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24-2 is like a lacrosse score. I assume – I don’t know how lacrosse works because I grew up in a city.
Honestly, to think that this particular Giants team not only hosted a playoff game but won it is a little mind-boggling. So much weird stuff had to fall into place for this to happen, and so much Dallas and Philadelphia meltdown played a role in it, but dammit if the 2011 New York Giants didn’t just win a playoff game.
Now comes the inevitable Super Bowl hype. The Giants won juuuust recent enough that most of the team was around for it, and the Super Bowl run was juuuust offbeat enough that we can see some parallels. There was the hot start, the inevitable losing streak, the near victory against the undefeated team that sparked a turnaround, the pass rush rejuvenation, the strong close-out to the season and now the familiar trip to Green Bay for a shot at the big game.
There will be a lot of talk this week about how the Giants of 2011 resemble the Giants of 2007. Peter King said as much in his column Monday, and he won’t be the only person to draw the comparison. Of course, everyone will be wrong.
First of all, I don’t think the Giants are winning the Super Bowl so fast. They have a shot, a very good shot, at beating the Packers this weekend. If they pull off the upset, it will certainly put a cap on a very weird season, and it will be a satisfying end. But they are not beating New Orleans the week after.
The theory is that the Giants are getting hot at the right time, and most pundits say the hottest team in the playoffs is usually the one that wins it all. Green Bay was lurking all last season, but sputtered the final few weeks of the season before crushing the Giants in Week 15. They went absolutely supernova and streaked to the championship. Theory proved.
But the year before, New Orleans went 13-0, lost their last three games and had a bye week before beginning their dominant march to the Super Bowl. They couldn’t have been rustier, and still won. The 2008 Steelers split their final two games, had a bye week, and won the Super Bowl.
Essentially, the momentum thing is bunk. Most Super Bowl teams need to do one thing extremely well, and several other things very well. The Packers last year had a world-beater offense, an All-Pro QB and standouts on defense, coupled with a great coaching staff. The Saints had, well, basically the same thing.
The Giants won their Super Bowl because they rushed the passer better than anyone, their offensive line blocked better than anyone, and their QB played aggressively competent football for four weeks in a row. This year, they floundered in all aspects of the game until the last two weeks of the season.
So what changed?
First of all, they got healthy. There was one very telling play in Sunday’s absolute dismantling of an overmatched Falcons team – Osi Umenyiora bull rushed the Falcons left tackle into QB Matt Ryan, then reached around his blocker to grab Ryan and take everyone to the ground. It came well after the outcome was decided, but it spoke to the fact that the Giants now have 5 or 6 guys who can rush the passer with absolute fury. Doing so means that their patchwork secondary can get a break – coverage sacks, off balance throws and collapsing pockets are the best friend of a defense where Chase Blackburn plays a major role.
The pass rush is the lynchpin to the whole team. With a ferocious pass rush, the run defense is improved. If the run defense is improved, the offense spends more time on the field. With a full compliment of receivers, the passing game can work and open up a run game with two healthy and motivated backs. It’s the inverse of the “traditional” winning model: rushing and run defense are not the foundation for this Giants team, they’re the second option.
The other pieces to a victory this weekend are there: they have a QB with a Super Bowl MVP on his mantle, they have two fantastic receivers and two running backs who had their best combined game of the season on Sunday. The defense pitched a shutout, they offensive play calling went from abysmal to fantastic in the second half, and the team they are playing has not played a meaningful game in almost a month.
So what happens next Sunday? Well, the Giants almost beat the Packers in a total shootout, and I don’t think outscoring them is possible in that kind of situation. The Chiefs beat the Packers by running the ball 35 times and somehow holding Rodgers to less than 50% completion percentage. The Giants went something like 7-1 this year when they rushed for 100 yards or more.
So… run the ball? I know it’s not revolutionary, but it may actually work against a team that was fairly middle of the pack (pun intended) against the run this year. In fact, teams ran on Green Bay just 380 times this year, which was the fifth lowest total in the league. The Packers gave up 4.7 yards per carry, which was fourth worst in the league. Basically, they were in so many shootouts that teams just couldn’t justify running the ball against them.
But what if the Giants run the ball all day, and keep Rodgers off the field? What if when he’s on the field, they hit Rodgers early and often? The Chiefs sacked Rodgers four times that game, including three by Tamba Hali. They hit him five other times. What if Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are in the backfield more than the Packers running backs? In the Week 13 loss, the Giants sacked Rodgers twice – a well-placed sack on the Packers final drive might have changed the entire game.
Relying on the sack to win a football game is a little like relying on the alley-oop to win a basketball game – it’s great when it happens, but sometimes the threat of it happening is just as good. The Heat and the Clippers run down the court and are liable to throw the lob at any point, and it demoralizes the opposition. The Giants can now begin every play on defense with the possibility of a sack – and maybe Rodgers loses some sleep this week thinking about it.
The 2011 Giants are not the 2007 Giants, and in all likelihood they will lose this weekend in Green Bay. But they have a puncher’s chance to win, and that’s more than anyone could say just four weeks ago.