EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The defense that a year ago carried the New York Giants to their first playoff berth since 2011 has suddenly become unreliable. Steve Spagnuolo's unit is no longer stopping the run, it is giving up big plays, missing tackles, and now it is fighting injuries heading into Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, who like they Giants are winless in four games.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The defense that a year ago carried the New York Giants to their first playoff berth since 2011 has suddenly become unreliable.
Steve Spagnuolo's unit is no longer stopping the run, it is giving up big plays, missing tackles, and now it is fighting injuries heading into Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, who like they Giants are winless in four games.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon both missed their second straight practice Thursday and that never bodes well for playing the weekend.
Vernon, who has never missed a game, aggravated a sprained ankle against the Buccaneers and missed the second half. Pierre-Paul hurt a shoulder early but never left the game. However, he was never a factor in the game and he said he didn't like what he put on film.
The Giants will have a recovery day on Friday and a final practice Saturday.
"Definitely expect to practice on Saturday and be playing Sunday," Pierre-Paul said Thursday. "It's not a secret. Everybody that knows me knows I'm going to play."
Vernon wouldn't guarantee that he would play. He said his only concern is getting healthy.
"I don't want to miss a game and not be out there for my teammates and everything like that, but main thing is getting healthy so I can be out there longevity-wise and help contribute," he said.
Even if Vernon and JPP play, the Giants have other issues. They are allowing opponents to rush for 142.8 yards and they have not come up with the big plays with the game on the line.
Against the Eagles two weeks ago, the defense was handed a three-point lead with 3:08 to play and gave up two field goals in the final 51 seconds.
Last week against the Buccaneers , the Giants took a 23-22 lead with 3:16 to go and gave up a second straight last-minute field goal.
Spagnuolo looked at the game film and then decided to let his defenders run the film review.
"I told them what I saw on film. I shared that with them, but I told them how I felt we could fix it and I was willing to do anything to fix it," Spagnuolo said. "The important thing wasn't what I saw or what I was willing to do. It was what they saw and what they were willing to do, and the only way I knew whether we were on the same page or not was to let them run it and hear what they said."
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison said the review session was a good way of seeing what other guys are thinking.
"A chance to hold yourself accountable — to stand up and tell your teammates I messed up on this play or I could have done something better on this play," Harrison said. "That means the world. It means you know that you're doing something wrong and you're going to try and correct it."
Spagnuolo hopes the group therapy will help his defense as much as having Vernon and Pierre-Paul on the field on Sunday.
However, it's possible they will not play.
"We have to be concerned," Spagnuolo said . "I mean, our two top guys are ailing a little, but this is the NFL. Guys are going to get hurt, so we have to have other people step up."
Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara and rookie Avery Moss would be next up for a defense that Pierre-Paul says it no longer being feared by opponents.
Vernon has another opinion.
"How we played last year put a target on our back, and you know other teams want to prove something against us, and we like that and we want that to happen," Vernon said. "We want to prove how good we are and that last year wasn't a fluke, but we just have to get our stuff together. Once we get our stuff together and focus on the team we have ahead of us, then we'll be all right."
NOTES: C Weston Richburg (concussion) and RB Paul Perkins (ribs) missed practice for the second straight day. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. (finger) was limited and left early with what coach Ben McAdoo thought was cramping. ... RB Orleans Darkwa (back), CB Janoris Jenkins (ankle) and WR Brandon Marshall (toe) returned to full practice.