Is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul going to revive a languid Giants’ pass rush in 2010? Giants GM Jerry Reese thinks so. Although the credo of the Giants’ organization is “you can never have enough pass rushers”, is adding quantity the answer?
After the Giants drafted Jason Pierre-Paul, head coach Tom Coughlin said, “It gives us tremendous flexibility in terms of the number of people that we have in our pass rush rotation.” Indeed, Coughlin’s statement has a kernel of truth. And let us say for argument sake, JPP becomes an effective pass rusher in this league. Will JPP’s ability to rush a passer immediatley improve this defense? I do not think this is the case. It will have nothing to do with JPP’s skills as a rusher but on the way opposing teams attack this defense. The template on finding weaknesses in this Giants defense was established last October. Remember, when the then undefeated Giants with the number one defense in the NFL, traveled to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Going into this game, the Giants defensive philosphy is putting pressure on a quarterback can mask deficiencies in other areas of their defense. Needless to say, Saints head coach Sean Payton devised a scheme which undressed the Giants defensive unit. Using Sean Payton’s offensive game plan, the Saints were using aikido on the Giants defense. In other words, the Saints used the Giants pass rush which is a strength to gain control of them. None of the Giants’ players thought this would happen. A bunch of them said afterward they believed they had prepared well for, and matched up well with, New Orleans (5-0). But the best preparation was done by Saints coach Sean Payton and his staff, who attacked the Giants’ safeties and linebackers in the passing game, max protected and ran draws to short-circuit their pass rush and wisely got the emotional Shockey involved early with a touchdown on their second drive. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin remarked, “I don’t know that we ever hit him. At this level, if you’re going to stop the pass, you’ve got to get pressure. You’ve got to force the quarterback not to throw it on his tempo.”
By neutralizing the Giants front four pass rushers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was able to exploit the back seven of the Giants defense. Payton’s game plan called for an up tempo offense ( using no huddle or getting to the line of scrimmage quickly), using short drops, Brees releasing the ball quickly, using play action pass to freeze the linebackers, having an extra tackle as a tight end eligible, and flooding the passing lanes with receivers. On last year’s Giants team, the weak links were the slow linebackers who cannot cover receivers in space as well as safeties who did not have ball skills. Nevertheless, Fox Sports analyst Moose Johnston validates Payton’s superb game planning against the Giants. “What I love about those types of coaches is once they find a weakness or a matchup they can exploit, they’re going to go after it until you prove you can stop it. Then once you stop it, they’ll have a counter-punch, ” said Johnston, who is working as the analyst on today’s Fox broadcast. “One game where I really saw that was the New York game (when the Saints gained 493 yards in a 48-27 rout in Week 6, repeatedly attacking safety C.C. Brown in particular). I liked what he did from a design standpoint to create windows in the Giants’ defense, and very subtle things he did with his offensive line. He knew what the defensive principles of the Giants were, and he used that against them. Some of those plays were fun to watch. “I just don’t know how you win in a situation like that. Because the Giants were doing what they were supposed to do, but it was what Sean Payton expected them to do.”
During free agency, Giants GM Jerry Reese signed two safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant to sure up the position. By having Rolle, Grant, and perhaps Kenny Phillips, the Giants defense in 2010 will not be susceptible to crossing patterns. And they will not let receivers go up and take the football away. With the safety position being satisfied, Reese did not address the linebacker position in free agency and waited until the fourth round to select a “rugged” Phillip Dillard which is unsettling. Last year, how many times did our linebackers look lost in coverage? Using a few examples from the Saints game, on the first play from scrimmage, Drew Brees released the ball quickly to a wide open Reggie Bush for seven yards. Bush was being guarded by Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn. On the Saints radio broadcast, color commenter Hokie Gajan quipped, “Brees quickly found a mismatch.” In addition, on Jeremy Shockey’s touchdown catch, the Saints used a play action pass. On this play, after faking a handoff, Brees recognized Shockey was being guarded by Giants linebacker Danny Clark. Without question, again, this is another mismatch. Brees hit Shockey for a touchdown. After the game was over, Clark was asked about this particular play. “I needed to get my hand in there to get the ball out,” said linebacker Danny Clark, who jammed Shockey but then fell behind him on an out route in the back of the end zone. “I kicked myself a couple of times for it.” Because of his dreadful play in 2009, the Giants kicked Clark off the team. Despite not having Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark on the current roster, the Giants did not upgrade the linebacker position in the Draft. Clearly, this was a surprise. Did other teams use the draft to upgrade their linebacker positions? Well, two teams come to mind-Arizona and Atlanta. Interestingly, both teams drafted linebackers in the second round. Atlanta drafted Sean Weatherspoon. “We really felt that a cover-type linebacker, who has speed and flies around the football, was in our best interest,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.. Additionally, the Arizona Cardinals chose Daryl Washington. “We were struck by how intelligent the kid was and we feel like he had an excellent year,” Graves said. “Our guys felt like he was the most athletic linebacker in this year’s draft. He was high on our board and we are just elated to have an opportunity to use that selection and pick up Daryl Washington.”
Coincidentally, both Atlanta and Arizona were exploited by the Saints. Because in today’s NFL, speed at the linebacker position is so important. If a team has speed at the linebacker position, it offsets mismatches. Thus, a speedy linebacker can cover a back or tight end, run sideline to sideline to chase a ball carrier, blitz and get to an opposing quarterback. Despite having the pass rushing prowess of Jason Pierre-Paul, this may not be enough to compensate for the Giants lack of speed at the linebacker position. In 2010, the linebacker position potentially could be the Giants Achilles’ heel.
Speaking of the linebacker position, enjoy this video about the Giants’ linebacking corps of the 1980’s.