By Ernie Palladino
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Look at the Giants’ two defensive-end positions and ponder this: What becomes of them next season?
It’s easy to say that Jason Pierre-Paul will return to one of them, even as he faces his second straight game on the sidelines. It’s not so easy to say that Justin Tuck, at the end of the five-year deal he signed in 2008, will be back, though the possibilities of his returning are good.
It’s realistic to say that Mathias Kiwanuka could move permanently back to one of them, but it’s also quite real that Kiwauka is getting up there in age.
Damontre Moore? He hasn’t quite worked out the way the Giants wanted.
So, bottom line here. The Giants’ defensive line, like much of the rest of that 5-7 squad, has grown old and injured in the blink of an eye, and there appears little help in sight. The small cavities that have shown themselves the last couple of seasons — Pierre-Paul’s growing ineffectiveness as a pass-rusher due to back and shoulder problems, Tuck’s inability until last week to flash the old, dominant sacker — have grown into major holes that may be too numerous to fill by draft replenishment or even free-agent pickups.
It’s not a pretty picture. But then again, neither has this season appeared a thing of beauty for Tom Coughlin’s team. From a defensive front that just three seasons ago marauded through opponents’ backfields, we have seen little of the old fire due to age and infirmity.
Take Tuck. He’s a warrior. Always has been. Flozell Adams nearly blows his shoulder apart on a dirty play a few years ago and he’s out there doing the best he can. His legs aren’t the same as they were five years ago, he’s out there plugging as hard as he can.
Unfortunately, all that plugging this year has produced only flashes of the old Tuck. One, to be exact. That came last week in Washington, when he sacked Robert Griffin III four times in seven plays. He jammed up the run like the old Tuck, too. But we had to wait 12 games for that glimpse of yesteryear, and one must rightfully wonder if he even has one more magical stretch like that in his 30-year-old body.
It’s always nice to see a player turn back the clock like that. Problem is, to have a consistent winner, a team needs players who can keep pace with the hands of time throughout a season. And Tuck, as fun as it has been to watch him through the years, may not be capable of that anymore. Sad but true.
Now go to Pierre-Paul. The shoulder bothers him now. It kept him out of the Washington game, and could eliminate him for San Diego this Sunday. But the shoulder will probably heal in time, be it this week, the next or the week after.
The real issue is his back. We are led to believe that JPP’s back surgery after last season fixed everything that held him to 6.5 sacks in 2012. It didn’t. Despite playing in 11 games this year, he has but two sacks. And one can’t blame that on his shoulder.
The thing with people like Pierre-Paul is that at 6-foot-5, 278 pounds, he’s a long, lanky fellow in the mold of former Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse. That 6-foot-4, 265-pound pass-rush demon came up with back problems late in his career, and he was never the same again.
Unfortunately for JPP, he had a back problem early. And he will never look the same as he did in his 16.5-sack 2011 season.
The long guys are like that. All leverage. And once that fulcrum cracks or compresses, they turn ordinary quickly. That is exactly what happened to Pierre-Paul.
Kiwanuka? He’s got four sacks in 12 games, 2 ½ in his last seven. But he only has six starts. Third-round pick Moore has but six tackles and no sacks.
Tuck could go at the end of the season. Even if he stays with the rest of them, the situation doesn’t promise much improvement on the defensive front.
Age and infirmity have tamed a once-ferocious pass rush, save for the occasional flash of brilliance like Sunday’s.
The task now is to put the teeth back into it. Whether Jerry Reese has the talent pool or salary-cap space to succeed is the question.
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