leonard williams giants
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The Giants defense hasn’t been as strong as it was in 2020, and the lack of a true pass rush is one of the reasons why.

The great teams in the history of this storied franchise were built off productive pass rushes. The Lawrence Taylor-led crew of the 80s and early-90s was a big reason for the Super Bowl 21 and 25 wins while Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck played crucial roles in the Super Bowl 42 and 46 victories.

Thus far in 2021, the Giants pass rush isn’t even close to reaching the standard set by the organization, let alone exceed it. The Giants have recorded just six sacks through four games, which is tied for the second-fewest in the NFL.

It’s an overwhelming reason why this defense hasn’t been as strong as it was last year, but Leonard Williams believes the team can turn a corner in regard to pressuring the quarterback.

“I think we’re there. We just need to start playing more off of each other, playing more aggressive, and just attacking more individually,” Williams told the media Friday, per Giants.com. “Not scheme-wise attacking, but individually, knowing when it’s pass rush time and knowing on a third-down situation and what type of reads we’ll get and knowing when to get off and knowing who we’re rushing next to. If I’m rushing next to Zo [outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter], who’s a vet, I know I can get high in that three-technique and know that someone like him is going to be able to cover me. That’s what I mean by the pass rush [being] more aggressive.”

What’s interesting is the Giants employ the necessary weapons to formulate a productive pass rush. Williams is coming off an 11.5-sack 2020 season and one that led him to a three-year, $63 million contract extension in the offseason. Rookie edge rusher Azeez Ojulari notched a sack in each of his first three games and guys like Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines can also find themselves in the mix.

But while that’s all good and fun, there are some issues at hand that could be hindering the progression of the unit.

Opposing offenses, in 2021, no longer have to worry about two of the main pieces of this Giants defense from last year — defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and inside linebacker Blake Martinez. The former inked a two-year deal with Minnesota in the offseason while the latter suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3.

Tomlinson greatly complemented Williams on the defensive line during their time together in East Rutherford, and his absence could be why Leonard hasn’t put together the productive start Giants fans were hoping for.

With Martinez out, Tae Crowder must now be a primary run-stopper, and the second-year linebacker probably won’t be as free as he once was to rush the passer.

But adaptation is key in the NFL — things can change at the drop of a hat in this league. How you adapt could be a determinant of how successful you are on the field, and the Giants must respond in a sound manner.

If the Big Blue pass rush is to construct a quick turnaround, Sunday afternoon would be the perfect time to accomplish the task. Dak Prescott is an elite quarterback with top-tier weapons in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Ezekiel Elliott. We all know what the Cowboys signal-caller is capable of doing if he has time to operate in the pocket, and the Giants cannot allow him the opportunities to make the right decisions.

Follow Ryan Honey on Twitter: @RyanHoneyESNY

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