By Curt Macysyn

There are at least two positives emanating from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center this week for the New York Giants. First, New York finds itself in sole possession of first place in the NFC east this week as they prepare to take on the New England Patriots. Second, Big Blue got an immediate injection of life with the return of former All Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul from his serious hand injury.

On the downside, the Giants lost another key performer when defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was placed on season ending injured reserve this week with a torn pectoral muscle. Finally, special teams are a big reason why the Giants are in first place two months into the 2015, so what did Josh Brown do that was so special?

Big Hank = Big Loss

The Giants do not have many stars on the defensive side of the football and when Jason Pierre-Paul returned to the fold on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the unit became immediately stronger. That strength was short lived as stalwart defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was lost for the season after tearing his pectoral muscle early in the game. According to Pro Football Focus, Hankins was in for only nine snaps against the Bucs and had already accumulated a (+2.4) game grade in that short time.

Hankins was a top ten graded defensive lineman last season, and was repeating similar production this year, so New York will have to rely upon Markus Kuhn (-8.5), Cullen Jenkins (-5.0) and Jay Bromley (+1.1) to pick up the slack. Montori Hughes was picked up off the practice squad this week to replace Hankins on the roster. Hughes was a 2013 fifth round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts and played in 16 games over the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Colts.

JPP is A-OK

Big Blue was understandably excited about the return of Jason Pierre-Paul last weekend. Often times, the hype surrounding a player return often outpaces his actual production; but in the case of JPP, the hype was completely in line with the on-field product. According to Pro Football Focus, Pierre-Paul was graded an overall (-0.4) against the Buccaneers, which at face value does not seem great. But a deeper dive indicates that JPP was given a (-0.8) penalty graded that decreased his overall grade.

Buried in JPP’s stat line were his four quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits in 46 snaps on defense. Although his snap count was likely more than the team anticipated, Pierre-Paul seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.

“He was on the field for some 46 snaps and proved that he’s a highly-conditioned athlete and was at his best probably when his best was needed at the end of the game. So I expect that he’ll rev it up and be ready to go for even more,” head coach Tom Coughlin said this week.

What Can Brown Do For You?

Giants’ kicker Josh Brown normally flies under the radar even though he plays in the Big Apple, but he continues to be one of the most important players on this year’s squad; as New York’s improved special teams play is one reason the team finds itself at the top of the NFC east division after nine games. After going four-for-four on field goal attempts in Tampa Bay on Sunday, Brown was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in a statement released by the team.

Brown has made all 19 field goals that he has attempted this season, and he currently has a streak of 23 consecutive field goals for the G-men dating back to last season. The 23 straight made field goals is a New York Giants’ team record, and it was the second this season that Brown booted four field goals in a game. In his third season with Big Blue, Brown started his career with the Seattle Seahawks in 2003, and he also has kicked for the St.Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals in his NFL tenure.

Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.

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