|Spagnuolo: thorough, aggressive and a good listener|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 January 2008 13:59|
It's Italian and, as his father would say, the 'g' is silent.
``Spah-NYOO'-loh,'' said the New York Giants defensive coordinator and the man responsible for coming up with a Super Bowl game plan to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' run to a perfect season.
The 48-year-old Spagnuolo has made a pronounced difference with the defense in his first year after making the trip up from Philadelphia, where he spent eight seasons learning the Eagles' attacking defense under veteran coordinator Jim Johnson.
In the eight months after his hiring, Spagnuolo taught that same aggressive system to a team that had given up 362 points in posting an 8-8 record the previous season. The hope was that the Giants would became the Eagles of northern New Jersey, one of the NFL's elite defenses.
The early result was utter failure. New York gave up 80 points in the opening two weeks of the season, losing 45-35 in Dallas and then dropping a 35-13 decision at home to the Green Bay Packers.
At a time when there were calls for Tom Coughlin's job, there were also questions about Spagnuolo and whether he had learned anything from Johnson.
The day after the loss to the Packers, the defense went over the videotape with ``Spags,'' as they call him - the 'g, of course, pronounced.
``He came in and never wavered,'' defensive end Justin Tuck said. ``He never cussed anyone out or downgraded guys. He just stayed the course and that meant a lot to me. He didn't know us and we didn't know him. For him to come in and continue to show faith in us and tell us that he believed in us and what we could do, that made a big impression.''
Spagnuolo said the most important thing he learned from Johnson was patience.
``When we put in a blitz or something, if the first time it didn't work, it was OK with Jimmy,'' Spagnuolo said. ``He stuck with it. He stuck with what he believed in. We won many games because of that.''
With the Giants, Spagnuolo knew the system worked and he was certain he had the talent to make it work. The only question was how long would it take.
The answer was one more week. New York pitched a shutout in the second half against Washington on Sept. 23, staging a last-minute, goal-line stand to preserve a 24-17 win.
``I think it turned around when he realized we needed to get our best 11 on the field,'' middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. ``That was putting Tuck in at times, keeping 'Kiwi' (Mathias Kiwanuka) and Kawika (Mitchell) on the field.''
The biggest initial adjustment was using four defensive ends in passing situations. In addition to Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, Tuck and Kiwanuka, a former defensive end turned linebacker, formed the line on passing downs.
It led to sacks, including an NFL-record-tying 12 the following week against Philadelphia.
Over the final 13 games, the defense allowed an average of just under 20 points.
In the three playoff wins, the average has slipped to 17.
``Spags is different from any coach I have ever had,'' Umenyiora said. ``You can tell him what you think will work as a player and he will actually put it in for you, or can tell him what you need to do and he will do it. In this system, it's the players. We're the ones on the football field. He can sit there and hold his clipboard, but we're on the football field and he asked us questions and we're responding to him.''
The question now is can Spagnuolo came up with something to slow down Brady and an offense that scored an NFL-record 589 points this season, including 38 in the final-regular season game against the Giants.
``It was a funny game because after the game, we felt like in some regards that we did a good job,'' Spagnuolo said. ``But then you look at the scoreboard and there are 38 points. That's a credit to them.''
If one play bugs Spagnuolo, it's Brady 65-yard scoring pass to Randy Moss early in the fourth quarter. It gave New England the lead. It also came on a play on which cornerback Sam Madison pulled a stomach muscle and lost Moss.
``You can't let them have the big play,'' he said. ``They're too good.''
Spagnuolo declined to share his game plan, but Umenyiora said don't expect to see the Giants change much. They are going to go with what got them to the championship game, a pressure defense.
``They are going to move the ball, let's face it,'' Spagnuolo said. ``They know how to do it and Tom Brady knows right where to go with it. We have to be patient and not panic.
``Hopefully, we've got enough things to mix it up and we can make enough plays, because we know they are going to make plays,'' said Spagnuolo, who is said to be a candidate for the Washington Redskins' head coaching job.
It's a job he doesn't have to time to worry about now.
``I've worked with a lot of defensive coordinators,'' defensive line coach Mike Waufle said Thursday. ``I have a word to describe every one and Steve is thorough, very thorough.''