EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Robert Ayers knows exactly what the Giants defense must do this week to generate a pass rush against the Atlanta Falcons.
"When the ball hikes, go as fast as you can, do moves, and get to the quarterback," Ayers, the Giants' defensive end, said today.
Sounds simple enough. But based on the results in their 27-26 opening night loss to Dallas, the Giants need to do more. They did not register a sack of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and according to the official stats, hit him just once (by linebacker Devon Kennard).
"We've got to get to the quarterback more, no question about that," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "How do you do it? We'll try to figure it out."
Spagnuolo credited the Cowboys with keeping Romo upright.
"I thought their O-Line did really well," Spagnuolo said. "He (Romo) does a really good job. If you go back and look at the pressures we did bring, his hard count got us in trouble. We gave some things away early, he put the protection where it should be. And look, there's a lot of other bullets we could have went into the game with, but you've got to make the decision. When you're sitting here right before the game, 'Do I put too much in and paralyze them a little bit with all the thinking or can we win with what we've got?' Well, our guys played well enough to win. But there were other things we can have to offset what Tony was doing. But he's good, he's a good football player."
So is the quarterback the Giants will play this week, Matt Ryan. Atlanta surrendered just one sack in their 26-24 victory over Philadelphia. Ryan completed 23 of 34 passes for 298 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. When the Falcons visited MetLife Stadium last Oct. 5, Ryan threw 45 passes and for 316 yards, and was sacked only once. But the Giants won, 30-20.
Ryan is considered a more stationary target than Romo, who is uncanny in his ability to extend plays with his feet. But the Giants can't assume Ryan will stand still and wait for them to arrive.
"He'll stay in the pocket more, it looks like, but at the same time, when he wants to he can be elusive," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "He can move. We've already watched film on that and talked about that. He's a deceptively good athlete. You may sleep on him and things just because he stands in the pocket as much as he does. He's not mobile, but he actually is a little bit."
No matter what of quarterback the Giants face, coach Tom Coughlin said both schematic elements and individual battles are keys to improving the pass rush.
"It's always one-on-one, it's always that if you rush four," Coughlin said. "But there's schematics that can be involved, and the development of who in the schematics can get home. That's also a part of it."
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If the Giants aren't getting to the quarterback with four pass rushers, Coughlin said they must weigh the risk-reward of sending more.
"It could be five, and you still have somebody in center field," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a zero-coverage blitz. It can be with five, but which five? And if you maneuver that around a little bit, of course, that's to your advantage. If you have a linebacker who can also rush that has enough speed to get home, you can do some things with that."
Of course, the Giants' defensive linemen take great pride in their pass rush skills, and believe they can get to the quarterback no their own. And they will not use the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul as an excuse. JPP led the team with 12.5 sacks last season, but has not been cleared to return to the field after his July 4 fireworks accident.
"We should feel like we don't need any more help," said Jenkins, who started last week at left end. "We need to get it done up front with just the four of us. That's our goal and that's our expectation going into this week. We studied, worked on the little things we had to work on, and we're anxious to get a chance to redeem ourselves."
The defensive front believes they know exactly how to do that.
"Execute our game plan, be on the same page," Ayers said. "It's as simple as that, that's what we've got to do. We have to be in situations where we can have opportunities to do that. That starts with winning first and second down, to where we can get them in third and long. If teams are in third and two - Dallas was one of the best teams last year at being in third-and-short, third-and-four, third-and-three, because then they can get the ball out quick. Not many true dropback situations.
"With that being said, I have full confidence in my guys, my unit, my D-Line, my defense, and being able to get to the quarterback. We got some (pressure), and there was nothing to show for it. (On) one play, me and Damontre (Moore) forced a guy out and forced an interception. That looks like we can't get pressure on the quarterback. All you see is the interception, but that's pressure. Just because there isn't any sacks doesn't mean there isn't any pressure. Sometimes pressure is more important than sacks. I've got a lot of confidence in my guys. I've got a lot of confidence in (defensive line) coach (Robert) Nunn and this unit that we have to be able to do those things. But we've just got to execute the game plan, and be on the same page. When we do that, I feel like we can get pressure on anyone."
Sunday, they'll get another chance to prove it.