Better defensive line: Eagles or Giants?

The two best 4-3 defensive lines in the NFL reside in the NFC East.  They would of course be the Eagles and Giants.  But which one is better?

The best defensive lineman between the two teams, by far and away, is Jason Pierre-Paul.  He had 16.5 sacks last season, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story on what kind of player he is:

  • In 2011, he batted 10 passes at the line of scrimmage.  That was more batted balls at the line than the entire Eagles’ team had last year.  In fact, according to PFF, only 10 defensive backs in the league had more pass break-ups than JPP had batted passes.  Think about that for a minute.  That’s absolutely remarkable.
  • He makes plays on special teams.  Remember that kind of important, game-sealing blocked FG against the Cowboys last year?
  • He’s exceptional against the run, as he had the most tackles in the league among all defensive linemen.
  • Incredible competitor.  I’ll always remember the Saints-Giants blowout last year.  The Saints did pretty much whatever they wanted to the Giants’ defense last year at the Superdome, and with the game completely wrapped up at the end of the 4th quarter and the Giants stacking the interior of the line to stop a likely clock draining inside run, the Saints ran up the score a little by calling a pitch to Mark Ingram.  Ingram had a free run to the endzone, and just about all the Giants kind of jogged and watched.  Not JPP.  He sprinted after Ingram all the way to the goal line and almost caught him.  That unwillingness to quit stuck with me.

Justin Tuck, meanwhile, is a little harder to figure out.  Last season, at least through Week 14, was easily Tuck’s worst year as a pro… until the games really started to mean something:

Justin Tuck Tackles Sacks TFL FF
Through Week 14 24 2.5 1 0
Week 15 and beyond 25 5.5 1 1

Then, as the above chart shows, he turned it on.  Tuck dealt with a nagging neck injury all season, so I’m not sure if it just began to feel better at some point, or if he just has a knack for stepping up in the big games.  A lot of people felt that he should have been the MVP of the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl, and I tend to agree.  In that game, he had 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 additional TFLs for a combined loss of 16 yards), and a FF.  This past February, he had 2 sacks, and also was the guy that got pressure on Tom Brady, leading to the safety for intentional grounding in the endzone.  Two monster performances on the sporting world’s biggest stage.  The downside with Tuck is that he has accumulated a lot of wear and tear.  In the last 4 years, he has racked up 3291 snaps, or about 822 per season.  That’s an enormous workload for a defensive lineman.  To be determined how much longer Tuck can play at a high level.

The third guy among the Giants big 3 is Osi Umenyiora, who is the ultimate luxury player.  Put him in when you think the offense might pass, and tell him to go get the QB.  Nothing more, nothing less.  In 2011, Osi had the 3rd most “sacks per snap” in the NFL, but it’s his knack for separating the ball from the QB that makes him special.  In 2010, he had 10 forced fumbles, which was a single-season record.

The Giants’ starting DTs are Chris Canty and Linval Joseph.  Joseph is a player the Giants love.  He barely played his rookie season, but became a regular in 2011.  Like JPP, he had an impressive number of batted passes (4), and was a very good run stuffer for the better part of the season.  I remember him being a major force in the regular season game against the Packers, as he racked up 9 tackles in that game.  Joseph is only going to get better.  Canty, meanwhile, has an inflated contract (6 years, $42 mil signed in ’09) that he hasn’t lived up to, but is a decent inside pass rusher and overall solid starter.

If we’re talking about “Top 5 guys” along a DL, nobody matches the Giants.  Not even close.  Mathias Kiwanuka is worth noting as well, as he can certainly play some DE if need be.  Kiwi is currently the starting SLB, and plays there on occasion in their “NASCAR set” with JPP, Tuck, and Osi on obvious passing downs, so he could fill in there if one or more of the Giants’ DEs suffered an injury. But beyond Kiwi, the Giants don’t have much in the way of depth, especially at DT:

Beyond Canty and Joseph, the depth at DT is Shaun Rogers, Marvin Austin, Rocky Bernard (not noted on the chart above), and 7th round rookie Markus Kuhn.  Rogers is a big name and a big guy, but he hasn’t been a good player in years.  Austin, assuming he plays this season, will see his first game action in almost three years.  He last played for UNC in 2009.  The additional depth at DE is Justin Trattou and Adrian Tracy.

While the strength of the Giants’ DL is mainly in the big 3 of JPP, Tuck and Osi, the Eagles strength is in their numbers, although they’re not exactly hurting for star power either.

Early on in the 2011 season, the Eagles played the Falcons on Sunday Night Football.  The box score for Trent Cole read 6 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL’s, but that did little to tell the story of what Cole actually did in that game.  He basically made a mockery of Falcons LT Sam Baker’s attempts to keep him from from looking like little more than a tackling sled.  Whatever he went to… the bull rush (especially the bull rush), the arm over, the rip, it didn’t matter.  Baker could do absolutely nothing to keep Cole from collapsing the pocket on virtually every pass play and making life miserable for Matt Ryan.  It was one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen from a defensive lineman.

I think that’s kind of the thing with Trent Cole.  His stats are good (at least 10 sacks in 4 of the last 5 years), but I don’t think they truly tell the story of how good a football player he is.  He’s a great pass rusher, and an elite run stopper from the DE position, and a leader in the locker room.

Jason Babin is kind of the opposite, as he has eye-popping glamor numbers (18 sacks in 2011), although his game has some deficiencies.  He commits far too many penalties (he led the team with 12 last seson), and while I don’t believe he’s a liability in the run game, I certainly wouldn’t say that’s one of his strengths.  Still, he is great at what he does, which is get to the QB.  Earlier we mentioned that Osi Umenyiora had the 3rd most sacks per snap in the league in 2011.  Well, Jason Babin was 2nd behind only Aldon Smith.

At DT, Cullen Jenkins remains one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL, who excels at collapsing the pocket.  His 5.5 sacks in 2011 were good for 6th in the league for DTs.  His presence did wonders for Babin’s numbers last season.  Pairing with him is Mike Patterson, who I believe is a very underrated player, even by Eagles fans.  Tommy Pudding Pops talked a little about that a few weeks ago:

One thing I can’t stress enough is that Mike Patterson is still very good at what he does.  He can penetrate when single-blocked.  He can take on double teams.  He is a good run defender.  With him out of the lineup vs WAS, the Skins ran all over us in the finale.  In the first game we shut them down.  A lot of that was on the absence of a guy like Patt to help control the middle.  Any talk of benching Patt needs to seriously address all that he does well.  Too many people are quick to dismiss him.

Patterson, however, had brain surgery and remains questionable for the start of camp.

OK, now, getting past the starters, look at that second line:

Brandon Graham – Fletcher Cox – Antonio Dixon – Vinny Curry

Crazy.  Potential galore.  Cox and Curry haven’t taken a snap in the NFL, but according to Tony Pauline of SI, “several NFL teams have privately stated they believe Cox will be the best defensive player to come from the 2012 draft.”  Meanwhile, Curry dominated in college and I thought that he was one of the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl, sooooooo, you know, obviously he’s going to be awesome.

As mentioned earlier, I think that JPP is by far and away the best defensive lineman in this group, and as we all know, Brandon Graham was selected a few spots ahead of him in the 2010 draft. Graham showed promise as a rookie, but an ACL tear severely set him back.  Naturally, the compisons to Graham and JPP have led Graham to become something of a punching bag among some Eagles fans.  He recognizes that, and has come into camp with a bit of a chip on his shoulder:

(Graham) was 285 last year, and he says he’s down to 265 this year.  His quote after practice:

“I’m a bust, and I’m going to keep being a bust. Even when I make plays, I’m going to still act like I’m a bust.”

Graham is now two years removed from his ACL tear, and looks very impressive physically, although it has been tough to seriously evaluate him without any contact in OTAs and minicamp.

A lot of teams in building mode would be excited about that 2nd string being their starters.

But the depth doesn’t even end there.  Phillip Hunt played very well last season when he got his opportunities, as PFF has him down for a couple sacks and 15 hurries in 180 snaps last season (although their hurries are not completely trustworthy, in my opinion), and Darryl Tapp is a 6-year vet that is a really nice role player with 23.5 career sacks.

And then of course, there’s Derek Landri.  Naturally, we’ll go right back to Tommy Pudding Pops for his take on Landri:

The simple fact (is that) that Landri played his ass off last year and the team was better with him on the field.  A lot of our big plays came with Derek out there, whether he directly influenced the play or not.  At some point you have to set aside long term plans and perfect fit.  Just focus on if the guy is a good player and if you can find a role for him.  Yes…and yes.  If Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn can’t find a way to use Derek Landri, then they shouldn’t be coaching in the NFL.

Depth overload.

So, who ya got?

48 Comments

  1. W8tXL2 Thanks again for the article post.Much thanks again. Cool.

  2. anaphylactic says:

    i would really like to see this article/poll on a neutral website… I personally believe it is the Eagles (being a ‘Boys fan), but I would like to get some outside perspective…

  3. signs of low vitamin d…

    Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Great choice of colors!…

  4. NYG_UK says:

    Another win for the Eagles in their 2nd team offseason Superbowl!

    1. I have no idea what that means.

  5. Espirence says:

    My Man, you fail to recognize the Giants pride themselves on flexability of their players so when u discuss depth remember JPP and Tuck are also All Pro Tackles while Osi and Kiwanuka play the ends. Now also note Canty 6’7″ also knocks down passes and played hurt last year. Also Austin is a potential beast at tackle and Linal Joseph is probably near all pro level already. Shaun Rodgers is going to be a beast for the 12-15 plays a game he’s plays for and Rocky Bernard is a solid tackle now we also have Trattou who seems to have lots of potential.
    Besides we’re stacked, highly flexable there’s one more difference makerf the one that wins championships the reason why the Eagles have never one the championship we play position defense not glory defense we hold the Gaps.
    If the Eagles ever had Tom Caughlin as head coach that would be a scarry team.
    Its all about discipline thats the difference.

    1. “My Man, you fail to recognize the Giants pride themselves on flexability of their players so when u discuss depth remember JPP and Tuck are also All Pro Tackles while Osi and Kiwanuka play the ends.”

      Didn’t fail to recognize that, but whatever.

      As for the rest of your comments:

      - “Canty knocks down passes”

      He knocked down 3 in 20 games.

      And the rest:

      - Marvin Austin: “Potential beast”
      - Linval Joseph: “Probably near All-Pro already”
      - Shaun Rogers: “Beast”
      - Rocky Bernard: “Solid”
      - Trattou: “lots of potential”

      All of that is based on absolutely nothing.

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  8. rage114 says:

    I’ll make it even harder….

    It is unlikely the Eagles carry more than 10 DL. There are 12 listed. Take two players off the Eagles and put them on the Giants…..say Tapp (contract) and Landri.

    Now the Giants depth doesn’t look so bad.

  9. rob says:

    Giants have more starting talent and depth is unknown for both teams. Graham has tons of potential but Austin doesn’t…I’d take Austin over Graham if I was starting a team today. Kiwi and Osi in relief vs. Curry and others completely unproven. Not even close at DE.

    Jenkins is good but no better than Linval now. Canty is like Patterson. Depth again is an unknown for Eagles and partly so for Giants in Austin. Bernard is nice rotational depth and saavy vet (sack in SB, etc.) and Rogers is another unknown like EAgles’ DTs. Dixon is good but standard solid depth, no more to my eyes.

    Hey Cole is great. Babin had a great year in sacks, run not so much (JPP and Tuck are money vs. run btw), and DTs are real good. But Gmen destroyed their opponents Olines in playoffs last year and won last 6 pretty dominantly….D line was big part of that so until Eagles start taking over games like that, then the “analyst” argument is just that…theoretical. IMHO

    1. Anders says:

      Jenkins is alot better than Linval. Also take a look at the last Eagles games, the DL was just as dominant as the Giants.

      1. JR Giants FAn says:

        That last game the Giants and Eagles played. Almost all the Giants D-Line was still hurt. Tuck was playing on one leg and I don’t think Osi even played.

    2. I like Linval Joseph. But Jenkins is far better at this point in their careers. Really, they’re not even the same type of player, so it’s tough to compare them. Jenkins plays the under tackle position. Joseph is more of a guy that you want to try to hit the gaps hard and draw doubles. Joseph is young and probably only going to get better while Jenkins is aging, but Jenkins… right now… is by far the better player.

      Also disagree that the Eagles depth at DT is an unknown. Cox is a rookie (although an extremely talented one), so that would be true to a degree with him, but Dixon and Landri are known quantities who have both produced in the Eagles’ D. Bernard and Rogers, meanwhile, are “off the street” guys, as in… the Giants were the only team interested, and they got them both months after free agency kicked off… for the veteran minimum. There’s a reason they were both available for basically nothing.

      As for Austin vs Graham, I’ll tell you what… I challenge you to come up with some kind of way we can measure which guy has the better season in 2012, and you can name the stakes. I’ll be down for almost anything you have in mind on that one.

  10. KP says:

    Giants hands down mainly because of the DEs, no one can match Tuck, JPP, Osi and Kiwi if all are healthy.

  11. Darknight says:

    Tough choice. I’m going to get yelled at for saying this, but I pick Giants by a sliver because they have 3 All-Pros while Eagles only have 2 All-Pros.

    As a Giants fan, as great as Trent Cole is, Cullen Jenkins is the one that gave me the most hiccups last year for some reason. I was shocked at how effective he was(or how crappy teh Giants O-line was). It’s almost unfair how talented the Eagles DT depth is. Then again, the Giants do it with teh DEs.

  12. Imp says:

    Lions.

    /trolololol

  13. WeGotLinemen says:

    Trent Cole is a really good player but I think the Giants might have the two best defensive linemen in the league. JPP is a physical freak in the same vein as Lawrence Taylor, but for me Justin Tuck is the best in league. He can rush outside, he can play inside. He is strong against the run, can collapse the pocket with power and exploit gaps with speed. When he is healthy he is just the most complete defensive linemen in the league. Not the flashiest, maybe not the best pass-rusher, but Tuck has the most complete all-round game in that you can put him almost anywhere along the line and he’ll give the offense fits.

    The Eagles do have a better interior than the Giants. I can’t understand why Cullen Jenkins doesn’t get more attention and I have no idea how the Eagles landed him for so little money. Even if front offices were taking into account his injury history, it isn’t so bad that there should have been so little competition for his signature.

    1. Anders says:

      Cole really good? You know everything you said about Tuck is true for Cole aswell. Also Cole have done it for a very long time and untill this year never had the likes of Strahan, Osi, JPP on the other side. Only 2 players have more sacks then Cole over the last few season and that is Allen (The best DE in the NFL right now) and Ware (Best OLB in the NFL). I would rate Cole the 2nd best DE in the NFL with JPP 3rd.

    2. Gotta disagree with you here. I’ll take Cole over Tuck. Cole is every bit as complete a DE as Tuck.

      1. BBI says:

        As of right now, I agree. 34OLBs/43DEs

        1) Demarcus Ware
        2) Jason Pierre-Paul
        3) Trent Cole
        4) Justin Tuck
        5) Osi Umenyiora
        6) Jason Babin (Osi and he are the same sort of player. Went with Osi cause he’s been doing it longer than Babin has.)
        7) Brian Orakpo
        8) Ryan Kerrigan
        9) Anthony Spencer
        10) Mathias Kiwanuka
        11) Brandon Graham
        12) Daryl Tapp
        13) Phillip Hunt
        14) Justin Trattou

      2. JR Giants FAn says:

        Cole is good but compared to Tuck he is a little light in the pants. When Tuck is healthy he is a pure beast. Cole can’t hold up at the point of attack he gets driven off the line. He’s a finesse D-End tries to run around the block then take it on. Tuck can play the end and even play at the D-tackle position. This makes him more versatile and dangerous.

        In short Cole and his buddy Babin are one dimensional pure pass rushers and nothing else. They are both more of a product of the system or Scheme they play(wide 9). All the Giants D-Ends can play in any system and be productive.

        1. Tommyk says:

          Has there been a more uneducated post on here yet? Cole is by far a better run stopping defensive end than Tuck. And as for the preferring to run around the block part please refer to the Atlanta game.

        2. Methinks you’re completely talking out your ass on Cole. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that is “finesse” about that guy.

  14. deg0ey says:

    I went with the Giants by a whisker, but if Cox is as good as I expect and Curry & Graham are as good as I hope then I think I’ll be voting Eagles when you write this up next summer :-)

  15. ICDogg says:

    The Eagles have a couple of promising rookies so the potential is there, but until they actually do something, I have to give it to the Giants.

  16. Plax says:

    giants because giants

  17. tst29 says:

    The Giant’s DLine won them two Super Bowls. Giants win. Case closed.

    1. Maximdim says:

      yeah thats why they were superbowl MVP!

  18. Patrick says:

    That section about JPP makes me cringe knowing we traded up for BG.
    Also I abstain from voting, although if the second unit for the Eagles can live up to the hype then I think the choice becomes easy.

  19. nicolajNN says:

    I went with Eagles but it’s very close, simple reason, our line coach is way way cooler

    I also want to be an Eagles homer a bit; JPP had a lot of batted passes AT the LoS could one not then make the case that he wasn’t close enough to the QB?

    Anyway, great write-up, but is it possible for you to compare hurries? I’m not a stat guy so I don’t know if there’s any trustworthy sites when it comes to that stat

    1. brisulph says:

      Thing about batting down a pass… As a DL you are not always charging forward relentlessly, sometimes the playcall is set to keep you at the line (run contain or what have you), so the PD is actually a very good play (and damn hard to time, given the small window you have to react to a toss).

  20. giantsfan says:

    It’s crazy to think that even with the number of high draft picks the Giants have invested in their defensive line, they’re somehow shallow at the position.

    1. wilddre22 says:

      What’s all these high draft picks we’re talking about? let’s not act like we spend every first round pick on a d-linemen. fact of the matter is we’ve invested 3 high draft picks in recent years on D-linemen – and got two starters and a guy who got injured his rookie season, but is still looked at with much upside. not bad.

      and Dawkie’s skewed the graph charts a little here, and admittedly so. Rocky Bernard provided some valuable snaps for us last season, and has had quite a career, he’s worth more than a “oops i forgot to put him in” mention. And Kiwi starts as a LB, but we all know he’s part of this DL depth. you add those two into this equation and all of a sudden our depth is not one to laugh at either.

      1. Graph was a couple weeks old, so it was more of a lazy thing than an oops thing. But let’s be real here with Bernard. It’s June and all the NFL teams have had a dozen or so practices already, and Bernard was still there to be had… for the veteran minimum. We’re not talking about a legitimate talent here.

        Also, Kiwi got a almost a full paragraph dedicated to his role in the equation.

  21. Free Plax says:

    Meh, Give me the guys with the Rings all day over Potential.

  22. Zach says:

    Great post Jimmy. I have enjoyed your blog a lot since its launch.

    JPP played 1208 snaps in 2011. Cole played 640 and Babin notched 720. It makes more sense to compare either the d-lines overall statistical performance or the individual players’ per snap performance. Comparing JPP’s overall numbers with Babin/Cole’s is highly misleading.

    For instance, JPP’s 16.5 sacks seem to be much better than Cole’s 11.0. However, JPP was notching sacks on 1.3% of plays. Cole was at 1.7%. Had JPP kept his sack rate but only played as many snaps as Cole, JPP would have gotten about 8.5 sacks.

    Cole accrued tackles at nearly the same rate as JPP. The main difference was the snap count.

    Admittedly, keeping the same performance over a great number of snaps is more valuable. So, JPP’s having double the tackles in double the snaps is better. However, though he had only 2 sacks fewer than Babin, he had *half* the sack rate.

    1. ct17 says:

      Depends what kind of snaps they were taking. Babin’s missed snaps likely came more on run downs than passing downs. JPP stayed on the field for everything. So sack per pass rush attempt may be completely different.

      1. Anders says:

        http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/03/26/2011-pass-rushing-productivity-edge-rushers/

        Cole was 2nd overall, Babin 4th. JPP not in top 20, but Osi is.

  23. Jonzee says:

    Giants. Until Cox/Curry/Graham do something, it’s the Giants.

  24. BBI says:

    I voted for Giants, but if I had to give an objective vote, I couldn’t. Both are not short of firepower, but the Giants are overwhelming up top, whereas the talent in Philadelphia filters all the way through.

    Here’s the thing, two of the Giants’ big guys are Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Tuck has been on and off in the 2011 season. If he can bounce back, I’d be a lot more comfortable with him, but you just don’t know if he’s 100%. He had an offseason procedure done, and was battling groin and neck injuries for most of the year. I think, based on what I saw, I’d go with he got healthier as the season progressed. He did mention his neck felt better towards the end (I’ll try and find the link to the quote if I can).

    Meanwhile, Osi will be gone next year. So those are the two questionmarks on the Giants.

    With the Philadelphia Eagles, you said it Jimmy, tons of potential. But potential carries only so far. We just don’t know if Graham will be able to carry himself over the long haul, or if the ACL does affect his play (plenty of examples of athletes hampered by ACL tears and they are “never the same”), even if he looked pretty good in limited time. We don’t know what the team has in Fletcher Cox. Gerald McCoy was a better prospect coming out of college a couple years ago, and he’s been fizzling out. Not saying Cox will, but you just have to see the potential realized into production.

    So as of right now, we just can’t tell who’ll win out.

    Just two more things via the Giants. I think (and not mentioning this just towards you, but even towards other Giants fans) that Chris Canty should be more than just a quick mention. He may not have been worth his contract in 2010….(he had been playing with a torn hamstring the entire year)….but was a very good penetrator this year. Had 2 PD and 4 sacks, and I saw him getting consistent pressure up the middle every game. Wasn’t great vs the run, but he was a good player for the Giants and well deserving of a starting spot on the line.

    One more thing…what are the thoughts on Mathias Kiwanuka? He plays a fairly decent amount of snaps up on the defensive line, so would he count?

    1. Kiwi got a few sentences about him, just didn’t include him in the chart.

      Also, before anyone points it out, Bernard got a mention too, but the chart is a week old.

      1. BBI says:

        I thought I read it all. Major derp moment by me, my bad.

  25. brisulph says:

    Honestly, I don’t think I could choose between them if I was forced to… both are quite awesome.

    1. ct17 says:

      This is like arguing whether it is better to have $100 million or $105 million. It’s a crapload of money either way, and no one will complain which one they get.

  26. Anders says:

    I voted Eagles because of depth and potential.

    But on one point does I disagree, I think Cole is still the best DE in the NFCE untill JPP plays like that for more than one season. Remember Cole have done it for years (even blocking a FG) and it wasnt untill this year where he actually had somebody on the other side to take alittle pressure of him. Also take a look at Babins numbers last year when Cole was out, he wasnt very good because Cole wasnt there.

    Its the same reason im not ready to crown Cruz the best WR in the East just yet, that would be a battle between Nicks and Austin.

    1. JaySoNyceSon says:

      I agree with you on the comment about the recievers in the NFC EAST, I believe Nicks and Austin are the best. Dez and Cruz have to be consistant and the same for Macklin and Jackson. But by far it is the best division in football and loaded at each position with Pro Bowl tallent on each team!

  27. KJ Brophy says:

    Eagles because of depth

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