- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2008

No team had more sacks in the regular season than the New York Giants, a product of coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme and pass rushers Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan.

Only two teams allowed fewer sacks in the regular season than the Green Bay Packers, a result of Brett Favre’s ability to get rid of the football under duress and fine tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.

It should be no surprise that the Giants’ pass rush vs. the Packers’ offensive line has developed into the key matchup of tomorrow night’s NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field.

The Giants’ NFL-leading 53 sacks was well above the league average of 34.4. Twelve players had at least one sack, including Umenyiora (13), Tuck (10) and Strahan (nine).

“Excellent players — very productive,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “They put excellent pressure on Dallas. They have a really nice blitz package — well-designed, comprehensive.

“They come from a lot different angles, but they also have four guys that put their hand down and come after the quarterback pretty well on their own. That provides them with flexibility in terms of their game plan and how they decide to cover certain offensive players.”

Green Bay allowed only 19 sacks in more than 600 drop-backs.

“He’s very difficult to sack,” Umenyiora said. “He throws the ball very, very quick so we’re going to have to really get our hands up, get in his face a little bit and see if we can play the game that way.”

Although Ryan Grant has ignited the Packers run game, Green Bay still likes to sling it regardless of the opponent and weather conditions.

And against a Giants secondary likely without injured cornerbacks Sam Madison and Kevin Dockery (Aaron Ross is expected to play despite suffering an injury last week), it will be important for the Giants’ pass rush to make Favre move around.

In the wild card win over Tampa Bay, the Giants had only one sack, but they battered Jeff Garcia — eight hurries and 14 hits. They had two sacks and eight additional hits on Dallas’ Tony Romo.

The Giants get to the quarterback without sending many blitzers.

“Their style and approach seem to have shifted a little more to what I would compare to Philly’s style,” Favre said. “There are some subtle differences, but it’s, ‘We’ll start with this base defense and for the most part, what you see is what you get.

“ ’But we’ll give you some oddball looks and some protection issues. And we’re going to attack and allow our guys to play.’ ”

The Giants may rush only four players, but it’s not a given they are all linemen. New York runs an array of zone blitzes and involves its defensive backs in the plan.

“That’s the Jimmy Johnson mentality — rush four but it may be a corner and a safety from the same side with a nose and defensive tackle and drop everyone else,” Favre said.

Favre’s ability to slide around the pocket and throw the ball quick to a check-down prevents him from getting sacked.

That poses a dilemma for defensive coordinators: Blitz and risk giving up short passes that turn into long gains or play coverage and let Favre sit in the pocket?

Injuries to Madison and Dockery will affect Spagnuolo’s plan.

The Giants sacked Favre and hit him twice in 38 dropbacks in Green Bay’s 35-13 win Sept. 16.

Spagnuolo said the key is making sure the one-on-one matchup is won when he dials up a blitz.

“We talk about trying to get our hands up and batting the ball down, and certainly when guys come with pressure, they have to beat the block in front of them,” he said. “And then on the coverage end, if you can cover them just a second or two longer, he may hold on to it and that’s when our guys up front can have some success.”

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