- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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As great as the New York Giants' offense has become behind quarterback Eli Manning and his star wide receivers, the players on the defensive side of the ball for the Giants still have a lot of pride. Finishing 31st in the league last year in total defense isn't the kind of thing that makes them feel good as training camp approaches, and veteran defensive end Justin Tuck has his eye on more than just improvement. Per Ohm:
“I hope this defense can carry the team,” Tuck said last week at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y. “Every time we go out on the field this year, we can’t think that [the offense will carry the team].”
“We have to think like we are going to carry this team,” Tuck added.
Tuck thinks the Giants can also improve from within by altering their mindset. He wants his defense to adopt an old school Giants' defensive mentality and stop relying so much on the offense.
“That might be something we lack because our offense is so good, thinking to ourselves that we can kind of give up this and that,” Tuck said. “[We have] to kind of get away from that and approach the game in a way that those '80’s teams did with [Lawrence Taylor] and all those guys.
“They went out into a game trying to kill an offense and not give them anything,” Tuck continued. “We have to get back to that on defense. I don’t care if our offense puts up 40 points a game. We have to put up six.”
Hey, it sounds great. But nobody does the offseason-talk thing like Tuck and the Giants. This is the same kind of thing he was saying last offseason and the offseason before, and really the only time in the past three years that the Giants' defense has had a sustained run of that kind of success was a six-game stretch from Dec. 24, 2011 to Feb. 5, 2012. Other than that, the Giants' defense has been, statistically, one of the worst in the NFL. And while that six-game run produced the organization's fourth Super Bowl title, this is also a team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past four years.
So my question for Tuck is: Can this defense do that anymore? Or is this just a once-dominant group whose best days are behind it? I think the latter is a very real possibility.
I have nothing but respect for Tuck, his talent and his accomplishments. Not long ago, he was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league. He's a two-time champion. He's a leader. But NFL players do wear down, and Tuck himself has admitted more than once that he hasn't performed at his best over the past two seasons. The Giants hope he can flick some sort of switch and become the player he used to be, but that's far from a sure thing.
There are few sure things anywhere on this defense, and other than defensive tackle no positions at which they appear to have improved over last year. Mathias Kiwanuka should be fine moving back up into the defensive end rotation, but Jason Pierre-Paul, their best pass-rusher, is recovering from back surgery and could miss the opener. They continue to willfully ignore the linebacker position. Corey Webster is the secondary's version of Tuck -- a guy who really hasn't been all that good recently outside the tail end of the 2011-12 season. Prince Amukamara looks like a comer at cornerback, but he doesn't strike anybody as a carry-this-team type. Antrel Rolle was a better player when Kenny Phillips was on the field than when he wasn't and Phillips is now an (injured) Eagle.
We underestimate the Giants at our peril. They contend every year and sometimes they win it all. Their coach/quarterback combination keeps them perennially in the hunt, and when they do make the playoffs they scare you. But I think the idea that the Giants' defense can carry them may well be outdated with this current group. If it played to that standard, then I believe this would have the chance to be one of the league's elite teams. I just don't see what evidence there is that it still can.
As great as the New York Giants' offense has become behind quarterback Eli Manning and his star wide receivers, the players on the defensive side of the ball for the Giants still have a lot of pride.