Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, the New York Giants’ deadly defensive end duo, look as dynamic as ever.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took advantage of that pair in 2016, as they spearheaded a drastic defensive revival, breathing life into a unit that was the NFL’s worst in 2015.
Preparations for the upcoming season have inevitably raised a number of questions across the entire team but if one thing is clear, it’s that the Giants defense is once again in good shape to give its offense excellent field position more often than not.
In Pierre-Paul and Vernon, head coach Ben McAdoo has two powerful, hungry and technically gifted defensive ends capable of causing havoc and, in turn, leading the team on another postseason run.
Monday night’s preseason clash with the Cleveland Browns marked the latest opportunity for both men to make a statement of intent.
A 10-6 defeat by no means overshadowed a dominant performance from the pair, one that teased signs of them being in mid-season form.
Pierre-Paul thrived inside FirstEnergy Stadium, following up his standout display in the Giants’ 27-13 win over the Browns in Week 12 of the 2016 season. The 28-year-old was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on that occasion, having returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown and registering three sacks.
Though he wasn’t able to match those figures this time around, he did turn heads with an impressive interception after latching onto a Brock Osweiler pass that had been well blocked by Vernon.
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If Pierre-Paul wasn’t dissecting the Browns offensive line with his unrelenting bursts, Vernon was unsettling the hosts with some brute strength of his own.
The 26-year-old gave Big Blue fans a welcome reminder of what an exceptional free agent acquisition he was in the offseason last year. He also made it easy to see why left tackle Ereck Flowers has had such a tough time stopping him in training camp.
Besides playing a key role in Pierre-Paul’s pick, he also split a sack with his teammate and, in the process, gave rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer a frightful introduction to life on the pro stage.
Neither moment was his standout contribution, though.
That came halfway through the second quarter, when Vernon went stride-for-stride, 30-yards downfield with Browns rookie tight end David Njoku, before batting the pass out of bounds. Defensive ends aren’t supposed to make those kinds of plays. That Vernon did bodes well for the Giants.
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A duo as potent as that of Pierre-Paul and Vernon cannot be burdened by another lackluster year by the offense—not that they aren’t up to the task. If both stay healthy, they will be one of, if not the most dangerous defensive end pairings in the league.
A team-high 8.5 sacks for Vernon in 2016 and seven for Pierre-Paul set the tone for the level of dominance expected from September onwards.
Those kinds of totals will look a whole lot better if quarterback Eli Manning, his offensive line and receiving weapons can get into a rhythm.
The two compliment one another, with Pierre-Paul’s impact against the passing game combining perfectly Vernon’s run-stuffing ability.
They are also, crucially, stronger as a pair, with the presence of one eliminating the opportunity for opposition teams to double up blockers on the other.
The Giants have good reason to anticipate nothing less than another outstanding year from two men visibly striving for constant improvement and with a devotion to fulfilling this team’s potential.
McAdoo will be hopeful defensive ends Romeo Okwara, Owa Odighizuwa and Jordan Williams can continue to learn from the pair and continue to develop, allowing him to give Pierre-Paul and Vernon some time off during games in an attempt to keep them fresh.