You know what's weird about the sack?" Michael Strahan was saying recently, clicker in hand as he sat staring at a big video screen. The New York Giants defensive end was in a Giants Stadium meeting room, running a tape back and forth and studying the end-zone view of a play from his team's game against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 14. "Half the time you get one, you don't know you got it. You don't hear anything. Huffing and puffing maybe. It's a mass of players and pads and grunting. The crowd? You filter it. I don't hear 'em when the ball's about to be snapped. And vision is a joke. Half the time you don't have a clear view of the quarterback, and you don't see the ball. You don't really know you got the sack until your teammates pound you on the helmet. Then you take the filter off. You hear the crowd. The crowd lets you know how big a play it is. It can turn the game.
"The quarterback and defensive end are the two highest-paid positions in football—did you know that?" Strahan continues. "The defensive end can be as disruptive as a quarterback can be productive."
Against the Rams, Strahan was as disruptive (six tackles and four sacks) as St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner was productive (316 passing yards). Now, with 16� sacks heading into Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, Strahan is on pace to match the NFL season record of 22, set in 1984 by New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau. What follows is Strahan's breakdown of his last sack of Warner that day.
The Presnap Read
"Fourth quarter, third-and-five, Rams 46," says Strahan, who lines up on the left side. Trailing 14-9 and having already moved his team from inside the 10, Warner is trying to work his magic. "I know it's a pass," Strahan says. "I'm looking at the running back. Is he going to help the tackle? Is he going to chip me? Or is he going to try to get open before we can get to the quarterback? Because the back is Marshall Faulk and the Rams want to get him in the pattern, I assume he'll want to avoid me. Then there's the guard. Is he going to chip me? I doubt it, but I have to watch for him. Now I look at the tackle, [Ryan] Tucker. He's set up for a pass, back on his haunches. Getting ready to sit and wait for me."
"I already have my move in mind, because I've been power-rushing Tucker the entire game," Strahan says. The videotape shows him lined up outside Tucker's right shoulder, in a three-point stance, flexing his back leg to make sure he gets good traction on the artificial turf. Strahan is 6'5", 269 pounds, with the best combination of speed and power of any defensive end in the NFL. Tucker is 6'5", 305 pounds, an average pro tackle in size and talent, with the disadvantage of playing with a broken left hand (protected by a soft cast). Strahan must not let the heavier man make the first controlling move.
"He's so afraid," Strahan says. "He's been embarrassed by being run over [all day], and he's just going to sit, squat and try to stymie me at the line. Most of these guys are bigger than I am, and when they're bigger, 300-some pounds, they don't really work on strength so much. I work on strength because I have to be stronger than they are. I've been setting him up most of the third quarter—power, power, power.
"What I do most games is this: On the first rush I give you a big power move, hit you hard, wham. You're saying, 'Oh, my God. This guy's more powerful than I saw on film.' That starts the setup. That's how it's going to be all day long. Then I give you power maybe 20 snaps in a row, just waiting for the right time to change up."
"Pass rushing is a chess game," says Strahan, 30, who, unhappy with his play in a sackless first two games this year, revised his approach with the approval of defensive line coach Denny Marcin. "I told Denny, 'I'm going to go with what I'm comfortable doing. I'm not a finesse guy. For the most part I'm going with power.' Then we played the Saints, I got three sacks, and it has snowballed. I feel like I'm reacting faster than ever. On this play against the Rams, before the ball's snapped, I'm thinking of combining my speed with a rip"—jerking his right arm up to knock away Tucker's right arm—"and then lowering my shoulder and turning the corner.