Justin Tuck wants his play to talk loudest
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
Justin Tuck has become one of the Giants' most recognizable figures in recent years, a team captain who speaks his mind on subjects ranging from football to improving the lives of children through increased literacy to just how physically demanding the sport of professional football can be.
He is one of only 11 players left on the team to have played in both Super Bowl championships over the last five seasons, his place secure as one of the team's all-time greats.
But in a candid moment the other day in a corner of the Giants' locker room, Tuck suggested that maybe his profile is just a bit too high these days, and that he might be better off staying out of the spotlight.
"I need to be quiet more," he said. "I really do."
Better that his play do more of the talking, Tuck suggests. Yet while Tuck remains one of the team's most reliable linemen, offering a rare blend of pass rush ability with efficient run-stopping skills, there is one area of his game that has been silent. After three games, he is still without a sack.
Pass rushers often go through slumps, and Tuck has had a few since developing into one of the league's dominant linemen in 2007. While similar droughts have left him frustrated and demoralized -- there were a combined five times in the 2009-2011 seasons where he went three or more games without a sack -- neither emotion has surfaced so far this season.
The number that concerns him most is still on the plus side, so Tuck isn't complaining about his personal dearth of statistics.
"We're winning games and our defense is playing well," he said of the Giants' 2-1 record heading into Sunday's key divisional game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. "That's really all that matters to me. It's not about me. It's about the group, and as long as we're winning and we're playing well as a group, I'm totally fine with that."
Don't get Tuck wrong. He'd love to pad his stats. But at 29, he is wise enough to keep the true meaning of sacks in perspective.
"I learned a long time ago that sacks are one of the most overrated stats in the National Football League," said Tuck, who has 451/2 career sacks. "I've had many great rushes where the quarterback has thrown the ball away and I absolutely defeated the [blocker] I was going against. And there have been rushes where I've been blocked into sacks. Even so, I still think I'm playing quality football."
Tuck has 10 tackles, including two stops for no gain in the Giants' 36-7 romp over the Panthers in Week 3. His tackle of Panthers' scrambling quarterback Cam Newton in the first half was a tone-setting play for a defense that would smother the former Heisman Trophy winner and put the Giants back into a first-place tie with the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East.
He would like nothing more to have an impact game against the Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick, who has been under siege so far this season. In three games, Vick has been sacked nine times and hit another 28 times. He has six interceptions. Getting to the quarterback could be the decisive factor in whether the Giants can beat the Eagles.
"You always want to put pressure on him," Tuck said. "You try and keep him in the pocket so you can get a hit on him, but if he gets out of the pocket, he's vulnerable, too."
Tuck is part of a Giants' defensive line that has been mostly neutralized in this early part of the season. Opposing teams have decided that the best way to deal with the front four is to have their quarterbacks release passes quickly to minimize the pass rush, and the Cowboys and Buccaneers were quite successful with that tactic..
Eagles coach Andy Reid has had the upper hand in his rivalry against the Giants in recent years, winning six of their last seven. Gone are the days when Tuck, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora would dominate the Eagles' offensive line; these days, it's Philly with the edge.
Tuck hopes that all changes Sunday night in Philadelphia. His plan is to do plenty of talking, all of it on the field.