The defensive line is a big part of every team. Many say the game is won and lost in the trenches. The trenches were a big priority for Dave Gettleman’s rebuild of the New York Giants. He believed in the necessity of hog-mollies up-front and that these were the players that would win the Giants football games. It was a unit that had a lot of expectations for them heading into the season after several years of bad play from the positional group.
Unfortunately, for them and the Giants, the team has yet to win a football game. However, the question is if the defensive line has been the factor in these losses or have they lived up to preseason expectations.
Leonard Williams entered the season with the highest expectations for New York.
After a 0.5 sack season where Williams was still franchised tagged many called into question if Williams really should have a future with the Giants. He was an elite talent but had underperformed for the majority of his career, and many thought that it may have been time to bail. Obviously, the USC product wanted none of that and is on a mission this season to prove all of his doubters wrong.
So far, his mission has been semi-successful. Williams has already improved on his stats from last year. He currently has 19 tackles (11 solo), two sacks, four tackles for loss, 11 run-stops, nine QB pressures, and four QB hits. These are good signs as his four tackles for loss, and two sacks are already more than double his numbers from last year. Williams is also Pro Football Focus’s 36th best interior defensive lineman with an overall grade of 69.0.
While he has surely stuffed the stat sheet more than last year, his overall efficiency on the line has gone down. His pass rush and run defense grades from PFF are 64.5 and 69.6, respectively. Despite being a little above the league average, these numbers are career lows for Williams. A lot of this is due to the Giants as a whole performing bad, but Williams will definitely need to take that next step if he wants to get the contract extension he thinks he deserves.
Dexter Lawrence has lived up to his first-round pick hype so far this season.
The Clemson product has built on his strong rookie campaign and is slowly emerging as one of the league’s top interior defensive lineman. He is currently ranked 26th in his position by PFF, with a grade of 71.8.
Lawrence’s start to the season is also an improvement from his rookie season as he currently has 23 tackles (14 solo), 11 run stops, two tackles for loss, three QB hits, and one sack. These are all on pace to be career highs for Lawrence, and he has gotten the majority of his toughest offensive line matchups (Steelers, Bears, 49ers, and Rams) out of the way. This looks to be a big season for the sophomore defensive tackle and one where he should establish himself as a cornerstone of this team.
Now to nose tackle.
Tomlinson has been Mr. Reliable his whole career. He has never missed a start and has been amongst PFF’s top 30 defensive linemen all four years.
As for this season, Tomlinson is currently the 24th best interior lineman with a PFF rating of 73.0. Tomlinson has been really improving his pass rush this season as he already has one sack, six pressures, and three QB hits, which all project to be season highs. Tomlinson is also posting the best pass-rushing grade of his entire career, 75.0, in 2020.
The Alabama alum has also not digressed in the run game, where he still ranks among the league’s best with 12 run stops so far this season.
As a unit, this trio has been pretty impressive and has lived up to the hype of the best positional group that the Giants possess. They currently have all three members in the top 40 in their position and are leading the Giants to one of the NFL’s statistically best defensive fronts.
The Giants have only allowed a league’s best 79 rushing yards per game. The burden of run-stopping mostly falls on the defensive lineman, and these three have done an amazing job to make New York a top three run defense. This is a drastic improvement from 2019, where the Giants allowed about 113 yards on the ground per game.
Big Blue has also stepped it up in the pass rush as they are currently tied for 12th in the league in sacks with 12 sacks. They have already faced some of their toughest offensive line matchups and are already on pace for more than two sacks of what they did last year. While this seems like a small total, this trio alone only attributed to 6.5 sacks all of last year. Through only five games this year, the front three have already recorded four sacks against some of their toughest opponents of the season.
Big things were expected from this personnel group, and for the most part, they have delivered. Only time will tell if they can sustain this play.