EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Michael Strahan used to say that sacks come in bunches.
His former teammate with the Giants, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, is proof of that these days.
Umenyiora has seven sacks and six forced fumbles in a three-game span, all Giants victories, as New York (4-2) is in a tie atop the NFC East with Philadelphia.
“Unbelievable! Unbelievable!,” defensive tackle Chris Canty said. “I don’t know if this guy has a cape on or something. I don’t know, man. We’re trying to figure out ways as other defensive linemen to slow him down so we can get some sacks.”
What has made the two-time Pro Bowler’s performance so impressive is that it has happened after Umenyiora had a sub-par 2009 season, at least by his standards. He finished with a team-high seven sacks and 45 tackles, but he spent most of the season embroiled in a conflict with then-coordinator Bill Sheridan.
The problems started early. Umenyiora left the team facility one day because he was annoyed with Sheridan. He eventually lost his starting job to Mathias Kiwanuka. By the end of the season, No. 72 was barely on the field and he eventually wondered aloud whether he would be a Giant after the year.
The eight-year veteran straightened things out with coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese in the offseason, though, and has thrived under the defensive scheme employed by new coordinator, Perry Fewell.
“There’s been no difference,” Umenyiora said Sunday when asked to compare the seasons. “Life isn’t going to happen the way you want it all the time. So far, it’s been happening.”
Umenyiora is making things happen despite a nagging knee injury that has limited him to roughly two practices a week. He makes up for the missed time by working hard in the film room.
“Osi has played well and he’s made up his mind to play well,” Coughlin said. “What he brings to the table in terms of his ability, his conviction, his desire to be the very best that he can be, that’s where he is. He’s an excellent football player playing very well.”
Umenyiora is playing the run at lot better, and his speed rush has returned with a vengence. What’s more, his ability to knock the ball out of the hands of opposing quarterbacks with either a chop or a jab is bringing back memories of his best seasons.
“A sack is nothing but a tackle for loss,” Umenyiora said. “But if you can get the ball out, you can force some turnovers and put the offense in a good position. It’s just something I do.”
The Giants’ third touchdown Sunday was set up when Umenyiora made a quick move and knocked the ball out of the hand of Lions quarterback Drew Stanton.
“We always mess with him because even when he gets those sacks, he never tackles the quarterback,” Canty said. “He just knocks the ball out. He doesn’t want to get his uniform dirty, I guess, I don’t know what that is. But he does a tremendous job of creating turnovers for our football team and he sees the opportunities and he just makes plays.”
Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie called Umenyiora a technician.
“He has worked at it and been diligent and changed his style of play to keep people off kilter, and project different things for people to worry about,” McKenzie said. “That has served him very well the last couple of weeks.”
Defensive end Dave Tollefson said Umenyiora has not changed his style.
“He is playing hard, doing his moves and what not,” Tollefson said. “Sometimes you get sacks and sometimes you don’t. I mean I was back there a couple of times yesterday and it’s a matter or inches or a half second or less and he is getting those half seconds and finishing plays. He has a knack for finding the ball once he turns that corner. It’s really impressive.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.