Giants Defensive Ends: A Year in Review

Of all the positions on the New York Giants this season, the defensive ends were among the more successful, less controversial and non injury prone. Of course, this was not the case heading into the season. There were quite a few question marks due to the infamous defensive collapse of the 2009 season. The Giants immediately responded by handing the coordinator reigns over to Perry Fewell. But everyone wondered about the players, especially Osi Umenyiora, who lost his starting role in 2009. Speculation was fueled when the Giants used their first round pick to draft DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the relatively inexperienced but crazy athletic rookie out of South Florida.

These questions were quickly answered as we saw this once proud group of players come together and play as efficiently as ever, quickly silencing all skeptics and establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. And although, like the rest of the team, they were unable to keep up the intensity through the end of the season, there are many positives from which to grow at the defensive end position.

Osi Umenyiora

While not the most impactful season of his career, Osi made an impressive comeback after his meltdown in 2009. He must have realized that any player is replaceable, regardless of past success. He really only had this season’s first few games to prove himself as a team player, and that his problems last year were the exception, not the rule. As a fan of Osi’s, I was happy to see this quick turnaround.

Most of the team played lousy during weeks two and three against the Colts and Titans respectively, so we will not judge him too harshly for only recording one tackle during that stretch. But Osi bounced back during week four against the Bears, where he had three tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. From here, Osi cemented his place as a starter and proved that Fewell knew what he was doing when he gave Osi a second chance.

On the season, I was most impressed with two things: his rushing defense and forced fumbles. Over the years Osi has tormented quarterbacks, but he has been criticized in the past for his ineffectiveness during the run, especially last season. His stats are nothing gaudy, but this is clearly something he is working to improve. If he hopes to be a complete back in the tradition of Michael Strahan and Lawrence Taylor, this is an area in which he needs to continue to grow.

Like the rest of the defense, the most impressive statistic lies in forced fumbles. I love that much of the game plan on defense has centered around stripping the ball, and had the offense not coughed it up so often, I truly believe the Giants would have made the playoffs. Osi had the most forced fumbles of all defensive ends with 10, and doubled his former career high set in 2007. In short, this was a good rebuilding year for Osi both physically and mentally, and now that his nagging hip problem is being solved, I look forward to great things from him next year.

Justin Tuck

It’s hard to say for sure who the leader of the defense was this year, but for my money I would bet on Justin Tuck. He had a great year statistically, the best of the defensive ends in nearly all categories. But he also had a strong presence in the locker room. This was best highlighted during the speech he delivered week 12 during halftime against the Jaguars. With Osi backing him up, Tuck owned up to his own poor performance and challenged himself and his teammates to step up and play the kind of game they all knew they were capable.

This was an important win for the Giants, and Tuck played a major role in giving the team a shot at the playoffs. The Giants had just dropped its last two games to division rivals and were being manhandled by a strong but less talented team. This turnaround sustained the Giants into the next two games, and three and a half quarters against the Eagles during week 15. Apparently the magic was lost at that point, and the Gmen lost both of the games that would have given them a playoff spot.

But there is an upside to this, and I can only hope that Tuck sees it. His words were effective, as was his performance because he was able to back up his words with action on the field. Eli Manning gave a similar speech to the team after the second loss to Philadelphia, and although I commend him for this and encourage him to keep reaching out to his team in this way, it clearly did not have the same effect as Tuck’s efforts. Every team needs leaders, and they clearly regard Tuck among this elite group. I hope to hear more about his presence in the locker room early and often next season, because I think it will make a big difference when the team takes the field.

For his part on the field, Tuck had his strongest season, and as a young guy I expect that the best is yet to come as long as he stays healthy. He beat Osi in most categories and was either close to or surpassed his career high in most areas.

  TK AST SCK STF FF FR PD
2010 48 28 12 7 6 5 4
Cur./Fmr. High 50 (2008) 17 (2007) 12 (2008) 8 (2007) 5 (2009) 1 (2009) 8 (2009)

These numbers show great progress because they are all at or near his career high. He did not just excel in one or two areas like he has in past seasons, rather his game has all come together to make him a force in all areas on the field. The stats on fumbles is especially exciting, especially his heads up play in recovering five loose balls. Expectations will be high heading into next season, and because of this the 2011 will likely be the year that we learn all we need to know about the career of Justin Tuck.

Dave Tollefson and Jason Pierre-Paul

When you have guys like Osi and Tuck starting ahead of you who are able to stay healthy all season, it’s tough to stand out from the crowd and make much of an impact. Couple this with the fact that you are battling for the number three spot with the first round draft pick, and your stats might look a lot like Dave Tollefson’s. With three tackles and four assists on the season, his impact was pretty minimal. He did, however, record a sack, forced his first fumble in his NFL career, and had a career high three deflected passes. I think the fair thing to say about Tollefson here is that he has not had the opportunity this season to prove himself as a viable back up should something happen to a starter.

The same can be said for Jason Pierre-Paul, though I mostly attribute this to the fact that he is a rookie. Certainly his numbers easily overshadow those of Tollefson’s:

  TK AST SCK STF FF FR PD
2010 16 5 5 2 2 2 6

The highlight of his season began during the game against the Jaguars. You never know which player is going to step up on any given Sunday, and Pierre-Paul had a great outing, recording five tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He followed up this performance the following week against the Redskins with three tackles and two sacks. Not a bad stretch for the rookie, and his athleticism was certainly highlighted during these plays.

But his athleticism is what needs to be considered here. Remember why the Giants made this somewhat controversial choice during the first round of the draft. Pierre-Paul is not the most experienced player, but he is the kind of versatile guy the Giants love. This year’s success on the offensive line highlights the importance of having players who can shift around on short notice and have success. It’s a good thing to have Pierre-Paul in the DE position, because as tough as Tuck and Osi are, they do get beat up every season and need someone who can fill the void. But injuries can happen in any area, so I like that they have one guy whose athletic abilities can help carry him and this team to victory.

Overall the defensive end position found a great deal of success, and I believe the best is yet to come. I can’t imagine there being much of a need to make changes in this area, considering there are other soft spots on the roster. I would like to see more games where these guys bring excitement and enthusiasm out of the gate, because they have had the most success during these moments. I hope the players recognize this need and incorporate it into their game plan, because when they are pumped up and healthy, they are virtually impenetrable.

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