‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to the Giants defense — and it’s easy to push it to the back burner if only to save an attack of agita these past weeks — their second-year defensive end is stacking up as the next big thing.
The rise of Jason Pierre-Paul into one of the league’s most feared pass rushers and all-around players stands as one of the few bright lights to a defense that gives up yards by the acre and fourth-quarter points like nobody’s business. And that could come into big play these final three games against Washington, the Jets and Dallas.
With Osi Umenyiora still on the mend and only iffy for Sunday’s game after sitting out Wednesday’s practice with his nagging ankle and knee injuries, JPP has more than adequately filled that gap. In fact, he’s taken it by the neck, shaken it around, and claimed that position his own through his actions.
What might have been a real headache for Tom Coughlin once Umenyiora comes back has turned into a no-brainer. Pierre-Paul obviously gives the Giants the best chance to win in that particular spot. Contrary to what some over-anxious, breathless commentators have intimated, JPP is certainly not as good as Lawrence Taylor yet. He’s got a lot of years and a lot of consistency of greatness to achieve that lofty goal.
But it is sufficient that his long reach, exhibited by his blocked last-second field goal against Dallas that preserved last week’s NFC East-controlling victory, and quick thinking honed in the classroom by one of the most inquisitive minds on the team, has turned him into a handful despite double teams and the league’s varied, top-flight left tackles.
Not only that, but Coughlin absolutely loves this week’s NFL Defensive Player of the Week.
“He sure brings energy,“ Coughlin said at his press conference Wednesday. “He brings positiveness. He brings solid, solid play. He brings an attitude. He loves the game.”
That’s big praise for a 6-foot-5, 278-pound kid who was really a basketball player until he hit the University of South Florida.
But the accolades aren’t confined to the Timex Performance Center. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has to worry about protecting his inconsistent quarterback Rex Grossman. So he’ll have to account for JPP.
“He’s really talented and you can see that when he first came into the league,” Shanahan said. “He’s a lot more comfortable with the defense and his responsibilities, and you can tell that just by watching his strengths grow. He just reacts so much quicker than he did as a young player. You can see the talent is coming on.”
Tony Romo and the Cowboys could tell you a lot about that from JPP’s career game last week, an eight-tackle, two-sack, one fumble affair that saw him create an opening-drive safety, chase Felix Jones downfield to minimize what could have been a meaty completion, and win the game with a blocked field goal.
That block, by the way, had tongues wagging that he should have won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award, too.
The 7-6 Giants have many defensive problems. The secondary leaks like a sieve as cornerbacks and safeties leave receivers wide open. The run defense is poor.
Justin Tuck’s nagging injuries have turned him into a non-factor. The linebackers are now anchored in the middle by Chase Blackburn, a gritty guy the Giants cut after last season, and manned on the weak side by Michael Boley, who is still getting over a hamstring strain.
The numbers aren’t encouraging. But Pierre-Paul’s performance gives hope to the entire unit.
As long as he’s on the field, Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell at least don’t have to worry about one position.
The other 10?
Maybe that’s a story for another day.
You down with JPP? Be heard in the comments below…