The number that Jason Pierre-Paul wants to reach this season is 16, as in the number of regular-season games he plays. He hasn’t been able to get through an entire season without an injury of some sort since 2014.
More and more, though, it’s looking as if the number that will best define his season could be a little higher than that. Like 16 and a half.
That’s his career high in sacks, set in his second NFL season in 2011. But the way Pierre-Paul has been performing this preseason, he might be able to blow right past that standard.
“I think I can,” Pierre-Paul said of setting a new personal mark after he demolished the Jets in the Giants’ 32-31 preseason win Saturday night. “Why, you want me to?”
The Giants wouldn’t mind. And if this summer is any indication of what lies ahead in the fall and winter, they might get their wish.
“I’ve been here a few years,” said linebacker Jonathan Casillas, in his third season with the Giants. “When I got here, he wasn’t here; he was losing some fingers and getting that sorted out. When he came back, he was a good player. But now — I don’t know what he looked like before because I wasn’t with him, but he’s the best I’ve ever seen him. By far. Not even close. I mean, he’s one of the dominant players in the league and I think he’s fully back to where he was before the accident.”
He certainly seemed that way Saturday. He was credited with three tackles, a safety, a sack, another quarterback hit and a pass defensed while playing 29 defensive snaps. That’s a lot of impact plays in a short amount of time on the field.
Pierre-Paul played well last year, but the stats did not always back that up. This preseason, the numbers have been in line with his performance.
“I’m just going to beat the person in front of me,” Pierre-Paul said. “That’s the game of football. At the same time, do your assignment. But nine times out of 10, if you beat the person in front of you, you’re going to be OK.”
He humiliated Jets tackle Brandon Shell. On one play, he tossed Shell aside with what once was considered his injured right hand but now might be just his right hand.
“He’s unbelievable,” Casillas said. “I’m fighting with O-linemen and battling my butt off and he’s throwing them out of the way . . . He plays at a different speed during the game, and the way his body is, he can do things and bend different ways that people can’t. Sometimes you don’t expect power from him and all of a sudden he can throw a grown 330-pound man across the room.”
Pierre-Paul showed that mix of power and athleticism on the safety he recorded, sliding inside Shell and darting into the backfield to tackle Matt Forte in the end zone.
“JPP was dialed in and playing at a high level,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “He was very disruptive. The safety was an impressive play, clubbing the tackle and getting skinny and making the play on a stretch play. He was all over the field, very productive. He had an outstanding night.”
Pierre-Paul himself downplayed the stop.
“Just playing ball,” he said.
Then he smiled. “You like that, though, right?”
The Giants would like to see it for the next four months.
Pierre-Paul said of the expectations on him: “I’m just getting warmed up, bro. Honestly.”