The Giants' defensive linemen aren't in a slump. They're just waiting for their pitch.
So says Osi Umenyiora, who used a baseball analogy to describe why the team's big four pass rushers have accounted for only 18 sacks this year, a steep decline from the 2011 season, when they had 34 between them.
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"It's like a guy who's a slugger and every single time they're throwing him balls, they're trying to walk him," Umenyiora said. "And then you ask him why he's not hitting home runs. They're trying to walk him. If they pitch him the ball, he's going to hit a home run.
"We're not getting pitches," Umenyiora continued. "It's really that simple. When we get our pitches, whenever we get ahead, whenever we get one-on-one blocks, we're going to take advantage of them. We're just not really seeing them right now."
Part of that is by design. At least it was last week when the Giants had only one sack -- Umenyiora's -- against Drew Brees. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said his scheme against the Saints was to limit their other weapons, and that meant using a system that would limit sack opportunities. To continue the metaphor, he asked his slugging defensive linemen to sacrifice bunt. And they did.
"Our guys are very cooperative," Fewell said. "It took a lot for them to do what I asked them to do last week. It wasn't the most sack-friendly game for them but it was the way we felt we had to win that football game. A lot of d-linemen wouldn't have done what they did."
But that was only one game. This season the numbers have been down as teams have continually found ways to thwart the line's pressure. Sometimes it's with quick passes or screens. Other times, such as last year in the playoffs against the Falcons -- this week's opponent -- it's by keeping extra players in to block.
"Regardless of popular opinion, other teams still respect us as a pass-rushing team," said Mathias Kiwanuka, who has become a dedicated defensive end since the bye. "We have to be able to play through that and still be able to get there . . . We have to go into every game assuming we're going to get their best protection and their best shot."
And unlike last week, when the plan was to pressure Brees but not necessarily sack him -- a scheme that, by the way, led to four turnovers and limited the Saints to two offensive touchdowns -- the Giants sound as though they're looking to increase their sack numbers a little against the Falcons. Fewell wasn't tipping his game plan, but the players sounded ready to get back to terrorizing quarterbacks and not just baiting them.
They don't want to play nice with Matty Ice.
"He's a very headstrong individual," Kiwanuka said of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, a teammate of his at Boston College. "Just from playing with him for a limited time, I know he's going to do everything he can to drive that offense. But even the best ones, if you hit them hard enough, fast enough, early enough, it will affect the way they play. That's what we have to do. Legally."
"I think this week we'll be better," Umenyiora said. "We'll have opportunities to get there and I think we just have to take advantage of them."