Nicholas Alfonse - 2/16/10
After the Giants' disappointing 2009 season, it's become obvious that improvements and changes must be made to the defensive unit. While the Giants gave up a boatload of passing yardage, ranking 15th in the league, their secondary was under constant pressure due to the sub-par performance by their defensive line. As a result, teams racked up huge point totals this season, with only the Rams and Lions allowing more than the Giants in 2009. The group that was successful in slowing down one of the greatest offenses in NFL history during the 2007 Super Bowl has dwindled to a mere mediocre threat, losing the respect of opponents and their fans.
While quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan were maligning the secondary for 300+ yard passing days, the defensive line continually failed to slow down the rushing attack. Unless New York was playing a bottom tier team such as Kansas City or Tampa Bay, they struggled in many different aspects of the game. Dallas ran like a wild animal for 251 yards in their first meeting this season, and the Carolina Panthers marched up and down the field for 247 yards during the stadium closing embarrassment on 12/27. Even if their spotty pass defense held up on a consistent basis, the line's breakdown was a regular failure throughout the season.
Examining further, nearly every player on he defensive line experienced a decline in personal statistics from the 2008 to 2009 seasons. Obviously, many players were affected by various injuries, but the decrease in production damaged their pass rush and run defense. Without a vicious, physical attack on the quarterback, top quality players carved up the secondary easily. In 2008, New York ranked 6th with 42 sacks, dropping to 18th with only 32 this past season. Even 2008 was a bit of a disappointment, as the Giants ranked 1st in 2007 with 53 sacks, assaulting quarterbacks every Sunday. Justin Tuck's nagging shoulder injury plagued the line all season, only recording 6 sacks after having 22 during the 2007-08 seasons. Osi Umenyiora dropped from 13 sacks in 2007 to 7 this year, amid recovering from surgery and losing his starting job midway through the season. Even Mathias Kiwanuka experienced a downturn, recording 3 sacks after having 8 last year.
It was a near perfect storm this season for the defensive line, as they were rocked with injuries, benchings, disappointing performances, and weak free agent acquisitions. Umenyiora clearly had poor chemistry with fired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan all season, eventually leading to sitting on the bench and watching his team come apart at the seams. Fred Robbins also took a seat late in the season, ending up with only 25 tackles on the year. Supposed reinforcement Chris Canty missed 8 games in 2009, while their other pickup Rocky Bernard contributed a measly 22 tackles.
The good news is at least Sheridan and defensive line coach Mike Waufle were fired immediately, as Coughlin has brought in fresh talent to rejuvenate their floundering unit. If this team is to turn around in 2010, the defensive line will need new life and a shock to the system, in order to vault them back towards the NFL elite. Perhaps the answer is bringing in more free agent talent, or spending a draft pick on some young, fresh legs. Either way, Perry Fewell has his work cut out for him this off-season, with the difficult task of restoring the New York defense in his first season in a cutthroat, demanding sports city.
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