NY Giants' lack of pass rush: How did we get here? | NFL Insider Ralph Vacchiano

·5 min read
Leonard Williams Giants blue jersey on sidelines helmet up and face visible
Leonard Williams Giants blue jersey on sidelines helmet up and face visible

If there’s one thing that Sam Darnold has shown over the years, it’s that he can be pressured into making mistakes. So the key for the Giants on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers clearly will be to get to Darnold with their pass rush.

If only they could.

Six games into this ugly season, there’s no reason at all to assume they will, because the Giants have barely gotten to any of the quarterbacks they’ve faced all year long. They rank 27th in the league with a paltry 10 sacks. They’re near the bottom in quarterback pressures too, despite blitzing nearly 30 percent of the time.

It’s no wonder that every opposing quarterback seems to pick their defense apart.

“I think as we move forward, we’re working on it,” said Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. “We’re working on improving. I think we’ve got guys in those spots that can help us with it.”

He may think so, but there’s no evidence of that. Leonard Williams, fresh off a career year with 11.5 sacks and signing a three-year, $63 million contract, has just three sacks through six games. The Giants’ trio of edge rushers – Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines and rookie Azeez Ojulari – have combined for three, all by Ojulari, who had them all in the first three games. Defensive tackle Austin Johnson has a surprising three sacks, but no one else on the roster has as many as one.

And that’s really not surprising because the lack of a pass rush has been a problem with the Giants for years – mostly because of a lack of investment in this critical spot during Dave Gettleman’s four years as the general manager. He understands that the Giants’ last two championship teams were built around the pass rush, with players like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

But when asked back in 2019 about why he wasn’t trying to build a defensive front like that, Gettleman famously responded, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, darling.”

Gettleman has now been running the Giants for nearly 1,400 days.

He’s certainly had opportunities to acquire pass rushers in that span, especially in the draft. But he’s had near misses several times, and mostly missed by choice. In 2018, for example, some in the organization were pushing for Gettleman to use his first pick on defensive end Bradley Chubb (20.5 sacks in 35 games with Denver). Instead, he picked his “gold jacket” running back, Saquon Barkley.

One year later, he loved edge rusher Josh Allen (15.5 sacks in 30 games for the Jaguars) and considered him at No. 6. But the Giants needed a quarterback and Gettleman was convinced Daniel Jones wouldn’t last until the Giants’ next pick at 17. So he took Jones and then tried to trade back up to No. 7 to get Allen, but was turned down by then-Jaguars president Tom Coughlin. Compounding that, Gettleman then took big defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (seven sacks in 38 games) 17th, passing on defensive end Montez Sweat (19 sacks in 38 games for Washington).

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) is chased by New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) in the first quarter at FedExField.
Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) is chased by New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) in the first quarter at FedExField.

There was also the 2020 draft when the Giants picked fourth, but would’ve picked second had they not won a meaningless overtime game in Washington late in a season where they finished 4-12. That loss gave Washington the second overall pick and the rights to Chase Young (nine sacks, 21 games). And even in this last draft, the Giants spent months taking a deep dive into the available pass rushers, according to sources, only to take receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round.

And it’s not like Gettleman has been any better in free agency, where he’s signed a string of bargain-basement edge rushers to one-year deals and got predictable results from the likes of Kareem Martin (1.5 sacks), Connor Barwin (one), Josh Mauro (one), Kyler Fackrell (four) and Jabaal Sheard (1.5). Their bargain-binner from the last offseason – Ifeadi Odenigbo – didn’t even make the roster out of camp.

In fact, the only one of those who worked out was Markus Golden, who had 10 sacks in 2019. As a reward, he was not immediately re-signed.

In Gettleman’s defense, he did seem to get it right when he traded a third- and fifth-round pick to the Jets for Williams at the trading deadline in 2019. After signing him to a $19.4 million franchise tag he had his breakout season in 2020. The Giants, with no other pass rushers on the roster, had no choice but to re-sign him – though it remains to be seen how that will work out.

The real sad part of this story, though, is that it all traces back to Gettleman’s original sin. When he took over the Giants, the one thing he did have on the roster was a stud pass rusher – Jason Pierre-Paul. But three months later, he traded him to Tampa Bay as part of his locker room housecleaning. JPP, who had 8.5 sacks in his final season with the Giants, has had 31 sacks for the Bucs in 46 games.

The Giants, meanwhile, can’t even get consistent pressure on quarterbacks anymore. They have hit opposing quarterbacks just 23 times this season. Three weeks ago, in their lone win in New Orleans, they didn’t even hit Saints quarterback Jameis Winston once.

For what it’s worth, Giants coach Joe Judge said he’s “pleased” with the effort of his pass rushers and then offered the usual clichés about how “they’ve got to keep making progress,” how better coverage from the secondary would help, and how "we’ve got to help them a little bit as coaches,” too.

Those answers aren’t good enough, though. Neither are the “glimpses” of a pass rush that Graham insists he’s seen. The bottom line is it’s pretty clear the Giants don’t have the players they need to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. And given their startling lack of investment in that area, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting