Five Giant steps back: Fix the defense

Jason Pierre-Paul experienced a down year after recording a breakout season in 2011. Jim O'Connor/US Presswire

A year ago, the Giants were preparing to play in the Super Bowl and going through everything the Ravens and 49ers are experiencing this week.

So with it being Super Bowl week, we are exploring five things the Giants need to do to get back to the Super Bowl next year. So far, we’ve explored how the Giants have to fortify their offensive line and how they should add more speed to combat the option and prolific offenses.

Today, we look at how the Giants must fix their defense.

The numbers: The Giants finished 31st in total defense, 28th against the pass and 25th against the run. They did finish 13th overall in points allowed (21.5).

The defense also allowed 48 plays of 25 yards or longer against them this past season.

The breakdown: The Giants defense had its moments when it came up big like it did in victories over Carolina, San Francisco and Green Bay.

But the defense couldn’t finish strong in close losses to the Eagles, Steelers and Redskins. And Perry Fewell’s unit was routed by the Bengals, Falcons and Ravens -- the latter two losses costing the Giants a playoff spot.

Fewell had some veterans who did not play up to the level that they did during the Super Bowl run, such as cornerback Corey Webster. The Giants struggled to stop the run in 2011, but got better when it mattered during their postseason run. This season, the Giants struggled to stop the run and couldn’t get enough pressure on quarterbacks.

The Giants’ sack numbers dipped from 48 to 33 last season. The Giants were a plus-14 in turnovers, however.

After his breakout season, Jason Pierre-Paul finished with just 6.5 sacks. Osi Umenyiora had six sacks and Justin Tuck had just four sacks.

With Umenyiora wanting more money and a starting spot likely elsewhere and Tuck entering the final year of his deal, the Giants can use another pass rusher and could draft one in April.

They’ll need Chris Canty to get his knee healthier. And they can use another defensive tackle to emerge to help Linval Joseph and Canty. Marvin Austin awaits his opportunity and Markus Kuhn showed flashes before he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The linebackers unit could see change in the offseason. Chase Blackburn and Keith Rivers are unrestricted free agents. And Michael Boley, who saw his snaps reduced toward the end of the season, is entering the final year of his deal.

The Giants have to add more depth in the secondary at corner where they suffered season-ending injuries to Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon early. They need Webster, who is entering the final year of his deal, to bounce back. Prince Amukamara was solid when healthy and Jayron Hosley gained some valuable experience in his rookie season.

Antrel Rolle remains a key cog in the defense and Stevie Brown emerged as a potential starter in 2013 with Kenny Phillips entering free agency. Will Hill also showed glimpses of what he can do.

The Giants still need to add speed, depth and more athleticism to the defense all around. And they have to simply play better.

This is the same defense and same defensive coordinator that won a Super Bowl just one year ago. And if the defense had played better late in any of the losses to the Redskins, Steelers or Eagles, the Giants would've been playoff bound. If they had shown up in Baltimore or Atlanta, the Giants might've been able get into the postseason as well.

If the Giants are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they need Fewell and his players to regain that all-in mentality, steady and clutch play that they had when they won their final six games last year. And they need to add a few more pieces to a core that knows what it takes to get to the Super Bowl.

Tell us what you think needs to improve on defense for the Giants to return to the Super Bowl.