The shortest distance to the quarterback keeps getting longer for Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who, after a breakthrough 14-sack season last year, rarely finds only a single blocker trying to prevent him from getting into the backfield.
"I've seen tackle-guard, tackle-tight end, tackle-back, tight end-back and, worst of all, tackle-tight end-back," Strahan said last Friday as he prepared to dig into a plate of barbecue. But talk of double-and triple-team blocking curbed his appetite, so Strahan handed the still full dish to a teammate before continuing. "This year against the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers, I'd go outside of the tackle and find a tight end waiting. So I'd go inside of the tackle, only to find a back waiting."
The tactic that gives Strahan the most trouble is when a team assigns a sort of hidden assassin to lie in wait. Instead of stepping up to assist the tackle just after the snap, this player moves in only if Strahan starts to gain an advantage over his primary blocker.
For Strahan the key going into Sunday night's game against the Falcons was to identify that extra blocker. "They'll be starting a rookie tackle [ Ephraim Salaam] against me, so [right guard] Gene Williams will probably be keeping an eye on me," said Strahan. "This week I've studied how the tackle will try to block me so that I can find a way to deal with him while still keeping an eye out for the other guy. The hardest thing is to rush against a player and turn your body so that the other guy can't hit you."
Sure enough, the Falcons slid Williams over to help Salaam throughout their 34-20 dumping of the Giants. Strahan was double-or triple-teamed on 20 of Atlanta's 29 pass plays, though he did pick up a first-quarter sack by lining up at left defensive tackle and blowing past a surprised Williams. "Someone was always watching to make sure that Salaam wasn't alone," Falcons offensive line coach Art Shell said. "It's a part of the game for me," said Strahan, who is tied for third in the league with seven sacks. "A bad part."