EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -No Michael Strahan. No Osi Umenyiora.
So what?
The likely future Hall of Famer and the injured Pro Bowler may be gone from the New York Giants' defensive line. The sack party continues for the Super Bowl champions.
Three weeks into the season, the Giants (3-0) are once again making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, sharing the NFL lead for sacks (13) with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Over a 16-game season that would translate to 69 sacks, three less than the league record set by the Chicago Bears in 1984. The total would be 16 more than New York had last season, when it led the league with 53, with 22 coming from Umenyiora (13) and Strahan (9).
``We never once had a doubt,'' defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said of the Giants' ability to pressure the quarterback this season. ``We just had things we had to prove. That was a different group than last year and when Osi went down we knew there would be some skepticism. If you thought the way we felt though, you knew it was just a matter of time.''
It certainly hasn't taken long. After being limited to a sack in the opener against the Washington Redskins, the Giants buried Marc Bulger of the Rams and Carson Palmer of the Bengals six times apiece in the last two weeks.
``A-plus,'' defensive end Justin Tuck said quickly when asked to grade the performance of the line heading into the bye week. ``I'm joking. If I had to grade the D-line I would give us a favorable grade. But there is so much more room for improvement.''
Defensive line coach Mike Waufle described his line as a diverse, smart, group that works hard, has fun and handles all the intricate details of coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
``We can take this defensive line a long ways,'' Waufle said. ``Steve demands a lot of them with the assignments in the pressures, and within the assignments within the packages, and they are smart enough to do it. As a result, we've had production and we can get better.''
Despite losing Strahan and Umenyiora, the line hasn't changed much from a year ago.
Veterans Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield are manning the tackle positions for the third straight year, with Kiwanuka and Tuck at the ends.
the previous season to get him on the field more.
The biggest change has been with the depth. Veteran Reynaldo Wynn was signed in the offseason and Jerome McDougle was claimed on waivers from the Eagles before the start of the season, joining end Dave Tollefson and tackle Jay Alford as the backups.
``These guys just never stop working,'' McDougle said, noting that the group is also looking at films of opponents, lifting and practicing techniques to build muscle memory. ``They know how to play to the game and how to get to the quarterback. They have a lot of fun, but when it's time to work, they work.''
Kiwanuka said that is a carry-over from the Strahan era.
In his 15 seasons with the Giants, Strahan mentored every new lineman. He taught them moves, how to work out in the weight room, watch videotapes of opponents and, most importantly, how to work hard.
``When you get a chance to work with a guy who was here for a decade and half with this organization and to watch him go out and practice the way he did, you can't help as a young guy but to follow that lead,'' Kiwanuka said. ``You'd be stupid, remiss if you didn't follow that legacy.''
While the players said that Spagnuolo's defense is complex, there are certain basic elements that lead to sacks. It starts with stopping the run and putting opponents into passing situations.
nts, leaving quarterbacks and linemen sometimes guessing where the pressure is coming from.
Tuck many times will line up at tackle, end or even at a linebacker spot to confuse the defense.
``We're not a bunch of headbangers,'' Tuck said.
It's also not unusual to see linebackers and defensive backs moving close to the line and blitzing or simply faking the blitz.
``Third down is our motto,'' Cofield said. ``We try to get our best players one on one, and then it comes down to athleticism and talent. It's not that confusing. You try to get your best players in the best position possible.''
The results have been there this season even without Strahan and Umenyiora.
Robbins said that Strahan and Umenyiora have frequently sent text messages to either congratulate the linemen or offer some instructions.
``They believe in us,'' Robbins said, ``and a lot of people just thought our defensive line across the board was going to go to (into the toilet) without those two guys, but each guy stepped up and took his game to the next level.''
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