The Giants enter Wednesday night’s opener with an advantage not many teams in the history of the NFL have ever had — a bonafide front-four pass rush that can single-handedly control a game.
Led by customary Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and rising star Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ pass rush even has a snazzy nickname to match immortal greats like the “Fearsome Foursome,” the “Purple People Eaters” and the “Steel Curtain.” New York’s “NASCAR” pass-rush lineup is unquestionably the best in the league today and with two Super Bowl titles in their possession, the Tuck and Umenyiora regime is well within reach of that same all-time elite status.
“They’re a formidable group,” said defensive line coach Robert Nunn. “They’ve all come in a good frame of mind, they all work very hard, and I’m very pleased with where they are right now. … [But] there are a lot of areas we’ve talked about in the offseason. I’ve got all of the good plays on cutups [game film], and the bad ones, too. If we can clean up some of the things we need to focus on, I think we can make even bigger improvements.”
Improvement should be a scary thought for opposing teams, as the “NASCAR” squad is the standard bearer of front-four pass rushing units. And despite having an elite quarterback to key the offense in what is now a pass-happy league, they’re proud to admit they think Big Blue’s success hinges on their ability to control a game.
“We definitely shoot for getting off to fast starts, especially with our D-line,” said Tuck. “Everyone knows that when we play well, this team, this defense plays well. A lot of pressure is on us, but we like it that way. Hopefully we can set the tone early.”
Now that Pierre-Paul is coming off an All-Pro season in which he tallied 16.5 sacks, he knows attention from opponents will intensify. He doesn’t mind though.
“I’m not worried about that,” said Pierre-Paul.“Probably when they scout you, they say, ‘He’s an All-Pro,’ but so are Tuck and Osi.They’re All-Pros too, so who cares?”
Pierre-Paul added that opponents should be worried about the proverbial chip on the champs’ shoulders because many say their run was a fluke.
“We love it, we love it,” Pierre-Paul said of the naysayers, adding the unit has even more swagger because they’re everyone’s target. “That’s just a sign of respect that teams give us.It’s just a great thing, a great feeling. We just have to get after it.Me, Tuck, Osi, [defensive tackle] Linval [Joseph], [defensive tackle] Rocky [Bernard], and all those guys up-front, we just need to go out there and play hard.”
Playing hard is never a problem for Tuck, but even he acknowledged that last season was tougher on him than most. His down year was attributed to a myriad of injuries, as he only tallied five sacks (down from 11.5 the previous season) and only played in 12 games.
This season will be different, insists Tuck, because he’s fully recovered and itching to do better in this season’s title defense than the last time they were the defending champs. During that 2008 season the Giants started 11-1 before finishing 12-4 and then losing in the divisional round to the hated Eagles.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said he already notices a difference in his captain.
“It’s night and day compared to what he went through a year ago. He looks quicker,” said Fewell, then relishing the overall speed of his NASCAR line. “It’s hard to find out who’s the quickest and who’s the fastest. Some days I look and say, ‘JPP (Pierre-Paul) looks great today.’ But then Osi comes flying off the end and I’m saying, ‘Wow, that’s pretty fast.’ Then Tuck makes a move and I’m scratching my head. … But, yes, Tuck looks much quicker and much faster and better than he did last year.”
Defensive tackle Chris Canty, who’ll have a great look at his brethren during his stay on the physically unable to perform list, joked that when the defensive line is rolling, it “looks like the varsity playing against the JV.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.