Olivier Vernon showed up this season with an $85 million free agent contract and the pressure to live up to it with big sack numbers. The massive dollars would have belonged to Jason Pierre-Paul if he didn’t blow off half his right hand in a horrific July 4 fireworks accident last year. Pierre-Paul’s agony became Vernon’s fortune and now they are teaming to give the Giants a game-changing pass rush. On Sunday, it was the inept Jay Cutler and the bumbling Bears in a mid-November game and not Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, but JPP and OV dominated like their pass-rushing forefathers Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, who are all in the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
“I wouldn’t even compare them. That’s three against two,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said smiling on his way out of the locker room. “It’s been so long since ’07 and ’08. We just got to keep on getting better. We got a long way to go.”
JPP was reduced to signing just a one-year, $10 million contract to prove he can still play after struggling when he returned for the final eight games last season and came up with just one sack. OV received a five-year, $85 million deal, including $52.5 million guaranteed — a leap of faith for the Giants with Vernon having only 29 sacks in four seasons in Miami.
If JPP didn’t have the accident, he and Vernon would not be teammates. There’s no way the Giants could have afforded both. And now, after a slow start, they are terrorizing quarterbacks and giving the Giants a fearsome pass rush. They helped secure a 22-16 victory over the Bears, a miserable 2-8 team. The Giants have won five in a row and are 7-3, their best record after 10 games since they were 9-1 in 2008.
Vernon had a huge takedown of Bears running back Jeremy Langford for a seven-yard loss on the final play of the third quarter when Chicago had moved to the Giants 35. Pierre-Paul then sacked Cutler on the first play of the fourth quarter. Vernon picked up his one sack of Cutler on first down on the next series — the first of three straight three-and-outs for Chicago in the fourth quarter.
JPP, who had 2.5 sacks, ended the Bears’ last threat after they had moved to the Giants’ 30 at the two-minute warning down by six points. He had a 14-yard strip sack of Cutler with the Bears recovering the fumble. Two plays later, Landon Collins ended the game with his fifth interception in the last four games.
JPP and Vernon each have four sacks. They are just getting warmed up. Vernon, who has been playing with a bad wrist he injured the first week of the season in Dallas, has one sack in each of the last three games. They have become a dangerous pair of pass rushing defensive ends, which is what the Giants are paying for.
“We have great chemistry with each other,” Pierre-Paul said.
Playing with Vernon? “Great,” JPP said. “I knew he was a good player. The guy deserved everything he’s gotten. The Giants saw something in him and gave him the money he deserved.”
Jay Cutler is down and the football is out after a strip-sack from Jason Pierre-Paul helps Big Blue defense foil Chicago’s final drive Sunday in Giants’ victory.
Vernon looked more like a role player than a franchise player through the first two months with one sack in the first seven games. It could have been his wrist or his new surroundings or trying to live up to the contract. But he’s playing well enough the Giants can expect the sacks to continue in bunches from him and JPP.
“I take a lot of pride in everything I do,” Vernon said. “I’m just glad things are rolling the way they are now.”
What about the pressure in New York with the big contract?
“No pressure needed,” Vernon said. “I came in for a reason and everybody has the same mentality right now. We’re just trying to go week in and week out and get the Ws.”
Vernon’s day got off to a bad start when he was called for a questionable roughing penalty of Cutler on the second play. It gave the Bears the momentum to score their first touchdown. It was a close call. “I just thought I just hit the quarterback at the right time,” he said.
How good are the Giants? They’ve won seven games by a total of 27 points. They have not scored more than 28 points and their largest margin of victory is seven points.
“Obviously, we won,” Rashad Jennings said. “But we want to win how you want to win.”
Last year, the offense scored 30 points seven times, but the defense was so historically bad, the Giants were only 3-4 in those games in a season they finished 6-10.
Olivier Vernon celebrates a sack with Landon Collins.
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
“This is the NFL. You ain’t about to score 30 every week on anybody,” Jennings said. “We have not exploded yet. We need to have that game when the offensive side of the ball is clicking really good on all cylinders.”
They are winning the games that they lost last year. Other than having to take the temperature of the moody Odell Beckham Jr. after each game, this has been a pretty level-headed team. Beckham was targeted seven times by Eli Manning, caught five passes for just 46 yards, didn’t get in the end zone and was cranky when questioned about his lack of production.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You have to ask someone else.”
He did have an important 20-yard catch on the first of the Giants touchdown drives to start the third quarter.
As tempting as it could be for the Giants to peek ahead three weeks to a showdown with Dallas in what will be their biggest game in five years, they will face a terrifying situation Sunday in Cleveland.
They must avoid the humiliation of being the first team to lose to the Browns. That comes with extraordinary pressure. Cleveland is 0-11 on the way to 0-16. “You can’t look ahead in this league,” Beckham Jr. said. “We have Cleveland next week. I don’t care what their record is. It’s a must-win. Every game you have to win. You can’t overlook anyone. This is the NFL.”
If JPP and OV keep getting after the quarterback like their predecessors, this season could go a long way.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News