But that’s the task the Giants faced Nov. 14 in Arizona where life without Michael Strahan and Keith Washington began without the convenience of much time to plan or practice.
And that only added more intrigue to the already pressurized world Osi Umenyiora currently operates in.
Drafted in the second round in 2003, the Giants fully expect Umenyiora to blossom into one of the NFL’s fearsome pass rushers. He has the speed and athleticism to meet the demand and he has Strahan, one of the greatest pass rushers in history, to watch his every move.
“We used him in all aspects of play,” Tom Coughlin said. “Against Leonard Davis [the Cardinals’ huge tackle] he did a good job. He held his own and did a very good job.”
Umenyiora had four tackles and one sack, which tied him for the team lead (4.0) with Fred Robbins and Strahan before he had the chance to chase down Michael Vick last week at Giants Stadium. Playing without Strahan for the first time was an important step for Umenyiora, considered one of the best pure athletes on the team.
“Mike was joking around with me, he told me I did well,” Umenyiora said. “But he also told me there were some things I could have done better. He’s going to be around us, so I’m sure he’ll tell me if there’s something I need to know.”
But Umenyiora is just one component of a reconfigured unit that must quickly jell if the Giants expect to get back into the playoff hunt.
“Everyone has to play to another level,” said Lance Legree, a tackle who began the Cardinals game in Strahan’s left defensive end spot. “It’s frustrating in some ways to know what’s happened, but all we can do is keep working at it. I think we played well together and had a solid performance. There were plays that could be made that weren’t. But we did well.”
Fundamentally speaking, the Giants had been dreadful since their Halloween victory in Minnesota. The problems engulfed just about every aspect of the team as the team prepared to play the Falcons at Giants Stadium.
And if there’s one thing Coughlin will not tolerate it’s a team that doesn’t execute in basic textbook fashion.
“We’ll have to go back to square one,” Coughlin said.
At this point that’s a long way to go. But the Giants have no choice. And while their problems have mostly been tactical and mental, as reflected in their rising penalty and sack totals, they also have to deal with finding enough capable bodies to field their defensive line.
Against the Cardinals, Coughlin started Legree and Umenyiora at the ends, flanking incumbent tackles Norman Hand and Robbins. As the game and situations changed, newcomers Chuck Wiley and Lorenzo Bromell were mixed in. Legree was then moved back inside, and along with William Joseph began to spell Hand and Robbins. Rookie linebacker Reggie Torbor, a defensive end at Auburn, was used on the front flank in certain packages.
The Giants defense played well against the Cardinals, holding them to 178 total yards and 74 net passing yards. It was an impressive debut for the new unit.
“We had a lot of people contribute in a lot of different ways,” Coughlin said. “The result of that was holding them to 178 yards. I thought as a group they performed well. There were times in the game when we didn’t stop the run as well as I would have liked. But otherwise, I think they did OK.”
It’s certain Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis will do what they can to accent the strong points of the remaining players, particularly the speed of Umenyiora and Torbor.
“No one gave me any specific advice other than to play the way I know I can when I get the chance to be out there,” Torbor said. “Everyone has to take a bigger role. We all need to come together to make it happen. But I know a lot about rushing the passer from college. As far as taking advantage of my speed, I’ll leave that up to Tim. That’s his job to decide. Whatever they ask us to do is what we’ll do.”
Torbor even picked up his first sack for 12 yards in the third quarter, although the play was nullified by a penalty to Will Peterson that allowed the Cardinals to fuel the drive that produced their winning touchdown.
“The loss takes some of the excitement away from the sack,” Torbor said.
Legree and Umenyiora haven’t noticed anything different about how opposing offensive lines have dealt with them, now that they don’t have to worry about double- or triple-teaming Strahan.
“Everything was what we expected [against the Cardinals],” Umenyiora said. “No cheap shots. Nothing was going on.”
Said Legree: “Strahan naturally draws a lot of attention. I wouldn’t expect the kind of attention he received. I think it’s more a case of an offensive line needing to play every one on our line honestly. They need to be wary of everyone out there for us. It’s good for us in a way. Everyone has their own special talent to bring to the table.”
That’s certainly the case with Umenyiora, the player on the defense most equipped to pick up where Strahan left off against mobile quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.
“Those guys are fast,” Umenyiora said. “So it will be important to have guys who can run and chase them down.”