Over the course of eight years, former New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul lined up across from quarterback Eli Manning thousands of times. Not once was he allowed to hit or tackle Manning. Tomorrow afternoon, that will change.
Manning’s Giants will take on Pierre-Paul’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers tomorrow at MetLife Stadium. The matchup does not have much meaning in terms of the playoff picture. Both the 2-7 Giants and 3-6 Bucs are in the midst of miserable seasons. Neither team has won a game by more than eight points, and both teams have lost games that they should have won.
Manning and the offense have received most of the blame for the Giants’ struggles this season. The unit has scored just 19.7 points per game, which is good for seventh-worst in the NFL.
The offensive line has struggled to protect Manning throughout the first nine games. In those games, he has been sacked 32 times, which is tied for the most in the league. Manning’s career high for sacks taken in a season is 39. He is on pace to take a whopping 57 sacks in 2018.
Conversely, the Buccaneers defense has been mainly responsible for Tampa’s struggles. They are giving up an NFL-worst 32.3 points per game, and they fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after a Week 6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Pierre-Paul has been the lone bright spot for the Bucs defense. Through nine games, he has eight sacks, 27 total tackles, and one forced fumble. By contrast, the entire Giants defense has ten sacks over the course of the season. Pierre-Paul has done everything the Bucs have asked him to do, and as a result, he has a great chance to be selected to his third Pro Bowl.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman would never publicly admit it, but he has to regret trading away the star defensive end. Pierre-Paul has experienced a career renaissance in Tampa after a string of average seasons with the Giants. Gettleman and the Giants front office have not made the most of the assets they received in exchange for Pierre-Paul.
In the trade, the Giants acquired a third-round pick from the Bucs. They selected NC State defensive lineman B.J. Hill with the pick. Hill has played in all nine games this season and leads the Giants with two sacks. He has shown promise and was seen as a good fit in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme. On the other hand, Pierre-Paul was not seen as a good fit in Bettcher’s defense, which was part of the reason why the Giants decided to trade him. Hill has shown promise, but his ceiling is not nearly as high as Pierre-Paul’s.
The Giants also obtained some cap space in the trade. Unfortunately, they have not made the most of the added cap space. The two main veterans who the Giants acquired in the offseason were left tackle Nate Solder and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree. Solder has not lived up to expectations and has given up far too many sacks. Ogletree has provided the defense with some much-needed leadership, but he has struggled to cover tight ends and running backs and has proven to be a reckless player.
On Sunday, Pierre-Paul will be ready to dominate the Giants’ subpar offensive line. When asked about returning to the Meadowlands to face his former team, Pierre-Paul said, “Honestly, I had this game checked off since I left there. Emotions running big. I’m coming, man. I’m bringing the house down.” The defensive end clearly has something to prove, and he is primed for a big game.
The Giants are going to have to find a way to prevent Pierre-Paul from taking over the game. Ultimately, this will prove to be a difficult task. The Buccaneers will do whatever they can to make sure Pierre-Paul gets a one-on-one matchup with Solder or Giants right tackle Chad Wheeler on every play. In response, the Giants will have to do everything they can to make sure Pierre-Paul doesn’t get to Manning.
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