Despite losing JPP due to injury, the Giants defense does not expect to take a step back:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Olivier Vernon has spent the season deflecting questions from the media that are about him. All that practice proved useful today when he spoke publicly for the first time since it was revealed that Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants' other starting defensive end, will miss the remainder of the regular season.
Vernon was prepared when asked, "How much added pressure does this put on you?"
"Really, it's just about adapting," he said. "Hopefully, we can get back sooner than we think. Just play ball. We can't control anything that's happening right now. All we can do is just adapt."
That answer, which Vernon characteristically did not personalize, elicited this follow-up: "To what degree does the pressure increase on you?" It also received the same kind of response.
"We just have to go out there and play," Vernon said. "There's going to be obstacles out there. You just have to go out and play. Do what you have to do. Hopefully, the other guys are going to come in and step up. Make the plays like they have to. I know they are. Nobody is really losing any type of confidence right now. We're just sticking to it. We have the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday and we're ready to play."
They'd better be. The Cowboys will enter Sunday's primetime game in MetLife Stadium with an 11-game winning streak, just one loss this season, and a three-game lead on the Giants in the NFC East. And the Giants will play their first game this season without Pierre-Paul, their two-time Pro Bowl end. JPP underwent surgery yesterday in Philadelphia to repair a core muscle injury.
"First of all, nobody is as crushed as I am and he is," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "I wish him well. I am glad that he is on the road to recovery. That is a tough thing to go through. I felt that he was doing one of those (gestures that he was on the rise) and certainly when you have a guy of his caliber on the rise, it makes our whole unit on the rise. But anytime this happens, everybody else has to step up their game, and if you can come together as a unit and everybody can get better as a unit, then you can survive. We will miss him. You can't replace him, but you just have to find other ways to make up for the production that he has given us."
The first way will be to turn to a trio of young ends in Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa and rookie Romeo Okwara. Wynn, a third-year pro who is expected to start, is the most experienced. As head coach Ben McAdoo said yesterday, it will be all hands on deck.
"Those will be the three guys that will find some time in there, inside and outside," Spagnuolo said. "That is where we are going to have to get it from. They have been hearing all the same things that everybody else has. They have been in the system now, all those guys, for a year and a half. It is time for those guys to step up. I think that they will face the challenge, we will see what we come up with, but we are going to let those guys go out there and roll."
"When it comes down to practice, the young guys, they're communicating," Vernon said. "They just have to step in and do what they have to do. One thing about them is that they have a lot of confidence. That's one of the big things I admire about them. When they get in the game, they do what they have to do. They do their job and make things happen."
The defense is not going to look radically different without Pierre-Paul, who is second on the team with 7.0 sacks.
"I don't know that we will change that much," Spagnuolo said. "We can't throw everything out, we are what we are, our system is what it is. We can tweak things a little bit, move some guys around, get some productivity out of other guys at other spots and go from there. Look, it is a team game, it is a unit. Great players make a unit a lot better. When you are missing one, you find ways to compensate for that by guys just – everybody's level of play going up and that is what the challenge is for us to do."
That includes Vernon, who is already playing at a high level. He has 2.0 sacks in each of the last two games, at least one in each of the previous five games, and a team-high 8.0 on the season. Like Pierre-Paul, he's also been a standout defender against the run.
If Vernon thinks he must do even more against Dallas this week, he's not letting on.
"Guys just have to step up," he said. "It's a big game. One of our rivals. Come Sunday, we're going to see what the young guys can do. We have a lot of confidence in them. They've been working their tails off since day one. We just have to wait and see come Sunday."
View the best photos from Thursday's practice, presented by Hospital for Special Surgery