EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Jason Pierre-Paul looks at his 2013 season from a different perspective than most observers. Outsiders might look at his one sack through seven games and wonder if the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end has been robbed of his powers. JPP's outlook is decidedly more positive.
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In the Giants' victory over the Minnesota Vikings Monday night, Pierre-Paul was credited with two tackles (one solo), two quarterback hits and he knocked down a Josh Freeman pass.
"That was my best game so far all-around." Pierre-Paul said.
The fourth-year pro understands he is being compared to the player he was in 2011, when he became a dominant defender with 16.5 sacks. Last year, he had 6.5 sacks in the first nine games, but none thereafter. It was still enough to return to the Pro Bowl, but too few for critics who wondered why his numbers fell off.
A possible reason was revealed on June 4, when Pierre-Paul underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. In his first public comments after the surgery, JPP admitted he had been plagued by back pain throughout the season. He missed the entire preseason and didn't start the first two regular-season games. Pierre-Paul believes he is making progress toward becoming the player he was two years ago.
"To be honest, I wasn't expecting to be Superman," Pierre-Paul said. "I'm pretty sure the coaches weren't expecting me to be Superman, either. It's back surgery. I went through rehab and got back for the first game. I wasn't a big factor in some games, but as time goes on, I see myself getting better and am starting to get my legs back a little bit. I'm happy with that, just to see that I still have it. It's going to take some time, but right now all I can do is go out there and play my best game."
That's exactly what he thought he did Monday night.
"I think I missed the quarterback a couple times, but almost doesn't count in this game," Pierre-Paul said. "It's all about numbers. I missed the quarterback, I got there nine times and I missed him at least five legitimate times where I could have had him on the ground. I just took a bad step or fell or something like that. At the end of the day, I got pressure on him and I see I'm getting better and better as time goes on."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does want to see his old action hero on the field.
"I always expect Superman out of him," Fewell said. "We think of him so highly and he does so many amazing things that when he walks on the practice field, you smile. It's probably unfair to him because everybody's expectations offer him to be Superman, but he's human."
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But his coaches see progress in his game.
"I think he got a little better the other night," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "I'm hoping that it continues. It's still not where we want him to be, but I thought I saw some things that were a sign in the right direction."
"With the time off and those types of things, he's not playing to the standard that he wants to play to," Fewell said. "Everyone expects so much of him and he's trying to get there, but he's just not there yet. We have to be patient with him and he'll keep getting better and better as the season goes on, and we think that he can return to that form. The biggest thing for us is we believe in him, and he has got to believe in himself, also."
Although he's made strides, Pierre-Paul said he is not where he wants or expects to be physically.
"Honestly I think it's going to take a whole offseason," he said. "It's going to have to be consistent. I'm very consistent when it comes to the offseason program. I think it's going to get better. It's something that I have to be consistent with, but I still can do it during the season. I can't slack off there. I'm getting better and better every time that I step on the field and I see it."
Pierre-Paul has looked at tape from 2011, when he seemed to be unblockable in some games.
"I see, to be honest, a whole different player from now," he said. "Even last year my numbers weren't up, but I still felt like I was that player before the surgery. I did OTAs and felt awesome and it just changed. I just have to change the way I'm doing things. I'm going back, looking at film, I'm not trying to tweak my game so much that I lose focus of who I am, but as of right now I'm just getting better."
Pierre-Paul was asked the difference between the player who finished fourth in the NFL in sacks two years ago and the one who has not tackled a quarterback in his last six games.
"The way I rush the passer," he said. "I feel like I'm catching a lot, I'm catching my opponents a lot. I'm not being a threat to them how I used to be. And that's basically it, turning the corner how I used to turn the corner. I could sit here and dwell on the past and critique my game, but I can't go back and try to critique it so much and try to bring it into the future right now as I'm playing. If I do that I'm going wind up doing things the wrong way. This is Week 8. It's too late to try to change things now. All I can do now is keep getting better and keep rushing. That's basically it."