Giant problems up front

New York's once-dominant front four has struggled down the stretch

Updated: December 29, 2012, 1:41 PM ET
By Field Yates | ESPN Insider
Justin TuckAP Photos/David DrapkinJustin Tuck and his fellow Giants D-linemen have not been as effective this season.

It will require fine fortune for the New York Giants to sneak into the playoffs and earn a shot at defending their Super Bowl crown, as they stand ninth in the NFC standings entering Week 17.

Injuries and inconsistent quarterback play have hurt the Giants this season, but most surprising about 2012 has been the pressure -- or lack thereof -- from the Giants' front four. Notable players such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have regressed since 2011 in terms of overall play and sack production.

Those three players, as well as linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka and defensive tackle Chris Canty, have slipped in performance, according to Pro Football Focus. But the play of the Giants' front four involves the linebackers and the secondary.

In film evaluation of the Giants' past four games (in which they've generated just two sacks), pass coverage on the second and third levels of the defense stands out as an obvious area of weakness. Pro Football Focus grades the Giants as the second-worst pass-coverage team in the NFL (ahead of only the Saints), and their lack of man-to-man coverage players is apparent.

Opponents have been able to use combinations of quick passing routes against the Giants in man coverage, which decreases the time their rushers have to get to the quarterback. In seven-step drop-back situations, the Giants continue to manifest pressure, but setting up third-and-long scenarios hasn't been easy.

And that stems from a struggling run defense.

Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.