Giants' pass rush must maintain recent excellence

Posted Jan. 02, 2012 @ 4:54 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

If the Giants are going to beat the Falcons in the wild-card matchup on Sunday, the pass rush will have to remain a hot topic. Teams use the final four games of the regular season — the fourth quarter of the season, if you will — to gear up for the postseason, and if that is the case, the Giants' pass rush is trending in the right direction. Of the team's 48 sacks, 15 of them have come in those past four games, including six in the NFC East-clinching victory over the Cowboys. Of course, the Falcons also have been hot over that same period, as QB Matt Ryan has completed 65 percent of his passes and had a 10-0 TD-INT ratio.

The PFW Spin

One of the keys to getting the Giants back on track defensively the past few games has been the regeneration of the pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul has had a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season, but for a while he was doing it by himself. Justin Tuck battled through a litany of injuries this season, and Osi Umenyiora missed four games with a high ankle sprain.

But the return of Umenyiora (two sacks vs. Dallas) and the reemergence of Tuck, who was challenged by head coach Tom Coughlin prior to the Jets game in Week 16 to raise his level of play, have paid big dividends. Now the Giants can use more of their "NASCAR" package, which sends four defensive ends across the line, in obvious passing situations. With the versatility of Pierre-Paul (who has lined up outside and inside, as well as in a two-point stance) and Mathias Kiwanuka, who is playing some of his best ball since moving to linebacker, the Giants have great combination possibilities up front.

The X-factor could be Ryan and the Falcons and what they do offensively. Two big factors stand out: Because the Falcons run the ball so well and because of their ability to go fast-paced, the Giants cannot be undisciplined in their rushing. Michael Turner bounced back with a big game Sunday and appears primed for the cold-weather running that comes in January. And the offensive line, which lost some of its teeth earlier in the season, has played well of late. It has allowed Ryan to be sacked only four times in the past four contests.

Sacks are the ultimate goal, but pressure can be just as effective. Limiting the big downfield pass plays to Roddy White and Julio Jones has to be the goal, and that can be achieved more than with just good coverage. Forcing Ryan out of the pocket, where he's best, and speeding up his clock can achieve that goal. If Ryan and the Falcons speed up the tempo with a no-huddle attack and keep the Giants from substituting and mixing and matching personnel, it could tire out some of the defenders and limit their possibilities defensively when the Falcons throw.