You won’t be able to tell it from the stat sheet, which has been relatively quiet, but make no mistake: When it comes to determining whether Jason Pierre-Paul has been a major factor for the Giants’ defense, he passes the eye test.
The 27-year-old defensive end has just 1 ½ sacks this season and is just over a year after returning from a fireworks accident on July 4, 2015 that mangled his right hand, but he is nevertheless disrupting offenses and drawing plenty of attention from opposing coaches.
“Just knowing that teams have to game plan against me, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Pierre-Paul said after Thursday’s practice. “If they don’t, bad things are going to happen.”
Pierre-Paul has overcome plenty to get to this point, even if his stats have plummeted since his injury. He has 12 ½ sacks in 2014, but the hand injury nearly wrecked his career. Two fingers on his right hand were blown completely off, and parts of two other things are now missing. But he has willed himself to get back to the player he was before the injury, and his play in recent weeks reflects that dedication.
“I always have that confidence of just playing football, no matter what, even with my hand injury,” Pierre-Paul said. “I still have that mentality.”
Pierre-Paul is so confident in his play, in fact, that he thinks he’d be out there under even worse circumstances.
“You could have taken the whole thing off,” referring to his hand. “I’d have been out there with a nub. That’s just the mentality that I’ve got.”
Yet there is a more humble side to Pierre-Paul that has recently emerged, partly due to the initial fears he might never play again because of the hand injury, but also because he has matured as a person. Take his reaction to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s boast after Monday night’s 21-20 win over the Bengals.
“This defense is a Super Bowl defense,” Beckham told ESPN after the game, in which the Giants’ defense held the one-point lead through most of the fourth quarter.
Pierre-Paul has often shared similarly exuberant thoughts in the past, guaranteeing victories and promising playoff appearances during his earlier years with the Giants. Not now.
“I’ll agree [with Beckham], but let’s slow down for a minute,” said Pierre-Paul, who batted down two passes against the Bengals, including one in the fourth quarter. “Our job this year is to get into the playoffs, take one game at a time, and hopefully at the end of this run, we’re in the playoffs. We know what we have here. We don’t need the hype. Odell sees it. We all see it. There’s no need to talk about it.”
He has learned from experience not to get too far ahead of himself.
“I’ve seen the Super Bowl, and I’ve seen not going to the playoffs,” said Pierre-Paul, who was a part of the Giants’ 2011 championship team. “One game at a time will decide it for us.”
If the Giants do manage to get into the playoffs and even make a meaningful run, Pierre-Paul will undoubtedly be a big reason why. He is now routinely getting more attention from opposing teams, and even though he isn’t getting the sack numbers, he is creating opportunities for his teammates.
“I think that people feel him,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of opposing teams’ increasing attention toward Pierre-Paul. “That’s a good thing for us. When you have to worry about one guy, you can do some other things. I think he’s steadily gotten more comfortable.”
Pierre-Paul has been an inspiration to the people around him, and not simply because of his play.
“That’s one hell of a teammate right there,” said defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was signed to a free agent deal before the season. “[Pierre-Paul] never complains about anything, despite everything he’s had to battle. He goes out there and makes plays. All you could do is respect that. He’s had a lot to prove, and I’m with that. I can be a help to him. Let’s do it. It’s great being in the building with guys like that.”
His teammates are obviously feeding off his energy and his heart, both of which have been in abundant evidence. He’s close to being the old JPP.
“You look on film and I’m all over the field,” he said. “That’s something you can’t coach. You have to have a heart, and nobody can give me that. I guarantee you that if you pop on the film, you will see me running to the ball more than any player.”
Pop on the film, and you see why the stats don’t really matter. For Pierre-Paul, it’s all about passing the eye test.