During one of the preseason practices this summer it looked like Jason Pierre-Paul gave up halfway through a pass rush. Established veteran, sweltering grind of camp, little to prove. Who could blame him for coasting for a rep?
But that’s not what happened.
“I beat the offensive tackle, whoever was in front of me, and I see O.V. [Olivier Vernon] coming so I laid off because I knew it was going to be a big hit,” Pierre-Paul explained later that day. “If we were in a real game that would have been a big hit, so I laid off and prepared myself to get the fumble. If coach asks me why I laid off, I’d tell him ‘I’m waiting for the fumble to run it to the house!’ ”
That just seemed like an excuse at the time, or maybe even a joke, but then a few days later in a preseason game against the Browns that’s almost exactly what happened. Vernon made a push toward the pocket, got a hand up in the face of then-Browns quarterback Brock Osweiler, and batted a pass in the air. Pierre-Paul was laying back, and he was able to catch it for an interception.
It was just one glimpse of what the Giants’ two dynamic defensive ends can be when they are both healthy (something that rarely happened last year) and playing off each other with the chemistry that was built up in their first season together.
“What helps us out is that we’ve got a lot of guys that can see,” Vernon said. “When you’re playing the position we play, defensive end, when you play on the defensive line, you’ve just got to be aware of the space, aware of where your teammates are. It’s like a chain, it helps balance everybody out. So, if we go underneath, somebody’s coming high. It just works. It’s like some type of fluidity in that process, so it’s chemistry with that one.”
The two defensive ends are lined up far from each other, yet on most teams they try to converge on the same spot when it comes to their pass rushing. These guys do it a bit differently, anticipating each other so that they mesh instead of overlap.
“It’s just keeping your eyes open and then just seeing when it all unfolds, just seeing how it plays out, and then you just work off from there,” Vernon said. “I feel like we just built a whole lot of great chemistry going into my year two with the team. So, it’s just keep building from there.”
If they keep it up, they will be among the league’s most dangerous duos. There was a very small window last year when that was the case, the time between Vernon’s recovery from a hand injury and Pierre-Paul’s season-ending core muscle injury. In those five games, the two combined for 12.5 sacks.
This year, if they are healthy and continue to work together, they could be even more productive.
As Pierre-Paul said several times: “I’m just getting warmed up.”