EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – No one connected with the Giants defense questions the unit is due for an improvement in 2013. The defense allowed a franchise-record 6,134 yards and was 31st in the NFL.
"(That ranking) never goes out of my mind," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said today. "You never want to be ranked last or near last in anything you compete at and as a professional you want to improve each and every year. We're very motivated to erase that number and be a top defense in the league.
"For us as a defense, it's quite motivating. We feel like we can definitely improve on that and we will improve on that."
They've certainly worked hard enough to make that happen, Fewell and his players are determined to be significantly better this season, which begins Sunday night against the Cowboys in Dallas. So what exactly is going to be different?
"We've got bigger butts," Fewell said.
Read Coach Coughlin's reaction to the five players that were selected.
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VIEW: Today's Practice Photos Well, it's a start. And a good one. Linval Joseph (323 pounds) is the only one of the five defensive tackles currently on the roster who played for the Giants last year. Cullen Jenkins (305) is the new starter next to Joseph. Veterans Shaun Rogers (350) and Mike Patterson (300) and second-round draft choice Johnathan Hankins (320) are the reserves.
>> HERE ARE FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH VS. COWBOYS
That kind of bulk in the middle should shore up a run defense that was 25th in the league, allowing 129.1 yards a game.
"I think it's a huge factor in helping us be a better run defense," Fewell said, no pun intended. "The mass, the size, the strength is noticeably different for us."
"I think if you talk about what the emphasis has been, number one, stop the run," said Mathias Kiwanuka, who is now a fulltime defensive end. "You don't get a chance to rush the quarterback if they're going to run the ball, so you have to be able to trust our guys up front, myself included, to be in the right positions, be in the right gaps, defeat the man in front of you and shut the run down. After that we know what kind of talent we have here in terms of rushing the passer. We just have to get there."
That occurred too infrequently last year, when the Giants' pass defense was ranked 28th, allowing 254.3 yards a game. The Giants believe improving those numbers begins with constantly harassing opposing quarterbacks, starting with Tony Romo Sunday night.
The Giants had 33 sacks last season, a 15-sack drop from their 2011 total. But Fewell won't guarantee that number will rise.
"I think we just have to let the season play out," Fewell said, "because sometimes offenses present opportunities for you to have multiple sacks and sometimes offenses don't present those opportunities based on the system that they're running. But with a healthy group of young men I think we have an opportunity to improve on our sack numbers. We have some good blitzers on the edge. We believe that not only just the guys up front, but our guys at linebacker can help us improve on those numbers. We're not just putting that on the front guys. We're putting that on the whole defense to improve those numbers."
And all the other numbers that were so unsightly to Fewell's defense last season.
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- In the past, running back David Wilson has set specific personal goals regarding rushing yards, kickoff return yards, etc. This year, he's revealing nothing about those numbers.
"I just want to be effective, so I just want to take it one at a time," Wilson said. "I still set goals for myself, but this year I want to not just focus on my goals but going out there and winning the games."
Wilson, who has become the Giants' starting running back in his second season, is confident he will have a far greater impact on offense than he did in his rookie year.
"I know more of the offense this year and I can be more effective that way, because I know if I'm asked to do something, I can do it," Wilson said. "Last year, I had limitations on not knowing certain things and not being able to react on the fly when certain opportunities were presented. Just having a year under my belt makes me more knowledgeable about the game.
"It's never been a physical thing. It's more so a mental thing, because there was a lot more thrown at me and there was a lot more I had to learn. My mind was tying up my feet sometimes. Even the game or practice, like you see when I had an opportunity on kickoff return, there's not much to think about on kickoff return, just run and read the blocks and that's what I naturally know to do, because that's how you play football. That's something I've never forgotten. It's just having more knowledge of the game."
- Two of the Giants' offensive linemen – rookie right tackle Justin Pugh and left guard James Brewer – will make their NFL starting debuts in Dallas. Brewer saw limited action in six games last season. How will that inexperience factor into the Giants' game plan?
- "You don't know," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "That's the million dollar question. You'd like to say it's not going to influence at all what you're doing, but I don't know how realistic that is. I think you have to take into account the matchups and make some decisions where you have to offer some assistance. Where do you have to slide a certain way? Do you have to send a back to a certain side? Do you have to put a tight end somewhere? Maybe, before where you focused more on letting your guards handle the inside guys and maybe you're looking to help the tackles. Maybe now, that's not the case. Maybe you have to help inside more. We'll have to wait and see."
- Tackle David Diehl, who had thumb surgery two weeks ago, center David Baas (knee) and tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) did not practice.
- Four players were limited: Wide receiver Victor Cruz (heel), defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (back) and Damontre Moore (shoulder), and fullback Henry Hynoski (knee). Cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle) practiced fully.
- Coach Tom Coughlin said Cruz and Pierre-Paul have both gotten more reps in practice.
- Because Moore missed the final three preseason games, Coughlin was asked if he would be hesitant to include the rookie in the defensive end rotation on Sunday.
"It depends," Coughlin said. "We're going to see how he finishes the week out in practice. I know he's getting stronger every day. … We've limited him. He tells me every day that he's getting better, getting stronger, feels better and, to be honest with you, when given the opportunity, he's practiced well."
- Hynoski, who missed the preseason while rehabbing his knee following surgery in May, has made good progress since coming off the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 22.
- "He's doing pretty good," Coughlin said. "He's another guy that the training room wanted him to have more activity in practice and we've been able to accommodate that."
- The Cowboys lead the regular-season series, 57-42-2. The Giants won the only postseason meeting in a 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff Game. In 2012, the teams split their two meetings. Dallas won on Sept. 5 in MetLife Stadium, 24-17, and the Giants returned the favor on Oct. 28 with a 29-24 victory on the Cowboys' turf.
- The Giants are 7-11 in prime time against the Cowboys.
- The Giants are 0-5 in season-opening games vs. the Cowboys (1965, '86, '95, 2007 and 2012). They won the Super Bowl in two of those seasons (1986 and 2007).