It’s not breaking news that the New York Giants have a vaunted pass rush with a defensive line littered with playmakers. From Osi Umenyiora to Justin Tuck to Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants have no shortage of players who can create havoc in the Patriots’ offensive backfield. The Giants will make use of all of their defensive playmakers, sometimes fielding four defensive ends to increase the speed of the pass rush. The Patriots had trouble handling the pass rush in Super Bowl XLII, with Tom Brady getting sacked 5 times and the record-setting offense being held to only 14 points. They again had trouble handling the Giants in Week 9, with Brady being sacked twice, fumbling once, and throwing 2 picks.
How can the Patriots slow down this pass rush? Let’s review the options.
1. Block straight up. The Patriots could use their linemen to block the Giants’ defensive line straight up. Is Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters, and Nate Solder/Sebastian Vollmer up to that challenge?
2. Use a tight end to block on the edge. This would most likely fall to Rob Gronkowski if he does indeed play. The Patriots could use him as an extra blocker to help out either Matt Light or whoever is playing right tackle. This might be a way to utilize Gronk if he’s having trouble making cuts on his ankle, though it would also affect his push in blocking.
3. Use Nate Solder as an extra tight end. This option is dependent on Sebastian Vollmer being healthy enough to play. When Vollmer has been healthy, the Patriots have used Solder as an extra tight end to block. This could also set up a potential play action pass to Solder in the end zone, a la Mike Vrabel.
4. Keep in a running back to help block. The Pats could keep BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, or Lousaka Polite in to either stay and block or chip an incoming pass rusher as they release into a pass route. Kevin Faulk would likely be the best option in this instance.
5. Utilize the screen game. One thing that Patriots fans criticized, and rightly so, is that the Pats did not change their playcalling to deal with the pass rush effectively in Super Bowl XLII. The screen game, which the Pats had done better than any team earlier in the past decade, was virtually absent. Super Bowl XLVI would be as good a time as any to use Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk as pass catchers in the screen game. This will help back the pass rush off, or turn into some big gains.
6. Establish a running game. The Pats only ran 16 times in Super Bowl XLII for 45 yards, with Laurence Maroney being their leading rusher with 36 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. As we saw against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots can establish a running game. One play that could be particularly effective is the draw, sucking the pass rushers up the field and then running up the gut. An effective running game can not only slow the pass rush down but wear out the defenders as the game goes on.
The Patriots will likely not focus on one of these points but utilize an “all of the above” approach to keep the heat off of Tom Brady. Their lack of execution cost them Super Bowl XLII and a victory in Week 9, and if they fail to stop the pass rush again, it will cost them Super Bowl XLVI.