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JPP's absence will test D-line depth


With JPP injured, other members of the D-line look to step up and fill the void:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Perhaps the Giants' challenge of playing their final four games without Jason Pierre-Paul is best exemplified by this: JPP is second on the team with 7.0 sacks this season. The three young players who are tasked with replacing him – Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa and Romeo Okwara – have combined for 2.0 sacks – in their careers. And they all belong to Wynn, who got 1.5 of them in 2014.

Oh, and this week the 8-4 Giants host the Dallas Cowboys, whose offensive line is widely considered to be the NFL's best, and who have won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games since losing their season opener to the Giants.

Wynn, Odighizuwa and Okwara – two undrafted players and a third-round draft choice – have big shoes to fill. Pierre-Paul, who today underwent surgery in Philadelphia to repair a core muscle injury he suffered last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is second on the team with 7.0 sacks and 16 quarterback hits, and fifth with 53 tackles (35 solo).

"We wish JPP the best and a speedy recovery," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We'll use an 'all hands on deck' approach to fill his shoes. It won't be easy to do, but we have confidence in the players in the room."

"We have a good group of guys," defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. "We have Kerry Wynn, who has a lot of experience, and we also have Romeo and Owa. All of those guys have experience and Romeo being a rookie, he made the team for a reason, the guy is a pretty good player. No matter who gets the start out there opposite OV (Olivier Vernon), we will have faith in them."

Those largely untested players are undaunted about taking the next step.

"It's an unfortunate situation," Wynn said. "Hopefully, JPP gets back as soon as possible. Right now, it's the next man up mentality. We're all going to have to step up, do what we're supposed to do. Do our job. Go out there and make plays."

"We all know the type of talent that he is," Odighizuwa said. "He's a special dude. He's our starter and one of the glues in our defense. Not having him is going to be bigtime. That's what we're here for. Me, Kerry and Romeo, playing that reserve position, we know what it is. We have to be ready when our name is called. I think that's just what it is and what it comes down to at this point. It's our time. Our name is being called and we have to replace him as best as possible for this week."

They don't have to do it alone. The Giants still have Vernon, who has played as well as any defensive end in the league the last month. He has at least one sack in each of the last five games, and 2.0 sacks in each of the last two games. He has a team-high 8.0 sacks this season, and his 15 tackles for losses tie him with Los Angeles' Aaron Donald for the NFL lead.

But Vernon will certainly get more attention from opposing offenses that no longer must be concerned with Pierre-Paul. That makes it incumbent on Wynn, Odighizuwa and Okwara to make an impact.

Wynn, 6-5 and 264 pounds, is a three-year veteran who is expected to get more snaps than his compatriots because he has the most experience. He joined the team as a rookie free agent from Richmond in 2014, when he played in five games. In one of them, at St. Louis on Dec. 21, he had three solo tackles. Last year, he played in 15 games with seven starts - six at left end and one on the right side, most early in the season when JPP was not with the team while recuperating from his July 4 fireworks accident. Wynn finished with 53 tackles (33 solo), but did not have a sack. This season, he has played in 10 games, missing the victories against Philadelphia and Cincinnati with a concussion. Wynn has four tackles and a half-sack.

"I feel very confident when I'm out on the field," Wynn said. "I'm just out there to do my job. Coach will put us in a position to be successful. I just have to go out there and do my job. Try and play to the best of my abilities."

Odighizuwa, 6-3 and 267 pounds, is a second-year pro who was a 2015 third-round draft choice from UCLA. As a rookie, he played in only four games (finishing with three tackles), and was on injured reserve for the final eight with a hamstring injury. This season, he has just one tackle and two quarterback hits in reserve duty. Odighizuwa did not play in the Giants' 24-14 loss in Pittsburgh last Sunday because of a knee injury.

"I don't want to be sitting here watching everyone play," Odighizuwa said. "I want to contribute. This time of the year, they always talk about all hands on deck and being ready. You never know what will happen. That's my mindset. Just being ready. Unfortunately, what happened is what happened. I'll be ready when my name is called."

Okwara, 6-5 and 265 pounds, made the roster this summer as a rookie free agent from Notre Dame. He has played in every game as a reserve end (where he has eight tackles, three solo), and on special teams (three tackles).

"I approach the mindset of being ready at all times," Okwara said. "Obviously, this week is more important. I would take that into this week. Just don't let it sink over my head. We just have to go in there and do our job. It's nothing crazy. We just have to go in there and do our job. Just produce."

All three reserve ends said they have learned much from JPP (and Vernon). They will try to replace the two-time Pro Bowler, but not impersonate him.

"Everyone is different as a player," Odighizuwa said. "You have to take as much as you can from the guy you're learning from. Know what he does well and what you can incorporate into your game, stuff like that. JPP is JPP at the end of the day. He's a very talented player. There are very few that I could think of that are as athletic and gifted as he is. At the end of the day, we're all NFL players. When our name is called, we have to be ready."

Photos from the all-time series between the Giants and Cowboys

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