Rookie defensive end Romeo Okwara steps up for injury JPP
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Looking at the New York Giants’ defensive effort against the Dallas Cowboys, any one of the 11 players on the field could have been singled out.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon was dominant up front. Tackle Damon Harrison plugged the middle. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins delivered another shutdown performance against Dez Bryant.
The money players on Steve Spagnuolo’s big bucks defense stepped up and earned their keep in limiting the Cowboys to a season-low 260 yards and seven points .
So did the rookie free agent that most people still don’t know much about: 21-year-old Romeo Okwara .
Okwara took over at left end with Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined for the rest of the regular season following surgery for a sports hernia. He delivered a JPP-type performance.
Okwara led the defense with eight tackles, a sack, three quarterback hurries and a tipped pass.
“He played big. There’s some stuff we have to clean up, not only him, everybody along the line,” Harrison said. “He got his first sack. I was happy for him. He got in there a couple times on some big plays.
“We have faith in him, that’s why coach started him. You know if it wasn’t for that he wouldn’t be out there. We knew what he was capable of, it was just a matter of him going out there and showing it.”
Coach Ben McAdoo described Okwara as a young, conscientious, hard-working player.
“He really takes to coaching. He learned the system quickly and plays the game hard,” McAdoo said Monday in reviewing Sunday night’s 10-7 win at MetLife Stadium.
Heading into the game, the plan was to have Okwara and veteran Kerry Wynn split time at left end. Okwara, who had gotten limited action this season with Pierre-Paul on the field more than 90 percent of the time, ended up getting 60 snaps.
“With the way he was playing, he was hot,” McAdoo said. “We wanted to let him roll in there.”
Everything wasn’t perfect for Okwara. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 107 yards and he got a good chunk of his yards attacking the left side of New York’s defense — Okwara’s side.
Part of that could have been chalked up to some early nerves, but the Nigerian-born player settled down.
“Even with Romeo being young, he is big, physical, and he’s a guy that learns the playbook, came in, jelling well, and he’s going to play hard,” cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie said. “It’s not a JPP, but at the end of the day, you still have guys that can play.”
Pierre-Paul addressed the team on the field before the game. Okwara said his message was to go out and play ball.
The defense did, particularly Okwara.
“I think if you play defensive football the way we played defensive football last night, you’re always in the ballgame and have a chance to win,” McAdoo said.
The Giants (9-4) now have won seven of their last eight games and control their playoff chances. They trail the Cowboys (11-2) by two games in the NFC East. However, they have are the No. 1 team in the wild-card race with three games left.
“It was a really important game for us,” Okwara said. “It was a divisional game, and hopefully we will get them in the future. Everyone played really well, we played great as a defense, and it was a great team win.”
NOTES: RB Shane Vereen is in the concussion protocol after being injured in his first game since being activated off injured reserve following a triceps problem. ... While it looked that S Andrew Adams blew his coverage on Dak Prescott’s touchdown pass to Terrance Williams, McAdoo said it wasn’t his responsibility. The coach didn’t say who was responsible, but one teammate said it was Rodgers-Cromartie. ... The Giants are 6-1 at home, tying their highest victory total in MetLife Stadium since it opened in 2010. They were 6-2 in 2012.
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