Pressure Is On Mathias Kiwanuka To Step Up In The Absence Of JPP
When the New York Giants announced that DE Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) would be having back surgery to repair a herniated disc a little over two weeks ago, it caught just about everybody off guard, including many people with inside knowledge of the team. While the initial prognosis seemed optimistic for JPP to return in time for the start of the regular season, Tom Coughlin later offered a more hesitant outlook on the situation, conceding that JPP may actually have to miss the season-opener.
For anyone that's followed the team closely at all during the last decade, it's worth taking all of these prognostications with a big grain of salt. I'm talking a large, boulder-like grain of salt. Recovery timetables tend to be nothing more than ballpark estimates, and the real amount of time a player will miss following surgery or an injury is more closely related to how quickly that player is able to rehab and get back to playing shape. For some guys, that process is fairly quick, but for others, it tends to be a longer one.
So when people like Coughlin tell you to expect JPP to possibly miss the season-opener, don't be surprised if he misses Week 2 as well — maybe even Week 3 and 4, too.
Enter Mathias Kiwanuka.
For the Giants, the plan to move Kiwanuka back to defensive end has been in the works since the beginning of this offseason. Originally, with Osi Umenyiora going to Atlanta during free agency, the plan was to have Kiwanuka rotate with Justin Tuck and JPP at the defensive end position, not have him start. However, with the wrench of JPP's injury thrown into the mix, Kiwanuka will have to step in and start at defensive end for the first time since the 2008 season.
Of course, having JPP absent from the defensive line will change the look of the defense considerably for however long he's out. Pierre-Paul's natural presence on the line is enough to alter the opposing offense's strategy from the start, regardless of what his stat-line looks like at the end of the game. His long arms are always a threat to tip passes at the line and swat balls out of the air, and his pass-rushing ability is among the best in the league, something not even a veteran like Kiwanuka can replace.
Make no mistake, though; Kiwanuka is not to be taken lightly. He's been playing out of his natural position for the last four seasons now, and although he's played well, it's not the position the Giants drafted him to play in 2006 from Boston College. When Kiwanuka filled in at defensive end for an injured Umenyiora during the 2008 season, he submitted arguably the best season of his career thus far — at least stat-wise — notching 51 total tackles to go along with eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Although he has now played linebacker at the NFL level for longer than he's played defensive end, his small sample of work at the position proves that he's a more-than-capable defensive end, and would fill the hole left by JPP rather well.
So far, all signs point to Kiwanuka being ready to step up and take the starting role for as long as the team needs him to, however long that may be. If it is only one week, then all the better. However, if the initial recovery timetable is a little off or should JPP suffer any setbacks in his rehab, then Kiwanuka will make sure the defense doesn't suffer in his absence.