I’m all for “starting up front,” and I know about how much our D-Line wore down towards the end of last year, but it initially seemed strange to me that the Giants spent so much money on two defensive tackles this offseason (Canty, Bernard) when they had three perfectly good ones on the roster (Robbins, Cofield, and Alford).

But then it was revealed that Robbins had microfracture knee surgery this offseason. The 32-year old – whose contract is up at the end of the year – is not guaranteed to be back by training camp, according to the latest reports. A source close to the team – who I ran into at last night’s Mets game – told me definitively that Robbins’ best days are over. You read it here first: Don’t be surprised if Big Fred gets cut.

(Cofield also had a knee operation. While there has been some speculation that it was microfracture surgery, the source told me that it was just a “complex scope,” and that Cofield – who said he was playing on one leg by the end of last year – should be fine for camp.)

Given the news about Robbins, the large contracts we gave Canty ($17 million guaranteed) and Bernard ($5 million guaranteed) make a lot more sense. Right now, Canty will probably replace Robbins as the “three-technique” tackle on first and second down, while moving out to left end on passing situations. Bernard will push Cofield at nose tackle on first and second down, and will probably be part of our pass-rush package on third down and in passing situations. He’s known as a powerful “pocket pusher,” so we can fantasize about him collapsing the pocket up the middle while Osi, Kiwanuka, and Tuck do their respective things.

Let’s take stock of our D-line depth for a moment. This is a non-exhaustive list, but it shows how oozing with talent we are, Big Fred or not: At the three-technique, we have Canty and Alford. At the nose, we have Cofield and Bernard. At ends, we have Osi, Kiwanuka, and Tuck. And then there’s Clint Sintim, the pass-rushing outside linebacker who will see the field on pass situations as well. That’s a pretty sick assemblage, and one that should stay fresh, thereby reducing chance of injury.

One might reasonably ask why we have invested so much in the duo of Bernard and Kiwanuka, who we refused to part with in any package for Braylon Edwards. This might seem like a steep price for two guys who aren’t technically “starters.”

But whether you like the moves or not, Jerry’s rationale comes down to something that defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said recently, that the third down and nickel package will be on the field 50 to 55 percent of the time, which, one can assume, will be the highest-leverage situations.

When looked at this way, saying Bernard and Kiwanuka “are not even starters” misses the point. Even characterizing them as “half-starters” doesn’t quite capture their value. What the G-Men seem to have done here is recognize the unique value of third down passing situations.

And when considering the Giants’ “collapse” last year, third down defense against the pass is a good place to start. Through the Ravens game (Weeks 1-11) our pass defense DVOA on third down was -6.8%. After that, not including the playoff game, it was 33.8%. (Remember, a negative DVOA is good for defense.) Looking at more conventional stats, we went from giving up an average of 4.91 yards per play through Week 11 to 5.66 after that.

The trend was just as ugly overall against the pass, not just on third down. Through Week 11, our defensive DVOA against the pass was -15.7%. From then on, not including the Eagles game, it was 22.1%. Conventional stats tell the same tale: the Giants had 14 interceptions during the first ten games, but two during the last six.

(By the way, credit for all these stats and many of these points, goes to FootballOutsiders.com. I really recommend that people familiarize themselves with their stats – they’re really the only football stats I’ve found that make much sense.)

So how much of this had to do with our drop-off in pass rush, no doubt a function of our defensive line injuries (Tuck, Robbins, Cofield all banged up)?

Our sack numbers down the stretch were significantly worse than before Week 12.  By no means was our weakened pass rush the only factor in our decline against the pass, but it was definitely a factor.

Through Weeks 1-11, our Adjusted Sack Rate was 8.1%, which would have placed 5th in the league over a full season. After Week 12, it was 6.1 percent, which would have placed around 17th, or roughly middle of the pack. Essentially, we went from a very good pass rush to an average one. All the conventional wisdom about Plaxico notwithstanding, the decline of our pass rush was a big reason we were not the same team by season’s end as we were at the beginning. Credit Jerry for recognizing that and addressing it.