"Creativity'' was never a word that the Giants' defensive line had to rely on. For a long time, they just lined up against their opponent, often outnumbered five or six or even seven against four, and simply converged on the quarterback. From 2004 through 2012, the Giants had 367 sacks, the third most in the NFL.
Now, though, the Giants no longer can rely on individuals to win matchups and their four pass rushers to supply enough heat to disrupt quarterbacks. They have an NFL-low five sacks through six games. Tom Coughlin said he would take a long look at the problems of that unit during this recent mini-break and try to fix them. One of the ways he said he would do so was with . . . creativity.
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"Times have changed,'' Justin Tuck said with a sigh over having been reduced to relying on trickery and deception to provide a force that once came easily and naturally. "Believe me, I still remember the good old days when we lined up and you felt like anytime you went against a guy, you were going to beat him.''
Despite the presence of players who have done that in the past such as Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul, those days may be gone for good. Meanwhile, Osi Umenyiora has four sacks for the Falcons, only one fewer than the entire Giants team.
"We've got to do a better job in these one-on-one situations,'' Coughlin said. "It basically comes down to: I've got to beat this guy, or I have to beat this guy and a half. When you bring five [rushers], you do have a chance to get singled up and we have to win when that takes place.''
That didn't happen when the Giants played the Bears and sent blitzing linebackers on several occasions. Those players were picked up easily and Jay Cutler was allowed to remain in the pocket unscathed, unflustered and unhurried.
The Giants are on pace for 13 or 14 sacks, which would be their worst statistical year since the NFL began tracking sacks in 1963. They had 18 in 1971.
Tuck offered several reasons for the lack of production.
Quarterbacks, he said, are getting the ball out more quickly. That has been a lament of the defensive line for several years now.
"I think that's the game plan against us right now,'' Tuck said. "We've seen a lot of slants, we've seen a lot of digs, we've seen a lot of curls, we've seen a lot of check-downs to the backs. Teams are not really giving us an opportunity to beat them with our front four.''
He also said the Giants are playing from behind most of the time. "We haven't had the opportunity to play downhill,'' he said. "If you look at the sack numbers from years past, normally the team was leading by two scores a lot of the games. That's the way it's been around here. You get a team where you know they have to pass the ball and they have to go five out [in pass patterns], I don't think an O-line in this league stands a chance, regardless if it's us or anybody else.''
And of course, there is Pierre-Paul, coming off back surgery and playing at a fraction of his previous abilities. Tuck said he thinks his troubles are more mental than physical right now as he tries to return to his Pro Bowl form. Pierre-Paul said he was feeling under the weather on Thursday and declined interview requests.
So what are the Giants left with? "You have to find some way to create a pass rush, and creativity is one of those ways,'' Tuck said. "Hopefully we can get the ball rolling. We get the ball rolling, things start to happen a little differently. But we have to get it rolling first.''