|Ending Patriots' perfection rests with Giants' D-line|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 03:04|
``Tom Brady,'' he said.
If Brady plays well, the New England Patriots are going to cap an undefeated season and certify their claim to being a dynasty.
The biggest obstacle in his way is a band of brothers who form the New York Giants' defensive line.
There's Michael Strahan, the NFL's active sacks leader and the group's emotional linchpin. Fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora is the only current Pro Bowler in the group and its rising star. There's Tuck, the standout hardly anyone knows.
Fred Robbins is the brawn in the middle and Barry Cofield is the smart guy next to him who gives way to Tuck on passing downs.
``We can't win this game if we don't play well,'' Umenyiora said Wednesday before the Giants returned to the practice field. ``We will absolutely lose if the defensive line does not play well. There is no question about that.
``We're facing a quarterback who completes passes and does all these things with people in his face. So can you imagine if no one is around him? It will be absolutely ridiculous.''
In the Patriots' 38-35 win over the Giants on Dec. 29, Brady was sensational, hitting 32 of 42 passes for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Still, New York got to the quarterback who set an NFL single-season record with 50 touchdown passes this season. Brady was sacked once and hit eight times.
His record-setting touchdown on a 65-yard pass to Randy Moss came during a play on which cornerback Sam Madison pulled a stomach muscle and could not cover.
``Early in the football game, we got him out of his rhythm,'' Tuck said. ``I think he went in at halftime, made his adjustments and you saw the Tom Brady that everybody is accustomed to seeing. We have to be consistent and continually hit him. If we can continually get pressure up the middle, up in front of him, it gives us opportunity for the defense to be successful.''
New England's offensive line has changed slightly since then. Starting right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Nick Kaczur will be back after missing the final game of the regular season with injuries.
The Patriots are still concerned about the defense that led the NFL with 53 sacks, including 39 by the linemen.
``When we played them, we had a lot of negative yardage plays in the run game,'' tackle Matt Light said. ``They obviously got to Tom more than we'd like and they are very good at what they do. There is a reason why they are here and in this game.''
Light and Umenyiora might be the best matchup to watch, especially since Umenyiora accused Light of some late hits in the first meeting.
Both players downplayed the comments this week.
Umenyiora, who had a team-high 13 sacks this season, including a franchise-record six against Philadelphia, said that time seems to almost stop with each snap. He will get in his stance, see how Light is set up, and decide what moves to make.
``I hear absolutely nothing,'' Umenyiora said. ``I don't hear the crowd. I don't hear anything. Justin Tuck told me when I'm in my stance, I make noises. I don't hear myself. I don't know I am doing that. I guess sometimes you are so focused that everything else is blocked out.''
As far as getting to Brady, Umenyiora admits he doesn't watch the league MVP - or any other quarterback.
``As soon as you beat the guy in front of you, most times the quarterback is right there in front of you,'' he said.
Getting there, however, doesn't equate to either a sack or even a hit.
``Tom understands how to move around in the pocket,'' said Strahan, who had nine sacks in 2007. ``He moves around very well. He looks like he's on ice skates. And he doesn't stand that deep in the pocket so it's not like you can aim at a spot.''
For this second meeting, Brady expects defensive changes: new fronts, new looks, different packages of players.
``We'll come in with new plays, and probably not until the end of the first quarter, you won't really understand how the game is going to play out,'' Brady said. ``It's always a little more challenging when you play a team a second time. I think there are advantages to it, but at the same time, you have to change up the things that were successful.''
What won't change is the way the Giants' front four plays.
While defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has used blitzes to pressure quarterbacks, the majority of the pressure has come from the front line.
Sometimes, it's the front four against the five offensive linemen. Sometimes it's four vs. six or seven or eight blockers.
``To be honest with you, and not to take anything from the linebackers and DBs, most games are won up front,'' said Tuck, who had a career-best 10 sacks. ``We take pride in that and the pressure placed on us, and we embrace it.''
Defensive line coach Mike Waufle isn't surprised. He has seen it all year from his group, which is not only talented, but close-knit. Hours after arriving in Phoenix for the Super Bowl, they all went to dinner. There was no talk of football.
``There is a lot of pride and wanting to be the best at what they do,'' Waufle said. ``They want to be great against the run and excellent pass rushers. They are like brothers. There is no room for error in that room, and they will call each other out. They are good for each other. They are always trying to one-up each other.''
If the defensive line can get to Brady, the Giants have a chance. And if they win, Tuck even has his own MVP choice: the defense, particularly the line.
``I'll take our D-line against anybody's offensive line,'' he said. That's just how I feel.''