EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** As Jason Pierre-Paul goes, so goes the Giants' pass rush. That's never been more evident than in the last three games, when a resurgent JPP has led to significantly greater harassment of opposing quarterbacks.
In those three games – a loss in Jacksonville and victories the last two weeks against Tennessee and Washington - the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end has recorded 6.0 sacks. In the first 11 games, he totaled 3.5 and had sacks in just two of those games.
As a team, the Giants had 19 sacks in the first 11 games. But in their last three outings, they have 22 (eight vs. the Jaguars, seven apiece against the Titans and Redskins). Their season total of 41 is seven more than they had in the entire 2013 season. After languishing near the bottom of the league rankings for most of the season, the Giants are now fourth in the NFL, behind only Buffalo (49), Philadelphia (47) and Baltimore (45).
What's behind the improvement?
"I think we have some people that are playing very well," coach Tom Coughlin said today. "JPP is playing very well. Technically, early on, he was doing some things that we could correct and help with and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush. We are getting contributions from a lot of people right now, Devon Kennard, and we are getting some help from Damontré (Moore). We got help from (Johnathan) Hankins yesterday. We have some people that are contributing to that pressure and it definitely has helped in the coverage as well."
Pierre-Paul and Hankins had 2.5 sacks piece yesterday. JPP has a team-high 9.5 sacks, the second-highest total of his career (he had 16.5 in 2011). Hankins, the second-year defensive tackle, is second on the team with 7.0.
JPP said no mysterious factor is behind his current sack surge.
"It's just a matter of showing up and being the leader for the D-line," he said. "I've got to do it. I came in young, but I'm that guy now. So I've got to make plays and execute well."
Three weeks ago, it seemed unlikely, but Pierre-Paul needs just a half-sack for his second career double-digit season.
"I'm not worried about that," he said. "I'm just playing the game of football. I'm out there communicating with my teammates, my D-line and we're getting the job done."
Because they are, the entire defense has improved. Entering the Jacksonville game, the unit was allowing 396.5 yards a game. In the last three weeks, that average is 279.0 yards a game.
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"The areas where the changes have come is that we are back to pressuring the quarterback," Coughlin said. "We are doing a good job in the last two ball games of reducing points; the opponent got 13 points yesterday. For the last three weeks, I should say, we have done a good job with that; that has been real positive. We didn't get any turnovers, or we didn't get enough turnovers, we didn't get things done the way we truly wanted to do as compared to the game before. We are doing some good things. … We are playing better, we are doing better things, we are keeping people out of the end zone. As always, there are some things that have to be improved."
But now they have the pass rush leading the way.
- Coughlin was asked if Odell Beckham Jr. is the best rookie he's had in his coaching career.
'I am not going to go there," Coughlin said. "He certainly has made a tremendous mark."
Against Washington, Beckham caught 12 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Despite missing most of the offseason and training camp and the first four games with a hamstring injury, he leads the team – and all NFL rookies – with 71 receptions for 972 yards and nine touchdowns.>> GIANTS.COM BREAKS DOWN THE ROOKIES' PERFORMANCE
How has be become such a dominant player so quickly?
"He wants to be there, he wants to play, he is excited about the opportunity, he is a very competitive young man," Coughlin said. "Whereas, he was down from a standpoint that physically he couldn't do the things he wanted to do during that time, that didn't prevent him from being in every meeting and studying as he was allowed to do a little more on the field as the weeks went by. He would go and be in front of the JUGGS machine or jog through things just to make sure he understood the route, or the pattern, or the adjustment that he would have to make. He stayed with it, he stayed involved, he stayed informed, he stayed interested, he kept looking at the date in which he thought he would get the green light to go ahead and go. All of these things were pretty much calculated in his own mind, but he is a smart and intelligent young man, and he paid attention to detail because it is important to him."
Giants.com hand out their game balls after the Giants defeat Washington
Rashad Jennings started the game, but aggravated his ankle injury on his first carry and didn't return. Jennings previously missed four games with a sprained ankle.
"Whether or not we are all the way back to square one, I don't know yet," Coughlin said.
- The Giants rushed for only 49 yards, their lowest total in a year, and averaged 2.2 yards a carry.
"Washington is a very good front," Coughlin said. "They were 11th in the league against the run, and for the right reasons. They are very good, they are stout, and they have two outstanding outside backers. We didn't even see Keenan Robinson, a very good inside backer. They are a good defensive team against the run. There were times when we should have had more than what we got, but there were times when we were just flat out shut down. I give them credit and again we continue to work on being a better team that can have balance, etc."