Jason Pierre-Paul is back. I didn’t think I’d ever say it, but it looks like Jason Pierre Paul will play for the Giants this year. How about that?
It’s exciting news. The Giants are getting their most talented defensive player back, a team leader, and a difference maker. There are of course some major question marks surrounding Pierre-Paul’s return. How effective will he be is the big one. Can he play defensive end with his hand injury? What kind of condition will he be in? And are the Giants going to limit his snaps?
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But what concerns me may not have very much to do with Pierre-Paul at all really. Let’s assume he’s effective and he is the Pierre-Paul of old (Maybe that’s a generous assumption). But say he gives them six sacks over the final six weeks of the season and generates consistent pressure. My question is: will his return be enough to take the Giants to the next level?
It’s not to say the Giants are doomed, but what I am saying is the return of one player isn’t going to take the Giants from second-to-last in the NFL and turn them into a top-five unit.
The defense has played better than expected—that’s certainly true. And I think there’s an argument there that their defensive line specifically has outperformed what was expected of them. But from a pass-rush standpoint, they’re right where some fans feared they would be: close to the bottom of the league in the sack category.
Robert Ayers, Cullen Jenkins, and Kerry Wynn are all good run-defending ends, and the Giants’ stout run-defense only supports that notion. But outside of Ayers sometimes getting there—and he’s been injured most of this season—they do not get to the quarterback. And Johnathan Hankins, who broke out in a seven-sack campaign last season, is still looking for sack number one in 2015.
I’d say Damontre Moore is their best bet to getting sacks to this point, but he’s been making rookie mistakes and is already in his third year, so fans can only hope at this point that he’ll occasionally be on the field, let alone lead the team in sacks.
They need something more. Could it be more pressure coming from the linebacker position? Possibly. With Devon Kennard healthy, they are getting a player who’s shown he could rush the quarterback back up to full speed. Maybe it’s more blitzes out of the secondary with Landon Collins or one of their other safeties?
Or maybe they need to trade for a pass rusher? Carolina did so with Jared Allen, and they’re eighth in the NFL in sacks. Although Allen has just one sack this season, defenses need to account for him, and it opens up holes for other players. The Giants need more than just Pierre-Paul in their lineup—they need another defensive threat in there that offenses need to account for throughout the game.
Jason Pierre-Paul will make a difference, even if his hand and conditioning aren’t fully 100%. But what the Giants’ pass rush brings is not nearly effective enough at this point for Pierre-Paul to really be considered a game-changer.
If the Giants want to take a step to the next level, they have some work to do with their pass rush that extends beyond Jason Pierre-Paul’s return.