In the 2011 regular season, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora combined for 30.5 sacks and 49 quarterback hits. In the four-game postseason, those figures were 7.5 sacks and 16 hits.
But when the Giants opened their 2012 regular season last week vs. Dallas, those lines on the stat sheet were filled with zeroes. No sacks. No hits on Tony Romo. And probably not coincidentally, no victory for the Giants, who lost to the Cowboys, 24-17.
On Sunday, the Giants will finally return to action when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in MetLife Stadium. Given the lack of a statistical contribution from the three defensive ends, is it safe to assume defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been harping on those numbers this week in practice?
"I don't have to remind them," Fewell said. "That's the great thing about those guys. the pride they take in hits on the quarterback and sacks and doing what they do. When we put on the film, that's the reminder and, yes, I get after them from that standpoint, too. But they have a lot of pride in what they do and how they've made their living, so we expect them to perform much better."
So do the ends, who have been selected to a combined five Pro Bowls. That includes Pierre-Paul's selection last year, when his 16.5 sacks placed him fourth in the NFL and his 29 quarterback hits were 19 more than Tuck and Umenyiora, who tied for second.
"We all know we have to play better," Umenyiora said. "We know we're a better defense than when we went out there and played. We didn't execute. We're coached better than that and we're going to play better than that Sunday."
"We're motivated a lot," JPP said. "Everybody is running to the ball. Everybody is doing their job and ready to go out and play a football game this Sunday."
Fewell said the stats didn't accurately reflect Pierre-Paul's contributions.
"JPP played a very nice game," Fewell said. "It wasn't his best game, but JPP played hard. He got pressure. He flushed the quarterback several times. He was disruptive. It didn't show up in the stat sheet like you would expect it to, but he was disruptive."
In addition to sacks, Fewell said the coaches closely monitor legal hits on the quarterback.
"When we're humming and we're playing when we're doing what we're supposed to do, we average between nine and 10 of those hits in a football game," Fewell said.
So how many times did they hit Tony Romo in the opener?
"We only had about four," Fewell said.
That is not good enough.
"It usually doesn't favor us when that sort of thing happens," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're much better off when the pressure is distributed, and the ends…whoever gets the sacks or pressures, I don't really care, but we need it. We need more of it."
"They know that that's part of the key to our success," Fewell said. "And when we say hits on the quarterback, that means sacks, getting to them and if we don't sack them, we're in the quarterback's face. He's getting legal knockdowns on the quarterback, so that's really important to disrupt his rhythm and, again, our front is part our pass coverage. That's important for us."
The Giants didn't allow Romo to play the game completely unscathed. Tackles Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph each sacked him once. But the Dallas quarterback released the ball quickly and was not pressured hard enough when he had to wait for a receiver to break free.
"I don't think Romo was rattled at all," Tuck said. "They played well. They did. Their offensive line played great."
Tuck said the lack of heat on Romo resulted both from what the Cowboys did and what the Giants' defenders did not do.
"I think we pressed," Tuck said. "We were trying to make plays. We sacked him twice, but for the most part, he stood there comfortably and those tackles, that O-Line, played well. They did what they had to do to kind of stifle our pass (rush) attack and it started with their running game."
"They were getting the ball out quick and we knew that, so we should've done a better job of getting our hands up," Umenyiora said. "We weren't going to be able to get to the quarterback in a lot of those situations, so we should've got our hands up and tried to knock the ball down, but we were pressing. A lot of times we were making the inside moves and he was escaping the pocket and making plays that way and we recognized that and we were told that we just didn't execute. This week it's the same situation. I just think that we'll be more prepared for it."
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman is neither as experienced nor as elusive as Romo. In the Buccaneers' season-opening victory over Carolina, Freeman completed 16 of 24 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice – both times by Panthers tackle Dwan Edwards.
"He was throwing the ball quick," Umenyiora said. "He wasn't holding the ball too much."
Umenyiora, Tuck and Pierre-Paul all hope to become the first end to sack Freeman this season. And they hope tackling him in the pocket is a play they can celebrate several times on Sunday.
"I've just got to go out there and play even better," Pierre-Paul said. "You've got to get to the quarterback and stop the run."
"I think we all emphasized just the individual standpoint, every guy getting in and getting a little bit more film, running faster, being up to speed quicker in practice," Tuck said. "As a unit, the better we play as individuals, is the better we're going to play as a unit. But we have to keep in mind we only do this thing as a team, so making sure we're on the same page with each other. Make sure that our calls are all right and making sure everybody gets on the same page and has the same call."
We'll give the last word on the subject to Umenyiora.
"We're just going to focus on trying our best to get to the quarterback this week," he said.