Giants Hope Stable of Pass Rushers Will Make Third Downs Miserable for Opponents

It’s well-documented that much of the success the New York Giants had in their 2007 Super Bowl Championship season was predicated upon rushing the passer. Conversely, the team’s failure to get to the quarterback as the 2008 season wore on is what ultimately led to their demise. Of course it’s arguable that the loss of Plaxico Burress had a greater impact than the lack of pass rush, but I’ll save that for another day.

The statistic most commonly referenced when measuring a team’s ability to rush the passer is total sacks. While I think that’s a reasonable method, I think there’s a more telling statistic, at least when it comes to the Gmen. Simply put, the 2008 New York Football Giants could not get off the field on 3rd down. In 2007, the New York Giants allowed opponents to gain a first down a mere 35 percent of the time, which ranked them 5th in the league. In contrast, opponents successfully made the line to gain 41 percent of the time in 2008, which was good for 21st in the league. Then, in their 2008 playoff game with the Eagles, the Giants allowed the Eagles to convert 50 percent of their third downs.

So, why did the Gmen struggle so mightily to get off the field on third down? Obviously, the loss of an elite pass rusher like Osi Umenyiora had a substantial impact on the team’s ability to rush the passer. Also, the lack of depth on the defensive line forced Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck to play more snaps, which wore them down as the season went on. Finally, key injuries to Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins absolutely decimated the interior of the Giants defensive line.

Taking all this into account, you have to admire GM Jerry Reese’s approach to the offseason. Reese went out and solidified the defensive line, by adding Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. Some would argue that the Giants now have too many starting-caliber players along their defensive line. There are concerns that there may not be enough snaps to go around. Nonetheless, Reese figures that allows the players to stay fresh, which should equate to a strong pass rush. For fans, that means that they get to see the opposing QB spend a lot of time on his back. Hopefully, for the Giants defense, the increased pass rush means getting off the field on third down, which means an increased number of possessions for the offense. That could prove critical to the success of a young offense that is trying to adjust to the loss of its biggest playmaker.

Other Notes

With Michael Boley down with a hip flexor, Gerris Wilkinson is taking snaps as the starting weakside LB during OTAs. This is interesting because Wilkinson has twice lost his starting role at the WIL due to injury, so he knows how important it is to cherish every opportunity. I fully expect him to battle hard with Boley all the way through training camp, although Boley will almost certainly win the job.


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5 Responses to “Giants Hope Stable of Pass Rushers Will Make Third Downs Miserable for Opponents”

  1. miles says:

    Oh man, you really threw salt on an old, open wound of mine. The one thing I truly remember from that Eagles game was the third down nightmare. How I shiver to think of it even now!

    The Giants D-line definitely had depth problems. But do you think their third performance was a sign of in-game fatigue? After all the offense had a LOT of trouble staying on the field, what with the Plaxico-maligned WR situation.

  2. The third down nightmare, as you so aptly describe it, was one of the most frustrating football plays I have ever witnessed. I believe you’re referring to the Eagles 3rd & 20 from their own 15 with 11:50 to play in the 3rd Quarter. McNabb avoided minimal pressure to complete a pass short left to Jason Avant. Nobody was within 10 yards of Avant, who gained 21 yards on the play.

    That single play was a microcosm of the Giants struggles on defense late in 2008, which was a big part of their collapse. I definitely think the offense’s failure to sustain drives contributed to this problem, but not to a great extent. Almost every one of the key defensive lineman was banged up or exhausted late in the season. Nagging injuries to both Justin Tuck and Fred Robbins really hurt their production. Kiwanuka played almost every down in 2008 after missing a good part of the 2007 season with a broken leg. The Giants think that the incredible depth they have on the defensive line will help them get off the field on third down, and I tend to agree.

    Also, I didn’t mention Osi Umenyiora in my post because I don’t consider him an addition. However, the presence of another pro bowl defensive end will obviously change the complexion of third down.

    • Ron Oakes says:

      A big stud line backer would also change the complexion of third down’s.

    • miles says:

      Hey Randy thanks for breaking it down for me! Though I begrudge you for making me relive that nightmare play >_<

      I think you’re dead on about the defense being a big part of the breakdown, especially in that Eagles loss. Though right now some guy is beating me over the head on Bleacher, about how the Giants D “got pressure” and had “equal time of possession,” that the defense actually got it done. All good points, but I know he’s not right!!!! Just curious, how might you respond to that?

      I echo your prediction that the Giants D could be epic next season. Reese understands that nothing helps a transitional offense better than a fearsome defense. Yeah!

  3. Agreed. The Giants are really high on Clint Sintim. Hopefully he recovers quickly from his pulled hamstring. Also, Boley has shown flashes of pass rushing ability. Personally, I daydream about the impact of adding a guy like Brandon Spikes to the middle of the defense. I know it’s highly unlikely to happen, but I can dream right?

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