INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots guard Brian Waters has been playing NFL football for 13 years, and yet he admits that he hasn’t faced many defensive fronts like the one the Giants bring to the table. “Rarely do you face a defensive line with that many talented football players,” Waters told me.
That should be obvious, because this is a defense that, according to Pro Football Focus, has recorded at least 10 total pressures in six straight games, with at least 20 in three of those affairs. They have 20 sacks in their last five games alone. Jason Pierre-Paul is the hottest pass rusher in the league. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are two of the most consistent in said category.
But coming from a veteran like Waters, who doesn’t strike me as a guy prone to hyperbole, it’s worth considering.
New York’s rush wasn’t even coming close to firing on all cylinders when these teams met in Week 9, but the pressure was still enough to force Tom Brady into two interceptions while sacking him twice. And according to PFF, the New England line had one of its strongest games of the season that day.
The ends are healthier (Umenyiora was hobbled significantly) and hotter (Pierre-Paul has 6.5 sacks in seven games; Umenyiora has 5.5 in four) now than they were then, which is scary.
It’s particularly scary because, against the Giants, Brady has been far from celestial.
Just ask Pierre-Paul, who remarked yesterday that “anybody can be rattled. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but at the end of the day, he is just a quarterback. It is not like he is God.” (In other words, Gisele isn’t praying for her husband to her husband. That woulda been weird.)
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far today as to suggest that the Giants’ defensive line might in fact be in
God’s Brady’s head. Prisco takes a look at one particular flinch from Brady in the Week 9 matchup, which he feels indicates he’s fazed by the New York pass rush and it is affecting his play.
Brady has been sacked seven times in two straight losses to the Giants — both coming in particularly painful fashion. But that number doesn’t do it justice, because the game tape reveals lots more pressure, the aforementioned flinch, and a multitude of checkdowns. From Prisco:
But the most telling stat of all is yards per attempt in those two games. It’s only 5.5. That’s significant when you consider Brady’s career average is 7.5 and his lowest in the past four seasons he has been healthy is 7.8.
What that means is Brady has had a tendency to check the ball down to shorter routes against the Giants, rather than waiting for the big plays to develop.
Pierre-Paul added fuel to that fire today, saying that “if you look at Week 9 when we played them, it’s like he felt us. When we looked back on the film, we didn’t really rush like we can rush as a defense. He was throwing balls on the ground and stuff.”
JPP was then asked if he thought Brady was feeling pressure that wasn’t actually there: ”He was. He did react to pressure that didn’t exist, and he was just throwing the ball places where there wasn’t even a receiver there. Imagine us getting there even faster and actually doing our jobs and getting hits on him.”
It’s strange. Brady has seemingly struggled more with pressure as his career has progressed.
From PFF via the New York Times:
Brady has completed 70.6 percent of his passes and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt when given time to throw. In plays under pressure, Brady’s completion percentage drops to 48.6 and his yards per attempt falls to 7.5.
But the Giants should probably be careful. This defense has subtly been talking a big game all week, which is a dangerous thing to do with Brady and Belichick. We’ve heard them slyly suggest that Julian Edelman will become prey for their quick receivers, and now we’re watching them as they accidentally create potential bulletin board material for a team led by one of the most successful quarterbacks and one of the most successful head coaches in NFL history.
If this pass rush doesn’t dominate Sunday’s game, Brady will more than likely make them pay dearly. If they keep the heat on enough to stay inside (or get into) Brady’s head, it’ll be a whole different game.
There are literally hundreds of small-, big- and medium-sized factors that go into who wins and loses any given game, but the matchup of Umenyiora/Pierre-Paul/Tuck/Kiwanuka versus Brady might end up deciding who grabs Lombardi from the hands of Bob Costas on Sunday night.