The Giants are on a two-game winning streak -- the longest such stretch since the first month of the season.
And for the first time all season the defense has been a dominant entity. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has found his groove, which happens to coincidewith a contract year. But he's not alone, as ascending youngsters like defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive end Kerry Wynn have also held their own.
"I think we have some people that are playing very well," Coughlin said. "JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] is playing very well. Technically, early on, when he was doing some things that we could correct and help with and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush. We are also getting contributions from a lot of people right now, [like rookie linebacker] Devon Kennard [and] getting some help from [defensive end] Damontré [Moore]. We are getting help from Hankins and some other people that are contributing to that pressure and it definitely has helped in the coverage as well."
The last three games have featured 22 sacks by Big Blue's defense. Pierre-Paul has spearheaded the charge, as thetwo-time Pro Bowler has recorded six sacks. In the first 11 games, he totaled just 3 1/2 sacks and as a unit, theGiants had 19 sacks overall. But in their last three outings, they registered eight versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, and seven apiece against the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.
Their season total of 41 is seven more than they had in the entire 2013 season, and after being among the league dregs during the first three months, the Giants are now fourth in the NFL, behind only Buffalo (49), Philadelphia (47) and Baltimore (45).
"The area [of most improvement] is that we are back to pressuring the quarterback," Coughlin said. "We are doing a good job in the last three weeks of reducing points. That's been a real positive. We are getting turnovers and more importantly,we are keeping people out of the end zone."
One personnel switch out of necessity is the addition of Wynn into the rotation. Coughlin was complimentary of the way the young vet has adjusted to more playing time since Mathias Kiwanuka was lost for the year.
"He has taken full advantage of his opportunity to play," the coach said. "He has been solid in there [and] been a guy that has defended on the run, gotten some hits on the quarterback, [and] been very close in the sack area. He has handled [more responsibility] and gone on the field and played, and he wants more."
The Giants will need more from everyone on Sunday as they take on a sneaky Rams' offense that has had moments this season when they piled up points on opponents. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher, who is known for calling a few gadget plays, said his offense must first be sound in the fundamentals against a New York defense that is excelling at all the little things.
"I think the Giants are playing better as a team," Fisher said. "When you get a lead like they did against Washington, in particular, they are able to roll up and rush. I think their pressure is also a result of the matchups up front. Their ends are outstanding. They have been winning the matchups against tackles and they have played some young quarterbacks that are holding the football."
Should Rams' quarterback Shaun Hill get into a groove and play mistake-free football early on, the Giants will look towards their revamped front four to unsettle thecageyjourneyman.
Pierre-Paul and Hankins each had 2 1/2 sacks last week against an athletic Robert Griffin III. If they can corral the Washington signal caller, Hill should be on high alert.
Pierre-Paul currently has a team-high 9 1/2 sacks, which is the second-highest total of his career (he had 16.5 in 2011). Hankins, the second-year defensive tackle, is second on the team with seven, which is the most for a Giants' interior lineman since 2000.
And while Pierre-Paul tries to downplay the significance of his role as the elder statesman, he admits that his defensive line unit is the tone setter.
“I’ve got to do it. I came in young, but I’m that guy now. So I’ve got to make plays and execute well.It’s just a matter of showing up and being the leader for the D-line,” he said.“I’m just playing the game of football. I’m out there communicating with my teammates ... and my D-line, we’re getting the job done.”
Big Blue notes:
- Entering the Jacksonville game, the Giants' defense was allowing 396.5 yards a game. In the last three weeks, that average is down to 279.
- While it's not the fabled NASCAR unit of their championship days, Coughlin likes the pass-rush package that includes Wynn lining at the defensive tackle spot and Moore at the opposite end of Pierre-Paul on obvious passing downs: "He [Wynn] played a lot on first and second down on the outside, but then he can rushon third down. ... We then slide him inside on third down and he plays over the guard."
- Running back Rashad Jennings (ankle) and linebacker Jameel McClain (knee) were the only players listed on the team's pre-practice injury report.