A large proportion of New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese’s’ $200 million off-season spending spree was to strengthen the Giants defensive line. Improvement to this area of the defense was clearly needed.
In the 2015 season, the Giants gave up the most yards per game in the NFL with 298.9, giving up 121.4 Rush yards per game. In addition to this, Big Blue’s defense gave up 27.6 points per game.
The building of the Giants secondary was a clear success this year to counter these defensive issues, and strengthening the defensive line has been a clear success too.
Alongside Johnathan Hankins, who just finished his fourth season with the Giants, the re-signing of Jason Pierre-Paul, as well as the landing of big name free agents Olivier Vernon and Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison meant a strong step forward from last season.
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo got the best out of his line in the 4-3 scheme he runs, with the starters looking strong throughout the season.
While the Giants pass rush developed throughout the year, it was the ability to stop the run in 2016 that brought the defensive line the most success.
In the regular season, the Giants proved this by finishing with the fourth ranked defense in yards given up opposition rushing attacks. Big Blue gave up a mere 88.6 rushing yards per game this year.
In addition to this, Spagnuolo’s defense only gave up 18.9 points per game – ranked second in the league and clearly better than the NFL average of 22.8 points per game.
Reviewing the New York Giants Defensive Line
Jason Pierre-Paul: Left Defensive End
After JPP’s struggles in 2015 following his infamous 4th July fireworks incident, the 28-year-old veteran turned it around this year and had one of the better years in his career.
The 6’5”, 278 pound lineman put pressure on opposition quarterbacks at times, as well as providing a strong run stuffing element off the edge of the line.
In his 12 games before picking up an injury against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Week 13, Pierre-Paul notched 53 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles; including a fumble returned for a touchdown vs Cleveland.
Although the Giants went 3-1 after JPP’s injury, it was a clear blow to the consistency of the D-Line.
This has been a good season for the defensive end, and it will be intriguing to see how the off-season pans out for him and his future with the Giants, as he looks for a new five year, $85 million contract.
Damon Harrison: Left Defensive Tackle
Snacks Harrison has been perhaps the Giants player of the season after a fantastic first year for his new New York team.
The 28-year-old’s place in the 2016 NFL All-Pro first team was well deserved after he established himself as one of, if not the best run stopping lineman in the league.
His run stopping ability was demonstrated against the likes of Dallas star running back Ezekiel Elliot when Zeke and the running game was shut down in the Giants’ two victories against the Cowboys.
The defensive tackle made 86 tackles and had 2.5 sacks, as well as forcing a fumble.
What a season it has been for the 350 pound tackle at Big Blue.
Johnathan Hankins: Right Defensive Tackle
Hankins was influential in Snacks’ successes this season, as he strengthened this line further and built chemistry alongside Harrison at the defensive tackle position.
The 24-year-old was another brilliant run stopper this NFL regular season, finishing with 43 tackles along with three sacks and a forced fumble.
Like with Pierre-Paul, Hankins enters NFL free agency this off-season looking for a bigger contract.
It’s fair to say the Giants will miss the 6’2” 320 lb tackle greatly if he is to leave.
Olivier Vernon: Right Defensive End
It’s not often that spending big on top name free agents will fully work out. However, Jerry Reese did a good job in the 2016 off-season, and one of the big names signed was defensive end Olivier Vernon from Miami.
The 26-year-old took time throughout the season to grow into his new role, and soon lived up to the billing.
The 6’2′,’ 275 pound edge rusher made it as a 2016 NFL 2nd team All-Pro after making 63 tackles, 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Vernon has been another top pick up in the off-season and will look to push on next season.
What is worth pointing out is that the starting group played a high proportion of the snaps, possibly hinting at a lack of depth on the defensive line.
On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out the impact of Romeo Okwara in particular. The undrafted free agent stepped in at left defensive end after JPP’s injury, and had some good performances, notably against Dallas in Week 14.
The 21-year-old made 25 tackles and had a sack against Cowboys rookie quarterbacks Dak Prescott in that Giants-Cowboys match-up at MetLife Stadium late in the season.
Should Pierre-Paul leave in free agency, Okwara will need to make the leap again next season – something the young lineman is capable of doing under the guidance of Spagnuolo.
The Last Word
The defensive line underwent drastic improvement in the 2016 season. Chemistry is growing on the line, and although there may be a depth issue, there have been strong performances all around, contributing to New York’s 11-5 regular season record.
The key area to watch will be the contract situations of Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins. It’s unlikely that they will both be resigned should they get big contract offers elsewhere from other teams that the Giants would have to match.
How the defensive line will look next season will be fascinating.