EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Steve Spagnuolo does not consider Jason Pierre-Paul to be a savior for his defense, which has the fewest sacks in the NFL through eight weeks.
"I think that's a lot to ask," the Giants defensive coordinator said today. "Look it, defensive football is a team game, it's 11 guys, it's not one guy. I wouldn't put that on a guy."
Even if that guy is the most decorated player on the defense, with two Pro Bowls to his credit. But Pierre-Paul hasn't played in a game since last Dec. 28. He practiced again today, but the Giants have yet to announce whether he will make his debut Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Spagnuolo doesn't want to put pressure on JPP. But he would surely welcome the help for his defense, which has allowed the most total yards and passing yards in the NFL, and gave up 52 points in a loss last week in New Orleans.
"He looks pretty good," Spagnuolo said. "I just got done watching the (practice) tape in there, and I remember one play, when the ball is snapped, he's off the ball pretty good. His takeoff looks real good, too.
"So when you asked, 'How's he doing,' that looks impressive. But look, he's got a long way to go, it's hard to take that much time off and be at the level that you think he can play. But we're optimistic."
Photos from Giants Practice as the team preps for Week 9
JPP has been sidelined because he was involved in a fireworks accident on July 4 that cost him the index finger and resulted in other damage to his right hand. He reported to the Giants last week and has worked hard to return to the field, which may or may not be on Sunday.
Coach Tom Coughlin spoke to the media before practice and was asked to review the work Pierre-Paul did in practice yesterday.
"He practiced well," Coughlin said. "This will be nice to have two days in a row. He got a lot of work on both sides, he played at end for the defensive unit, and he also played some scout team."
This is Spagnuolo's first opportunity to coach Pierre-Paul. He faced him once as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams (in 2011, which was JPP's first Pro Bowl season), and has watched him on tape many times.
"I could see from afar that he was an exceptional athlete and a good football player," Spagnuolo said. "And again, it's only been a couple of days. We went over today and we were talking through some things, the look in his eye, I could tell he's ready to go. Why would he not be? He's been away from something he loves and he's getting to play it again. So he's anxious. I think we're all anxious. Hopefully, if we can get him to the point where everybody feels comfortable, we'll get him out there on Sunday."
Spagnuolo said he does not know if Pierre-Paul will be a situational player when he does return.
"It's with Ronnie (Barnes, the senior vice president of medical services) and Coach Coughlin in deciding whether he's going to be there or not," Spagnuolo said. "As it gets closer to that, I think we may have to do that. Look, every player wants to play all the time, but sometimes you have to protect players from themselves. Because it's hard to go from not playing very much football at all and playing a high volume of numbers. So we'll try to be smart with it.
"It's hard. He hasn't had a preseason game, hasn't had any live (action). We have to find out where we're at. To think he's just going to go out there and be the JPP that everybody hopes and wants, I don't know if that's fair. But we'll see."
Even if he isn't quite as dominant as he was in the past, Pierre-Paul can help a unit that has struggled to pressure quarterbacks.
"I hope so," Spagnuolo said. "We're hopeful. We're not going to know. He's a good football player, and hopefully he can go out there and give us some needed pass rush. But I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on him. When I say that, I'm not going to publicly put that kind of pressure on him. I think he's going to put it on himself, he's a prideful guy. But let's get him to the point where we can get him active and ready to go."
• Spagnuolo was reluctant to review the New Orleans game, in which the Giants gave up 608 total yards, including 505 through the air. He did so when prodded by reporters, and supported his players.
"When you have things happen like a flea flicker and boom, they get that one," Spagnuolo said. "Then we give up the big one (a 53-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston). It was man coverage and they hit a big one. Those things go bang, bang and you have to recover.
Look it, I thought we recovered fairly well. You get a hot quarterback, it was tough. We did not play our best football, and that's what's probably the most disappointing. But I'm going to tip my hat off to Drew Brees and what those players did down there, they did some nice work. Ended up being a lot of points, but I will say this, our guys rally, we come up with a series, we get an interception, we come back, we stop them on three downs. If we can come out with the big stop at the end of the game, I think everybody feels okay. We don't feel okay defensively, because we have to get some things squared away. But look, we're beyond it now. You have to, you've got to let it go. You can't be looking in the rearview mirror, you go backwards. That's where we're at."