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article on NYG dline

Post  Big_Pete on Mon Oct 18, 2010 9:29 pm


Versatile and Creative, Giants Limber Up for Race to the Quarterback
Published: October 16, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Justin Tuck was named a Giants captain last month, a fellow defensive lineman placed a small figurine bearing his likeness in the unit’s meeting room. It started as a cute way to poke fun at Tuck. Then the team lost back-to-back games in September, and something needed to change.
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At the prodding of his teammates, Tuck snapped the statuette in half during a meeting. They did not make much of the gesture at the time, but it represented a turning point for the defensive line. In the two games since, the Giants’ pass rush has been perhaps the fiercest in the N.F.L.

“You never want bad juju,” end Dave Tollefson said. “You’d like to think a little plastic figurine wasn’t the difference. But you take what you can get in this league.”

The Giants’ fearsome front has done more than cast spells on opponents. In the past two games, it has accumulated 13 sacks and ushered 2 quarterbacks, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, to an early exit.

The recent success of the Giants’ pass rush can be credited to gaining a better grasp of the defense under a new coordinator, often playing with a lead and having a line that has developed a special chemistry through intense competition during practices, meetings and games and seemingly everywhere in between.

“It’s a race to the quarterback,” tackle Barry Cofield said. “And everybody wants to get the sack.”

As the Giants (3-2) prepared to host Detroit (1-4) on Sunday, Lions quarterback Shaun Hill had plenty to think about.

“They’re playing at a very high level right now, nobody can deny that,” Hill said in a conference call. “Sometimes, it’s coverage guys holding up and then those guys are getting there, and sometimes the front four is just absolutely beating people so quick. They’re doing it all right now.”

The Giants’ defensive line comprises an array of personalities. Chris Canty is the spiritual leader. Mathias Kiwanuka is the quiet one. Cofield provides the comic relief with his one-liners. (“It’s about timing and delivery,” he said.) Tuck is the spokesman.

But they are bonded by their competitiveness. In 2007, the Michael Strahan-led defense turned everything into a game, and the linemen have carried on the tradition.

They have bickered in the locker room about who performed the best on the Wonderlic test administered when they were draft prospects. (Canty claims to have the top-ranking score.) They challenge one another in video games. (Kiwanuka likes the Call of Duty series.) They also keep a tally of sacks. (Osi Umenyiora leads with six.)

“I threw a Gummi Bear in my mouth in a meeting, and then Osi challenged me,” Tollefson said. “ ‘Oh, I can do this better. I can do that better.’ You put that on the field, and it gets magnified.”

Competing to be the first off the line at practice and bonding over barbecue in their down time has led to synergy on the field.

Offensive linemen are typically thought to require strong chemistry to communicate and work together on blocking assignments. But the dynamic is just as important for defensive linemen.

Tuck says that he knows instinctively where Canty will head in a pass-rushing situation, the approach he might take to get to the quarterback, and the direction, power and speed with which he will attack a gap. That informs Tuck’s play.

It also allows Perry Fewell, the defensive coordinator, to call fewer blitzes without compromising the pressure applied to the opposing quarterback. Only one of the Giants’ 10 sacks against the Bears came on a blitz.

“People may think we have blitzes or stunts going on in the game, but it’ll just be a regular rush,” Tuck said, referring to Canty. “Because I know how he likes to rush, I’ll move a certain way. Instead of Perry saying to go out and go a certain way, we can do a straight rush, and he knows we’re going to play off each other because we’ve been in those wars together.”

Tuck added, “Nine times out of 10, we’ll cover each other up if someone makes a mistake.”

When Fewell tries to consult with the defensive linemen on the sideline, he said, they sometimes wave him away with an assurance that they have it all figured out.

The Giants use a so-called Four Aces package in which four ends play at once, which provides a sleeker option in pass-rushing situations. They have also benefited from the return of a healthy Cofield, who had knee surgery after the 2008 season.

The Giants have had such success rushing the passer — even with only three linemen — that Fewell has been able to use more exotic sets and switch the versatile components up front. Kiwanuka has played end, tackle and linebacker; Tuck has played standing up; and Canty has played end. Fewell has often used three safeties at once.

“I can play coverage instead of coming to get you all the time,” Fewell said. “I can do a multiplicity of things from not only coverage but pressure, and give different looks and disguises and movements, so it allows me to be a lot more versatile with what I can do with the players.”

The Giants’ defensive front gained attention for neutralizing New England’s Tom Brady in their 2007 season Super Bowl victory. Before last season, the defensive line appeared on the cover of The Sporting News. That cover became a source of embarrassment after the unit collapsed in the second half of the season.

Burnishing a ferocious reputation is something that the Giants embrace. Cofield said his linemates were well aware of the Jets’ defensive line from the early 1980s, known as the New York Sack Exchange.

“We want to build up a brand name like that,” Cofield said. “We want to be recognized as a feared unit, year in and year out, game in and game out. We want to be a defense you realize when you play us, it’s going to be a physical game and you’ll have to protect your quarterback.”

The Giants’ defensive linemen have started to build that reputation. All it took was speed and strength on the field — and perhaps a little bit of magic in their meeting room.
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