By Ernie Palladino
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What Jason Pierre-Paul has done so far in his return from a blown-up appendage has been nothing short of remarkable. In two games, he has played more snaps and caused more disruption than only the most optimistic of optimists ever imagined possible.
But where he was in his two games before the bye and where he was after the firework splashed its rocket’s red glare all over his right hand July 4 is relative. Amazing, but still only relative.
So it’s time.
Time for the Giants’ pass-rushing star to look exactly like the player the Giants deemed valuable enough to hang a franchise tag on after last season.
Time for JPP to break out; reach the quarterback on time and drop him. Getting close, as he has against both Jameis Winston and Tom Brady, is no longer sufficient.
The Giants need him to start sacking people right now, as in Sunday, when they begin their final six-game stretch in Washington. The reason is obvious enough: division game, opportunity for the 5-5 Giants to put some distance between them and the 4-5 Redskins, inching one game closer to a nine-win plateau that will most assuredly win them the NFC East and end a three-year playoff drought.
In any other circumstances, the pressure for this singular defensive end to get sacks would not be urgent. Until two weeks ago, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins stood as benignly among NFC quarterbacks, neither star nor bum, fish nor fowl, milk nor water.
But then came the Saints and their utterly horrible defense, and Cousins exploded for four touchdown passes.
Coaches attached the “dangerous” superlative to his name immediately. And though his performance against the Panthers last week left much to be desired, the rule stands that if a quarterback can torch a defense once, he can do it again, especially if left undisturbed by a pesky pass rush.
The Giants haven’t had one of those all season. In fact, even after Robert Ayers, Jr., Craig Dahl, and Jasper Brinkley brought Brady down three times the game before the bye, the pass rush’s 12 sacks still ranked last in the league. And keep in mind that two of those sacks came from blitzes.
In fact, only eight of their sacks have come from the defensive front.
That is why Pierre-Paul has to advance from the relative to the real. He must not only provide the spark of old that had quarterbacks accounting for his every movement on the field, he has to do it by accumulating sacks.
To do that, he must get his first.
In his two games back, he has just two tackles despite playing 45 snaps in Tampa Bay, a debut originally thought to be capped at 20, and 62 against New England. He did have two hits on Winston on a key fourth-quarter series, and would have had a sack on Brady had it not been nullified by his own illegal use of hands flag.
He did cause some discomfort, but now he needs to do more.
The equipment people have taken care of the hand. He came back to practice in fantastic shape. He has shown flashes of his old capabilities.
Now, as every game becomes ever more important to his team’s playoff quest, the 10-fingered version of Jason Pierre-Paul must reappear. With Prince Amukamara returning from a pectoral strain to strengthen a vulnerable secondary, it will be up to JPP now to lead the frontal assault like he used to so coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can call up blitzes by choice, not by necessity.
If the time hasn’t come for that, with his team holding tenuously onto a playoff spot, then there isn’t a time.
There’s no time like the present for JPP.
Time for him to get it going — for real.
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