First-round DE Jason Pierre-Paul was seen as a project for the Giants, a player who probably wouldn't hit his stride for a couple seasons because of how raw and unpolished he was coming out of South Florida with a mere seven Division I starts to his name at USF. And considering the Giants' DL depth to start the season, Pierre-Paul was no better than fourth at his position on the depth chart, which lessened the need to force him into the lineup as a rookie. But the Giants said they would have a role on defense for him this season, and they were not kidding.
Pierre-Paul has been a huge factor the past two games, with four sacks in that span, and he has started to show that potential much faster than almost anyone anticipated.
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It started with a challenge. Pierre-Paul had been relegated to limited snaps on defense and special teams, although he had started to make a tangible impact on the latter. Still, Pierre-Paul's DL mates started giving him a hard time for his limited production.
"We kind of gave him a hard time three weeks ago because he didn't have any sacks, and I was (telling) him, for you being the 15th pick, we have really gotten our investment out of you," DE Justin Tuck said. "And he's responded. Four sacks in two games and he's all over the place. Even when he's not sacking quarterbacks, he's in their face. He's deflecting passes, he picked up a fumble, the guy is really playing well.
"You can tell how much he's listened and how much he wants it. You can tell he wants it. He's there an hour before the game, going over the playbook with the coaches and making sure he has every bit of the game plan down, and it's benefiting for him."
Scouts were in awe of Pierre-Paul's natural gifts and proclaimed him one of the more talented specimens in the entire 2010 draft. But they wondered if he had the desire or the mental makeup to be able to process information quickly, diagnose and learn a complicated scheme. The past two weeks has shown he is on his way. In fact, the Giants have to be thrilled, really, that it has happened relatively quickly compared to what some expected the learning curve to be.
"He's coming along," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "You're seeing his athleticism, he's comfortable I think assignment-wise, he's getting out there, getting lined up and you're seeing the natural ability start to come through. He also had some tipped balls, some blocked balls, and I thought on the 'go' screen on the outside to (Redskins TE Chris) Cooley, it looked like (Pierre-Paul) could have caught the ball. His hands came up and the ball kind of went through his hands, but he's having fun playing. He's learning as he goes, and as I said, he's starting to really play well."
On the first sack Sunday, the Redskins had a 3rd-and-15 at their own 33, an obvious passing situation. The Giants had Tuck standing up as a linebacker and Pierre-Paul on his inside hip as a down rusher at left end. They ran a little "force" stunt with Tuck rushing outside and Pierre-Paul rushing inside, and the rookie steamed through almost unblocked once he whipped past the right guard to take down Donovan McNabb. On his four-yard sack of McNabb, on a 3rd-and-2 play, Pierre-Paul (now at right end) withstood the punch of fellow rookie, OT Trent Williams, dipped his shoulder and bent the edge, exactly the kind of speed move he displayed in his one college season, and took the QB down by the ankle.
Both plays showed Pierre-Paul's versatility (lining up in two spots) and his understanding of technique and leverage. He said he's allowing his athleticism to work to his advantage but also is feeling more comfortable within the system.
"I guess you can say all of that hard work is finally paying off," Pierre-Paul said. "Coaches tell me, 'Just go out there and make plays.' That is what I was able to do today. We wanted to get after McNabb today. And I think we did a really good job doing that."