to play behind these guys."
The game of course is not played on paper. This unit will have a tough task Week 1 as they face off against the league’s best offensive line in the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants have won with a dominant defensive line and now have invested largely in it again to hopefully produce the same result.