A Giants revival depends upon defense

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman is sacked in Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman is sacked in the second half by Justin Tuck during a game at MetLife Stadium. (Oct. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Bob Glauber Newsday columnist Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets and ...

The sacks have been coming so infrequently these days that Justin Tuck almost forgot about his signature celebration when he actually got one in Monday night's 23-7 win over the Vikings.

With the Giants leading 17-7 late in the third quarter, Minnesota was driving. On third-and-3 from the Giants' 21, Josh Freeman dropped back to pass and Tuck immediately chased him. Freeman was tackled at the 35 for a 14-yard sack, pushing the Vikings out of field-goal range.

It was Tuck's first full sack of the season, and it took him a moment before remembering to do his trademark bow to the crowd. "I almost forgot to do it, honestly,'' he said. "It's been a long time coming.''

A really long time. Tuck's previous full sack came in the final game last season. He had only half a sack coming into Monday's game. "Hopefully, you'll see a whole lot more of that around here,'' Tuck said.

That has to happen if the Giants plan on using the win over the wretched Vikings as a springboard. At 1-6, the Giants are still a long shot to make the playoffs, and their only realistic chance is to win the NFC East. They're three games behind the Cowboys with nine to play, which is an awful lot of catching up to do in such a short period.

"I told Jerry Reese, 'I think we have a shovel in our hands now,' '' Tuck said. "We'll start digging our way out of this hole. There's still a long way to climb, but this is a good start for us and hopefully we can get the ball rolling.''

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They can do that only if they continue to play good defense. They've done just that over the last six quarters, holding the Bears and Vikings without an offensive touchdown. But it's so hard to recover from 0-6, the only way they'll deserve to even think about a playoff run is if they can play more consistently on Tuck's side of the ball.

Say what you will about Eli Manning's problems -- hey, at least he didn't add to his league-worst 15 interceptions Monday -- but it's the defense that needs to set the tone. There are plenty of big names -- Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle -- but this unit needs to start dominating the way it did during the two Super Bowl seasons to give the Giants a chance.

Pierre-Paul has been a shell of himself, partly because of back surgery in the offseason. Tuck has only 1½ sacks. Mathias Kiwanuka has not made the impact he did in previous seasons. Rolle's interception Monday was only his second of the season. And the Giants have only six sacks in seven games.

Tuck had the only sack against the Vikings, but at least the pressure was more sustained. The Giants had 13 quarterback hits, which helped limit Freeman to 20 completions in 53 attempts. Freeman isn't very good, but at least the Giants got to him.

"We didn't have but one sack, but we did hit the quarterback a lot,'' Tom Coughlin said. "Pierre-Paul was certainly in the middle of that, as was really our front, our blitzers, our linebackers. We came out of the secondary [blitzing] with Antrel Rolle and Will Hill, and they got involved in there. I did think that we made steps forward.''

But this team can't be about small steps forward, especially with the pass rush. It's been the Giants' calling card from Lawrence Taylor to Michael Strahan to Tuck and Pierre-Paul. Lately, it hasn't been there enough.

"We've been trying to create that pressure again, where the quarterback knows coming in when he plays the Giants, he's going to have to contend with that,'' Coughlin said. "There were examples we can build on there and physicality has come along as well. That has to happen on both sides of the ball, special teams included. We're looking for that to continue to grow.''

It has to grow if the Giants are to get back in the race. That starts on Sunday in Philadelphia, where it looks as if Michael Vick will start after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury he suffered against the Giants.

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"We need to get a better pass rush,'' Tuck said. "I'll be the first one to tell you that that's normally been a strong point for us and hasn't been that way this year.''

Nine games left to find it again.

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