New York Giants' edge rushers leading the way
Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) celebrates as he runs into the endzone from his touchdown interception against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Giants won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ success should be largely attributed to their edge rushers, who have ignited the team’s stellar defense.

Winners of six straight and owners of the second best record in the NFC, the New York Giants are in very good shape for the playoffs.

Coming into their game against Cleveland, Football Outsiders had them at a 69.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, trailing only Dallas, Atlanta, and Seattle. Considering the Giants beat the Browns, those odds have likely gone up, which is a welcome sign in New York, where fans haven’t seen playoff football since 2011.

The reason for the Giants’ improvement is something that was heavily criticized in the offseason: their edge rushers. New York spent a small fortune to sign their defensive ends to contracts this offseason, and those contracts are finally paying dividends.

Olivier Vernon, the man who is so often criticized due to his massive contract, was incredible against Cleveland, racking up five hurries, three QB hits, and 1.5 sacks against the Browns. Vernon now has 20 hurries on the year, trailing only Brandon Graham, Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Geno Atkins.

With so much focus on Vernon, it opens things up for Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been feasting as of late on the opposite side of the defensive line. Against Cleveland, JPP had three sacks, two hurries, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. This marks the second straight multi-sack game for Pierre-Paul, who has come alive in recent games for the Giants.

As we head into the latter part of the season, there’s a good argument that JPP and Vernon are the best defensive end pairing in the entire league.

Against Cleveland, JPP and Vernon accounted for pressuring Browns’ quarterback Josh McCown on 37 percent of his pass attempts. Considering the Giants pressured McCown on 58.8 percent of his dropbacks, it’s safe to say that the defensive ends catalyzed the pressures on the day.

Additionally, the combo of Vernon and JPP have combined for 40 pressures on the year, which is tied for the NFL lead among defensive line duos with Cincinnati’s pair of Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. For a team that was one of the worst in the NFL at pressuring the quarterback last season, the improvement has been staggering and has massively contributed to the Giants’ 8-3 record.

Furthermore, while the sack numbers may not wow fans, anyone who doubts this Giants defensive line is in for a rude awakening. While they are not designated in traditional stats, categories like hurries, QB hits, and pressures help defenses affect the game. They make opposing QBs uncomfortable, forcing them to make quick decisions that don’t always work out in their favor.

There’s plenty of reason to believe that the Giants’ ability to force incompletions and turnovers is a direct result of the pressure their defensive ends provide.

Offensive line struggles have drastically lessened the impact of a very talented group of skill position players for the Giants, causing New York to rely on their defense. Luckily, that defense has stepped up to the challenge this season, allowing the team to win the close games they blew too often in 2015.

The offensive struggles have also led many fans and analysts to belittle what the Giants have accomplished this season, despite possessing the fourth best record in the entire league. Make no mistake, the Giants have not won any game easily, but they have found a way to win six in a row and eight overall.

Seattle showcased this weekend how even elite teams can have off weeks, and while those have turned up for the Giants, they have found a way to win.

Much like their Super Bowl championship teams in the past, the success of this Giants team is predicated on its defense, specifically the edge rushers. While that doesn’t lend itself to blowout victories, it does provide an x-factor in the playoffs that very few teams will be able to defend.

Don’t be fooled by the opinions of those claiming the Giants aren’t for real. This defense is very real, and it’s led by JPP and Olivier Vernon.

Billy Nayden is an SMU Mustang from Connecticut born and raised on New York sports. Avid fan of nearly every sport from MMA to handball. His heart is in NYC, but Billy has seen games on multiple continents, and has frequented arenas ranging from high school gyms to world class meccas.