The Giants offensive line has struggled quite some time now, dating back to Week 9 of last season. No coincidence that the week prior was the last we have seen of a dominant Chris Snee (he is still battling the hip labrum injury, one that seems destined to end his career). We have pointed to this on several occasions as the driving factor behind why the unit has struggled as a whole (and as individuals) since that time. The Giants lost an all-pro caliber player (PFF graded him out as such in 2012 from weeks 1-8) on the line and the effects were evident immediately. We all know how badly the unit bottomed out earlier this season. Although the group seems to have righted the ship in the last few weeks (settling in comfortably somewhere between below average and average), the loss of Snee seems to really have exposed some of the other players on the line.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants pass rush seems to be in a similar situation. Simply put, the pass rush has been non-existent for most of the season. Very similar to the o-line, the group seems to have hit rock bottom earlier this season. There are certainly other factors at play but it boils down to something as simple as this—a unit that expected to have a top tier, 24-year old defensive end has been void of him through the first half of the season. This is not a crusade against JPP, as we must be mindful that he is just 7 regular season games into a post back surgery recovery. At the same time, he has yet to produce in a manner that we've seen in the past.
Most will look at JPP's stat line in Week 7 and immediately point out that it is void of a sack. While this is true, Pierre-Paul filled the stat sheet with an impressive total of 4 QB hurries, 2 QB hits and 1 pass deflection. The effort resulted in his highest overall game grade (2.8) and pass rush grade (2.0) of the season. It seems like an eternity since we were last able to say that JPP was "all over the place."
The re-energized effort was not lost amongst NFL scribes either. Throughout the game many praised JPP about a renewed burst and speculated as to whether the DE was "back" amongst the NFL's elite. At the very least, it's great to see number 90 play with the burst and intensity that we all saw back in 2011.
Pierre-Paul is definitely moving better tonight than he has this season. Might be snapping out of it here.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 22, 2013
It was not only a renewed burst from JPP but also the ability to create separation with his opponent, something I have been critical of early in the season. We saw multiple occasions in which Pierre-Paul played with excellent leverage (screen grab below) to manhandle his opponent. That opponent was LT Matt Kalil. Kalil hasn't been as successful as his 2012 rookie season (he was a top 10 pass blocker at his position with a 15.8 grade) but he is a formidable opponent. The first screen grab is a great example of JPP playing with leverage to take advantage of his rare athletic ability. The second (a two-part photo) looks at a great swim move on Kalil, something that I have been critical of JPP for lacking. The last (also two-parts) shows Pierre Paul using his athleticism on a DL stunt to run untouched towards Freeman.
Although one game would be far too premature to label a player "back," the returns from JPP in week 7 were immensely promising to say the least. This much had to be evident in the film and meeting rooms during the evaluation of the game.
With the rest of the defense playing fairly well (the Giants currently rank 16th in overall defense on PFF) one has to wonder just how effective they can be with a dominant JPP (and in turn, likely an overall dominant pass rush) in the second half of the season. While it still will take something just short of a miracle to get back in the playoff hunt, it would be a great relief to the Giants to see the familiar sight of an uncomfortable opposing quarterback.
As I touched on last week, seeing a return to form from JPP (and we may be headed for that) would be one of those small victories to take away from what appears to be a lost season.
Once again thanks to the guys at PFF for letting us use some of their great "premium stats'" content in our analysis.