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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Giants' pass rush missing in action

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

When Drew Brees watches film of the New York Giants pass rush, he sees a fearsome front that has racked up 31 sacks and is tied for the NFL lead in that department.

"I think they're one of the most talented groups in the NFL, especially with their ability to get pressure with just their front four," Brees told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday. "They're a pretty diverse group, extremely athletic, big, physical. This will be our toughest test of the year, for sure."

The Giants, though, have not had the kind of bite to their pass rush that Brees is talking about as of late. Since sacking Miami's Matt Moore five times on Oct. 30, the Giants have a total of five sacks in their last three games.

They sacked Vince Young just once and that was their only quarterback hit during a 17-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. If Brees gets the same type of protection and time, the Giants' secondary and young linebackers will be as disposable as a string of beads on Bourbon Street this Monday night in New Orleans.

"That will be our focal point, making sure he doesn't have the time that Vince Young had," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "They are going to do some things to try to slow our rush down as far as their running game and protections and things like that. If you allow Drew Brees the opportunity to sit back there and go through his progressions, it is going to be a long night."

The Giants (6-4) face Brees, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Dallas' Tony Romo in the next three games. The Giants' pass rush of Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka and Dave Tollefson must get pressure on those quarterbacks for the Giants to have a chance. Pierre-Paul leads the Giants with 10.5 sacks and Umenyiora has seven sacks. But Tuck, who has battled neck and groin injuries for most of the season, has just two sacks this season and just half a sack in his last four games.

Matt Moore
Osi Umenyiora has seven sacks so far this season. Can he add to that number against Drew Brees?

Tuck said that the Eagles' offensive line gave them fits with their blocking scheme and that teams have used more max protection against them. Also, there have been a few times in the last two games when the Giants rushed just three linemen and made a more concerted effort to drop back in coverage to prevent a big play from happening. "How they blocked us, they did a lot of eight-man protection," Tuck said of the Eagles. "And even when they don't, they have a unique way of blocking us and still allowing them to get four guys out with the chips and things like that so it really takes away in some ways what we can do as a pass rush."

Tuck said the Eagles made things simple for Young by giving him one to two reads and that allowed the Eagles backup quarterback to get the ball out.

"We've got to understand what teams are doing to us scheme-wise to neutralize us and adjust to us so we can be effective," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "Because the fact of the matter is, we have to hit the quarterback. We have to hit the quarterback as a defensive front."

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell may try to disguise things like he did against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Giants only had two sacks but they got enough pressure to keep Brady off balance and out of sorts for nearly three whole quarters.

"You have to play extremely smart against them," Brees said. "You can't be one-dimensional. You have to be able to run the ball as well as throw it, take advantage of the opportunities when you do happen to have big plays, try to find matchups wherever you can find them and hope for a little bit of luck along the way too."

Brees has an arsenal of receivers and weapons with Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore, among others. The shifty Sproles has 60 catches already this season. But the major challenge for the Giants will be to slow down tight end Jimmy Graham, a nightmarish matchup at 6-6, 260 pounds. Graham leads the Saints with 62 receptions for 873 yards and six touchdowns.

By comparison, the Giants' leading receiver, Victor Cruz, has 46 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns.

The best tight ends the Giants have faced this season were New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski had eight receptions for 101 yards and one touchdown while Hernandez had four catches for 35 yards and one touchdown in the Giants' 24-20 win over the Patriots.

Having a weapon like Graham allows the Saints flexibility to attack the Giants' defense.

"If Jimmy Graham is by himself aligned where a split end is and the receivers are aligned to the other side of the formation, generally you can get an indicator of whether it is man or zone based on how the defense covers down," Saints head coach Sean Payton said when asked about having a tight end like Graham.

The Giants, who allowed Young to engineer an 18-play game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, are well aware of how explosive New Orleans can be. The Saints dropped 62 points on the Colts in Week 7.

"The good thing is we don't have any time to be sorry for ourselves, we have to go to New Orleans for a Monday night game, we don't have any time to be down on ourselves or wonder what is happening here," Tuck said. "We got to figure this thing out right and fight this thing out now. You talk about second-half [of the season] collapses, if we get down to the Saints, it could be a historical second-half collapse."