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It's All on the Line
PETER KING
February 04, 2008
When the underdog Giants meet the unbeaten Patriots in Arizona on Sunday, history will hinge on a brawny battle between New York's pass rush and New England's protection. Can the league's most fearsome defensive front knock Tom Brady off his game? NFL perfection hangs in the balance
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February 04, 2008

It's All On The Line

When the underdog Giants meet the unbeaten Patriots in Arizona on Sunday, history will hinge on a brawny battle between New York's pass rush and New England's protection. Can the league's most fearsome defensive front knock Tom Brady off his game? NFL perfection hangs in the balance

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That's one play the Giants know they can execute better. And they probably won't alter their defensive game plan noticeably from the first meeting. New York sent three- or four-man rushes at Brady on 22 of his dropbacks. The Giants had 18 one-man blitzes (five rushers), two two-man blitzes (six rushers) and one all-out attack in which they sent three blitzers and seven total rushers against six Patriots blockers.

Why, you ask, wouldn't New York send the house at Brady more often? It's simple. He handles pressure superbly, as his efficiency against the Giants showed. His final pass of that game came midway through the fourth quarter, deep in New York territory, when the Giants sent their only seven-man rush of the night. Brady saw the pressure coming, stood calmly and fired a near-lateral to Moss. Gain of five.

It has to be frustrating to be a pass rusher facing Brady, who has been sacked only 24 times in 663 dropbacks this season—once every 28 times he has set up to throw. Strahan, who will be matched against right tackle Kaczur, and fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who'll face All-Pro left tackle Matt Light, did not often see just one blocker in the first game. The Patriots would either "chip" them with a second blocker (a guard who'd move to help the tackle, or a tight end or back who'd get a shot in as he went on a pass route) or feign a double team and then not follow through with it.

Even when the protection broke down, Brady was deadly. On the Giants' four-yard line, the Pats QB took a shotgun snap. Strahan fired past backup tackle Ryan O'Callaghan into the guard-tackle gap. Running back Laurence Maroney should have picked up Strahan, but he missed the block, and Strahan steamed in. Brady threw a jump ball to Moss in the end zone. Touchdown.

"We hit him a good lick on that pass to Moss," linebacker Antonio Pierce says. "And he still threw the touchdown. But our philosophy is going to be the same as it was last time: Keep hitting him, keep harassing him. We hit him long enough, hard enough, and good things are going to happen."

Says Umenyiora, "Split seconds turn into sacks. We'll get there. We need to find a way to get the chip-blocks off us and be one-on-one with the tackles."

That can be done by blitzing Pierce and Torbor a little more than in the last game, forcing the backs or tight ends to stay home and pick them up. "The Giants can do it," says ESPN's Ron Jaworski, who has watched coaches' tape of every New England game. "They've got to mix the bull rush with the speed rush, and Strahan and Umenyiora are good at that. Kaczur and Light sometimes have trouble with good edge rushers. But you've got to get to Brady. He can do a lot of things back there. He's a chameleon."

The four keys for the Giants if they are to disrupt Brady:

Continue to mix rushes and show multiple looks.
"You can't be afraid to really change things up against Brady," Rex Ryan says. "We'd run a straight three-man rush, then rush five guys from one side. Get him thinking." Easier said than done, especially in an environment more conducive to Brady's line calls than Giants Stadium. Super Bowl crowds are notoriously quiet; the fans who can afford the $700 seats (which were going for upward of $10,000 on ticket sites) aren't all shot-and-a-beer leather-lungs.

Play Tuck every snap, and move him around.
The third-year player, who just signed a new five-year, $30 million contract, is New York's most versatile defensive lineman. "Put him over the center [second-team All-Pro Dan Koppen]," suggests Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan. "I'd like to see how New England would block that. Centers aren't used to blocking shifty guys." The 274-pound Tuck had 10 sacks this season playing end and tackle, and one of the most impressive images from the Giants-Patriots tape was a play—negated by penalty—on which Tuck swatted aside a one-on-one block from second-team All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins to get a hard hit on Brady. Tuck blew up a couple of runs that night, and against Green Bay in the NFC title game he and Pierce made it impossible for the Packers to get the screen pass working. "Once he gets going in the middle," says Umenyiora, "it makes our job easier."

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