FOX Sports Exclusive
G-Men defense a shell of former self
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Defensive linemen and pass rushers don’t need a constant reminder about the lofty expectations inherent with playing for the New York Giants.
It’s there anyway.
Alumni who built Hall of Fame careers on crushing quarterbacks are among the Big Blue legends celebrated across the top of the team’s oval-shaped locker room. This homage provides a constant reminder of the high standard set for those following in their footsteps.
“You look up and they’re sitting there,” said Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson, nodding his head Friday in the direction of names like Lawrence Taylor and the late Andy Robustelli.
“The legacy of pass-rushing here is huge. That’s why we have the guys we have here. They expect it out of us.”
That puts even more pressure on the Giants to rebound from a dreadful performance and make their predecessors proud in Sunday’s home game against Green Bay on Fox.
New York is coming off a 49-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints that was even more disheartening than the score. It wasn’t just failing to register a sack for the first time since Week 10 of last season. The lack of second-half effort is what should truly outrage ex-Giants and embarrass the current ones.
Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka astutely described the outing as “all-around bad.” The inability to stop a 577-yard bludgeoning by the Saints — the most yardage allowed by the Giants since 1943 — and confusion with defensive substitutions led to sideline bickering and half-hearted tackle attempts.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to the Saints for doing a hell of a job by taking us out of the game,” Tollefson said. “But damn, we let them, too. A couple bad things happen here and there and we’re on the sideline complaining about coulda, woulda, shoulda. You can’t be like that.
“Next thing you know, they get the ball back and we’ve got to be out there. We ain’t figured anything out being on the sideline bitching at each other about what wasn’t going our way.”
Little has gone New York’s way recently. While the Packers (11-0) can clinch a postseason spot with a win Sunday, the Giants (6-5) are on the outs in the playoff race following three straight losses.
Two of New York’s hallmarks — a strong running game and pass rush — are being hindered by injuries and poor execution. The latest casualty is defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is second on the team in sacks with seven. He won’t play Sunday because of a sprained ankle.
New York has registered only three sacks in the past three games after leading the NFL in that category through the season’s first nine weeks. Teams like the Saints were able to use more maximum-protection blocking schemes because of New York’s inconsistent pass coverage.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed first-hand the damage he can cause when given time to pass in last December’s 45-17 rout of the Giants. Sacked only once, Rodgers butchered the Giants for 404 four yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell acknowledges the lineup shuffling has hurt his unit. Fewell, though, isn’t using that as an excuse for the defense being what he described as “outplayed,” “outhustled,” and “out-coached” in New Orleans.
Even if sacks aren’t being registered, Fewell wants to see the defensive line setting the tempo once again.
“They know that they lead this team because we all gain from their energy,” Fewell said. “We play better when they are on their game and hustling, hitting and sacking the quarterback. They take a lot of pride in setting the tone of our football team.”
Ex-Giants defensive end and FOX analyst Michael Strahan was concerned enough about what happened against the Saints that he spoke Wednesday at a defensive line meeting.
“You just see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when talking about it like, ‘This is the New York Giants. I don’t give a damn if we’re 0-16. We’re getting after the quarterback,’ ” said Tollefson, who keeps in regular contact with Strahan.
“That’s the legacy of the Giants. When you play us, you have to protect your quarterback.
“Last week, the Saints did that and we were kind of like, ‘Ohhh,’ rather than, ‘Let’s go! Let’s be the spark that energizes us.’”
Against a team as talented as the Packers, New York will need the type of effort from its front four that led to an upset of another previously undefeated team four seasons ago — the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
“There’s an extreme sense of pride and a lot of pressure that comes with playing for the Giants’ (defense),” said Kiwanuka, a key part of New York’s pass-rush and blitz packages.
“We know what it’s about and how important it is to have a strong showing up front, because that’s what this team is built on.
“You go back in history, and there have been some great ones that played there. That includes recent history.”
New York’s pass rush needs to start carving its own place in franchise lore. Otherwise, the 2011 Giants may be history.