The New York Giants arguably have what could be called the NFL's best defensive line and, from the looks of things, it just got a little better.
The Giants won their second Super Bowl in five seasons — in no small thanks to the defensive front — which carried the team to a season-closing six-game winning streak during which they held opponents to an average of 14 points and recorded 23 sacks.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has a over-abundance of defensive linemen and isn't afraid to mix and match his wealth of talent. And — at least for now — he has his big dogs healthy.
Fewell is the creator of the four defensive end scheme — he calls his "NASCAR package" — that pits three All-Pros Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre Paul, Osi Umenyiora — and Mathias Kiwanuka (the linebacker who becomes a defensive end) against opposing quarterbacks on passing downs.
This is the same group who sacked Dallas Cowboys' signal-caller Tony Romo six times in the Giants New Year's Day division clinching win last season.
If Fewell made a resolution that day, it was to keep his foot to the pedal — and he hasn't stopped since. It is running on all four cylinders again.
"When you talk about putting the four guys out there it's hard to find out who's the quickest and who's the fastest," Fewell said Sunday. "Some days I look and I say, 'Boy, JPP looked great today, he looked awesome down there,' and then Osi comes flying off the end and I'll say, 'Oh boy, that's pretty fast.' And then Tuck , he makes a move and I'm saying , 'Wow man, I'm scratching my head.' And then Kiwi does something."
Add rookie tackle Markus Kuhn and end Adewale Ojomo to three solid tackles — Linval Joseph, Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty (currently on the PUP list) — and you have a a D-line that will give opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks a lot of sleepless nights.
Last season, the fearsome four rarely played together because of injuries. It was even hard to get three of the players to line up together. Tuck battled neck and shoulder pain throughout 2012 and Kiwanuka missed a lot of the season.
"It was just tough to get us all three on the field together," said Tuck. "I think those last games you saw us playing at the height of what it could have been the entire year. Hopefully we get there for 16-plus games this year and not have guys in and out, especially like I was last year."
The Cowboys and Giants open the 2012 season Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium. Big Blue has dominated the Cowboys in recent seasons, winning seven of the last nine games over Dallas, and it remains to be seen if Romo can come back from his beatdown by the high-flying front four.
"They definitely want to come here and ruin our opening night, celebrating the Super Bowl, blah blah blah," said Tuck. The All-Pro DE just wants to set the tone for the season in front of a national audience.
"Everyone knows that when we [defensive ends] play well, this team, this defense plays well," he said. "A lot of pressure is on us, but we like it that way."
When Romo sees the Giants' NASCAR defense lining up, he might want to start looking for the yellow caution flag.