For Giants, pass rush is key to beating Brady and Patriots

INDIANAPOLIS - It sounds simple enough: Get to the quarterback, rattle him, and you will win.

But it means, oh, so much more when that quarterback is Tom Brady. And there might not be a team better equipped to pressure the New England Patriots' Hall of Fame-bound passer than the New York Giants.

They've done it before, and if they can do it again many believe the Giants will once again upset the Patriots in a Super Bowl. Four years ago, New York hounded Brady and sacked him five times on the way to a 17-14 shocker of a win in XLII.

This past November, the Giants only sacked Brady twice, but they forced him into two ill-advised interceptions and a 57 percent completion percentage in a 24-20 victory.

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For comparison, look at the Eagles-Patriots game that was played later that month. Brady was sacked only once, and he picked the Eagles defense apart as if he were practicing against a scout team.

"I think that's the No.1 way to affect the game, is to get the quarterback on the ground before he releases the ball," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Monday. "But the way [Brady] stands in the pocket, the way he orchestrates the offense, it makes it very, very important for us to get pressure."

The Giants generate pressure from all over the place - 61/2 of the team's 48 regular-season sacks came from the back seven - but their defensive line is loaded with elite pass rushers.

"It seems like whoever they put in there can get after the passer," Brady said.

New York's rotating foursome of ends is as good as any. Jason Pierre-Paul, who will forever have a place in Eagles lore because they passed on him in the draft two years ago, recorded a team-high 161/2 sacks.

Veterans Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck would likely have finished with more than nine and five sacks, respectively, if they weren't best by injuries and played in only nine and 12 games. Dave Tollefson added five sacks.

As impressive as the line's regular-season output was, the group is peaking at the right time now that Umenyiora and Tuck are close to healthy. Combined they have five of the Giants' nine postseason sacks.

"I think chemistry is very important to the play of a four-down lineman," Tuck said. "In that '07 year we played together the whole year and we just knew how to play off each others. I think a lot of times this season we've kind of got in each other's way."

It's a tricky balancing act, rotating players. Umenyiora once balked at the suggestion that he wouldn't technically start. Pierre-Paul doesn't always start. But the idea is to have fresh legs to throw at offensive lines.

On passing downs, though, the Giants will sometimes line up all four ends with Pierre-Paul and Tuck moved inside and Umenyiora and Kiwanuka, more of hybrid than true 3-4 linebacker, playing the ends.

The Eagles used to move their ends inside, but haven't done it as much of late. It could have something to do with the relative small size of their ends as opposed to Pierre-Paul and Tuck, each 6-foot-5.

"Sometimes they'll do it out of an odd front where they have Kiwanuka kind of floating behind the line of scrimmage as a fourth rusher," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "You don't know exactly where he's going to come from."

The Eagles employed defensive end Jason Babin in such a manner late in the season and had notable success. Despite the success of the Eagles' defensive line - they accounted for 46 of the team's 50 sacks - it did not equate to a sound pass defense.

Whenever Eagles coach Andy Reid has added a significant piece up front - signing Babin as a free agent or drafting Brandon Graham - he has stressed that pressuring the quarterback is of the utmost importance for a defense.

But there's a chicken-egg argument to getting pressure. Does it come from the rushers or from the secondary? The more Brady has to go through his progressions, the more likely he will see someone in his face.

And the play of the Giants' defensive backfield - safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips and cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster - has kind of gotten lost in the hype of the line. They say they're feeding off of it.

"Our front four gets a lot of credit, as well as they should," Rolle said. "Whether we get the credit on the back end right now, it really doesn't matter. We put on the film and we know who's doing what and who's causing what."

 


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.