Commentary

Relentless Giants defense makes name for itself

New York pressured Tom Brady throughout the Super Bowl, sacking him five times and knocking him down on 10 occasions.

Originally Published: February 3, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The New York Giants' defense doesn't have a nickname.

These guys aren't the "Steel Curtain." No one calls them the "Purple People Eaters." They aren't confused with the powerhouse "46" defense of the 1985 Bears. But the Giants, who led the NFL in sacks this season, made their name by making Tom Brady uncomfortable early and often during their unbelievable 17-14 upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday night.

"We're not like the Bears or the Giants of old," New York defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We're a bunch of misfits that somehow came together and won."

Strahan considers himself the main misfit. He's constantly talking. In his 15-year career, he has been among the league's all-time great quarterback sackers, but he is a character. On the practice field, and in games, he constantly talks, and the chatter is hysterical. And it clearly is contagious. The Giants' defensive front four frequently will gather at the line of scrimmage, swing their bodies in unison and shout a few profane chants. The scene looks similar to what you might see in "The Longest Yard." Linemen laugh. They giggle. They have a blast.

"That's part of the misfit thing," Strahan said. "We'll break the huddle and have different chants. A lot can't be repeated because kids are watching. But it's just for us to get fired up. When we do it, it gets us up and focuses us on what we have to do."

The Giants' defense couldn't have been more focused Sunday. New York pressured Brady throughout the game, sacking him five times and knocking him down on 10 occasions. Asked after the game whether his high right ankle sprain limited his play in any way, Brady quickly responded, "No, not at all."

But as the game wore on, Giants defensive tackle Justin Tuck noticed that Brady didn't look like, well, the normal Tom Brady. Some of his throws were off, and the same QB who threw for a league-record 50 touchdown passes this season lacked mobility in avoiding the pressure.

"The offense is made to stay in rhythm, and some things we showed him up front and in the secondary, you could tell it kind of threw off his rhythm," Tuck said of Brady, who completed 29 of 48 passes for 266 yards, and lost 37 yards in sacks. "He made some errant throws and held a ball a little longer than he normally does. That's a combination of pressure in his face and the secondary doing a great job of locking down all of the receivers, and really doing a good job."

Tuck said that Mike Singletary, the former Bears linebacker, spoke to the Giants in the week before the Super Bowl and told them he appreciated their old-school mentality. Remember, the Patriots were the highest-scoring team in NFL history. Brady threw 50 TDs in compiling an 18-0 record at QB, and Randy Moss caught 23 scoring passes and was the most dangerous receiver in football.

But New York attacked. Its cornerbacks locked up in man-to-man and took away New England's perimeter passing game. Cornerback Corey Webster checked Moss in press man coverage most of the game. Though Moss did catch five passes for 62 yards -- including a 6-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes, 42 seconds to play -- he had to get kick-started with a crossing route or two in the second quarter and, overall, wasn't much of a factor.

The core of the Giants' defensive strategy was coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's smart blitz adjustments as the game progressed. When these two teams met in Week 17, the Patriots consistently were picking up inside blitzes -- nearly all run on Tuck's side of the defense. In the Super Bowl, Spagnuolo kept the blockers guessing by varying the blitzes inside the Patriots guards. And the Giants had more to offer.

"I don't know if we got to all the blitzes we had in the game plan," Spagnuolo said. "I do know this: There was a time there where I thought Tom Brady was finding out what we were bringing and he was changing the protections and we had to [switch up] some of the things."

Spagnuolo said the Giants blitzed as much as 35 percent of the time. On numerous other occasions, it was the front four -- a toxic mix of Strahan, Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins and Jay Alford -- that was busy bruising Brady. Tuck had two sacks at defensive tackle, and Strahan, Alford and linebacker Kawika Mitchell had the other three.

"I have to give credit to the four guys up front," Spagnuolo said. "We hung our hat on those guys all year long, and we did it again."

All of which left Strahan both enjoying the victory and pondering his future. He wasn't saying after the game whether he was going to retire or come back for another season, but it might be difficult for him to leave this group -- even if that means having to go to training camp.

"We're a bunch of misfits who believe in each other," Strahan said. "Osi Umenyiora is like my little brother. He's a different bird, but he's just like me. He'll tell me I'm overrated. I'll tell him he made the Pro Bowl on the basis of one six-sack game against Philadelphia. He'll tell me I get my sacks against slappies. We have fun."

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer