Commentary

Tuck, Osi, JPP -- a Super combination?

The Giants' pass rush is rejuvenated, and Matt Ryan is poised to be their next victim

Updated: January 6, 2012, 7:08 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants are back in the playoffs, feeling the type of confidence they haven't felt since 2007.

After winning two must-win games against the Jets and Cowboys, the Giants enter the postseason feeling like world-beaters again.

"This is definitely a Super Bowl team," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Thursday. "We just have to go out there and get it done."

Osi Umenyiora is beginning to buy into the hype that these Giants can make a deep postseason run, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card game at MetLife Stadium.

"We probably have a better offense than we did," Umenyiora said, when asked if the 2011 Giants have the same championship ingredients that the 2007 team had. "Defensively, our pass rush, we were crazy back then [but] I think we are getting to the level now that we were back then. Defensively, we can get better and we are playing very, very well on defense. It is coming together at the right time."

Umenyiora is right. If the Giants' defense can supply Eli Manning and Victor Cruz with some help, Tom Coughlin's team might be able to make some noise again in the postseason.

The Giants' passing game is more explosive than in 2007, with Manning playing the best football of his career. Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have been one of the best receiving duos in the league this season, with Cruz becoming one of the NFL's biggest big-play threats.

But the defense has been the missing ingredient. Like a car engine on a bitter-cold morning, the Giants needed time to warm up, but their pass rush is finally humming.

Jason Pierre-Paul has emerged as a Pro Bowl force, and Justin Tuck is returning to his old form after battling injuries all season. And now that Umenyiora is back from a high ankle sprain, the Giants' defense is getting even stronger. Perry Fewell's unit has allowed 14 points in each of the past two wins and had a total of 11 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and three interceptions in those victories.

"I am excited about it," Umenyiora said. "I don't think we are at the level of when we had [Michael Strahan] and Tuck and myself. We are not there yet but we are getting there."

In Umenyiora's eyes, the defensive end sees a cast similar to the 2007 front line that struck fear in opposing quarterbacks.

Tuck is beginning to look like the vintage Tuck. And according to Umenyiora, Pierre-Paul is a Pro Bowl defensive end like he was in 2007.

So who is this year's Strahan?

"I am not there yet," Umemyiora said. "I will put it on me. I am not Strahan yet. JPP is me. I was a Pro Bowler that year. JPP is me and Tuck is Tuck but I am not Strahan yet."

But Umenyiora, who had two sacks in his return last Sunday night against the Cowboys while coming off the bench and rotating in, believes he can do a pretty good Strahan imitation -- without the gap between the teeth.

"I can definitely get there, no question about it," he said. "But I'm saying to play at the level that Strahan was playing at that point in time, I'm not there yet."

During that 2007 Super Bowl run, the Giants had eight sacks and two forced fumbles in four postseason wins.

Strahan started it off with a sack and forced fumble in the wild card win over Tampa Bay. Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor added a sack piece in the upset at Dallas.

And in the Super Bowl, the Giants sacked Tom Brady five times, with Tuck collecting two of the sacks and a forced fumble.

Matt Ryan has been sacked 26 times this season, but 13 of them came in the first three weeks. Still, the Falcons' offensive line will have a variety of pass rushers to prepare for, from Umenyiora to Pierre-Paul to Tuck to Kiwanuka and Dave Tollefson.

"[A right tackle has] got maybe a Justin Tuck that he has to prepare for and then you move JPP over there sometimes and now you can move Osi over there," Kiwanuka said. "Those are three completely different styles that he has to prepare for. There is a limited number of hours that you can watch film. It is taxing."

The more the Giants can get to Ryan on Sunday, the more it will help the secondary defend wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.

There have been times this season when the Giants were unable to cover receivers, and there were several communication breakdowns.

But the Giants have cleaned things up in the past two weeks, and Umenyiora will help even more.

"He's definitely the missing piece for us during the course of the year up front," Fewell said of Umenyiora, who has nine sacks in nine games this season. "I've said that throughout the year that our pass rush is our pass coverage."

Kind of like in 2007, when the Giants had a "crazy" pass rush.

"Back then? It was a free-for-all," Umenyiora recalled. "It was special."

"We had 12 [sacks] against Donovan McNabb that year," Umenyiora continued. "Remember? If we can get 12 against Matt Ryan ... that'll be ... ."

Umenyiora stopped himself from finishing the sentence, saying he doesn't see that happening on Sunday. But recreating the 2007 fearsome pass rush is a possibility in Umenyiora's mind.

And if that happens, Ryan could be the first of four quarterbacks to fall to the Giants' defense this postseason.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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