EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Putting pressure on the quarterback has been the trademark of the New York Giants’ defense for decades.
Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason-Pierre-Paul were just a few of the guys who had opposing quarterbacks looking to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.
The pressure forced mistakes and it was a key to the team’s four Super Bowl titles, particularly the last two under coach Tom Coughlin.
That rush is gone, and it might be one of the biggest reasons the Giants (0-6) are off to their worst start since 1976.
New York has a league-low five sacks heading into Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings (1-4), and it has Coughlin — and his line — searching for answers.
“We have definitely underachieved this year,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said Friday. “So we have to get better.”
The Giants have legitimate excuses for failing to get to the quarterback. They have not put opponents in many third-and-long situations and even more importantly, the team has not played with the lead much. In six games, New York has led for roughly 30 of 360 minutes.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell insists there isn’t a magic formula for sacks. The team can use a couple of stunts up front or bring extra people to rush, but even that hasn’t produced much pressure.
“Sometimes you just have to get to the quarterback, you know,” Fewell said. “We can try to become more creative and do some things of that nature. It just comes down to you have to win the individual battle, and sometimes you have to beat two people. The ball is coming out quick, but sometimes you just have to will yourself to get there, and if the ball comes out quick, knock it down.”
Fewell said sacks tend to come in bunches and the defense is working hard to get on a roll.
“It’s going to happen for us,” Fewell said. “We’re talented enough.”
Coming into the season, many expected Pierre-Paul to become a dominant player again after having back surgery in June to repair a disk problem. He had 16½ sacks in 2011 and 6½ last season playing hurt.
Pierre-Paul, however, has struggled. He missed all of training camp and he just isn’t the same player — yet. The four-year veteran has even struggled this week. He has not been feeling well and he missed practice on Friday because of illness.
But Coughlin expects him to play on Monday.
“He really wants to go out there and play well,” Tuck said. “When it hasn’t happened for him, he takes it hard, so the people around him have to keep him built up because he is a heck of a football player.
“Obviously, it isn’t going his way right now. He just needs to find a way, like all of us. Find a way to make a play and get in a groove.”
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who leads the team with 1½ sacks, said the line has picked up the pace this week with the goal being to put Vikings newcomer Josh Freeman in some definite passing situations.