EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Coming into this season, the New York Giants have $30 million in cap space invested in their starting defensive line.
Based solely on sacks five games into the season, the return is going to be disastrous.
The Giants (2-3) have an NFL-low four sacks and only two have been by the linemen heading into Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens (3-2).
Olivier Vernon ($13 million against the cap) and fellow defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul ($9.4 million) have one sack apiece. Tackles Damon Harrison ($6.6 million) and Johnathan Hankins ($1.3 million) have been shut out.
The lack of a rush was never more evident than Sunday night, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sometimes had as many as five seconds to stand and throw. He was not sacked and hurried only three times.
The only time he was really knocked down was when Vernon shoved him to the ground while cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned an interception. Of course, Vernon drew a 15-yard penalty for the illegal hit.
Vernon, who was signed to a five-year, $85 million contract, didn’t have much to say about the lack of a pass rush. Most of his answers were 10 words or fewer and noted the need to play better.
“It is the beginning of the season,” Vernon said when asked if he was frustrated.
The former Miami Dolphin has been bothered by a wrist injury since the second week of the season but refused to address it Thursday.
Pierre-Paul, who like Vernon has rarely left the field this season, returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday following a groin injury. He said he will play Sunday.
Pierre-Paul, who missed half of last season after mangling his right hand in a fireworks accident on July 4, isn’t concerned about the sack total either. He said the defenders have been close and just need to finish plays.
“To me, it’s not even about sacks, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Yes, it’s nice to have, but in reality, when you look at the games, we’ve been close. We just have to finish with the sack numbers.
“Our defense has been playing pretty well. We just have to get there and finish. I’m not talking about the D-line, I’m talking about as a group. Tackle better. We have done a poor job tackling. That’s every guy on the team, including myself. We just have to get better.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said sacks can be great, but he is more interested in limiting opponents on rushing on first and second down and cutting down on opponents’ big plays.
“I will say this: Would we like to have more?” Spagnuolo said of the sacks. “Yes. Would we like to have more pressure on the quarterback? Yes. I do think that there are moments in there where we are hitting and getting pressure on the quarterback that don’t show up on a stat sheet. But we need more.”
The Giants practiced in shoulder pads on Thursday just to work on their tackling.
The tackling problem has resulted in the defense failing to get off the field many times. It is ranked 30th in third-down defense.
The lack of a pass rush, the third-down defense, poor tackling and little help from the offense in recent weeks has the Giants riding a three-game losing streak. It also has many fans thinking about a fifth straight season missing the playoffs.
“There’s no uh-oh,” Pierre-Paul said. “You know how it is. We started, what, 0-6 (2014)? We still had a chance to go to the playoffs. It’s still early. The season’s just started. We’re going on six. It’s early. Anything can happen. Then we have this bye week after this London game. We’re just focusing on this game now, but we have a lot of room for improvement.”
NOTES: Return specialist Dwayne Harris (toe) did not practice Thursday, joining CB Eli Apple (hamstring), OT Marshall Newhouse (calf), and SS Nat Berhe (concussion) and Darian Thompson (foot). … TE Larry Donnell returned to practice after missing last week with a concussion.