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First in a series
Here's a key matchup to watch in Super Bowl XLVI:
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Giants' pass rush
"Certainly, I'm not going to be able to run away from them. I gotta be able to throw the ball quickly and find the open guy, and get it into the hands of someone who can do something good with it like my skill players have done all season."
Tom Brady is well aware of Sunday's task of avoiding the pressure from the Giants' strength on defense, and he was asked about it when the team arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday. Boasting an aggressive D-line that recorded 48 sacks in the regular season, the Giants have rattled quarterbacks for years, and few understand that better than Brady.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants sacked Brady five times and hit him nine times. That season, when the Patriots finished the regular season undefeated at 16-0, no team sacked Brady more than three times in a game.
That group had Michael Strahan, one of the best defensive ends of all-time. This year's unit has second-year DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who was an absolute beast in 2011. He had 16½ sacks this season, including one on Brady in the Giants' Week Nine win. In that game, the G-Men brought Brady to the turf only twice, but the pressure was there.
"Anytime you can limit the quarterback from the time it takes to make a read to make a throw, it's much more challenging. It comes down to quick decision making," Brady said, and he is one of the quickest decision makers in the league.
Getting to Brady is easier said than done. Working primarily out of the shotgun, Brady releases the ball quickly, getting the ball to his receivers in space and allowing them to do the rest. His veteran offensive line had some issues earlier this season, but Dante Scarnecchia's group has been very stout in the playoffs. The unit held the Broncos without a sack and the Ravens brought down Brady only once in the AFC championship game, and those two teams were two of the best at getting after the passer in 2011.
As Brady mentioned, mobility is not his strong suit, and he will not be running out of the pocket to escape pressure. What he is very adept at is his footwork in the pocket to avoid pressure and get off the throw, which is why the Giants hope their speed rushers can get to him quickly.
Joining Pierre-Paul up front is Justin Tuck (five sacks in ’11), Osi Umenyiora (nine sacks plus 3½ in the playoffs), Dave Tollefson (five sacks) and Chris Canty (four sacks). Canty could be a big key to the Giants' chances. If he can get a good interior pass rush, closing down the pocket on Brady, that could do more damage than the edge rushers. OGs Brian Waters and Logan Mankins are two of the best in the business, but C Dan Connolly is the weak link on the line.
The Giants' pressure allows their back seven to be more aggressive with opposing receivers knowing that it only takes three or four D-linemen to get to the quarterback.
"We played them plenty of times, and they can really get after the passer," Brady added on Sunday. "Justin Tuck and Osi, I've played against those guys a bunch. JPP, Canty, Tollefson … it seems whoever they put in there can get after the passer."
Look for Brady and the Patriots' offense to get a running game going, maybe even utilizing some screen passes, anything to keep the Giants' pass rush off balance. The Giants know from experience that the more pressure they put on Brady, the better their chances of stopping the Patriots' potent air attack.