|The Giants defense is looking super again, allowing just 12.3 points a game in three playoff wins. (US Presswire)|
The numbers tell you that Tom Brady should shred the New York Giants' pass defense, but I wouldn't trust what you see in those numbers. I would trust what you see in the Giants.
And here's why: The pass defense that ranked 29th this season and had more holes than the Garden State Parkway is beginning to resemble the defense that suffocated Brady in Super Bowl XLII. It can squeeze the pocket. It can force the turnovers. It can defend the pass. Most important, it can make big stops.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in New York's latest victory, a 20-17 overtime defeat of San Francisco where the 49ers converted one of 13 third downs and had one catch by a wide receiver. It was for 3 yards.
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The Giants won that game because their defense -- the defense that ranked 27th overall and 25th in scoring -- was relentless, chasing Alex Smith from the pocket and seldom yielding critical gains ... and what's new?
In the Giants' three playoff victories, their defense has been marvelous -- with New York allowing 37 points (excluding two that were the result of the Giants offense suffering a safety), or 12.3 points per game. That will win a lot of games, and it will win Super Bowl XLVI. There is no way New England holds the Giants to fewer than 17 ... and my guess is the total is higher.
That means it's up to Brady to do to New York what he couldn't four years ago, and I never underestimate the New England quarterback. Never. But I wouldn't underestimate his opponent, either. It beat Brady at home earlier this season, and these Giants are better -- much better -- than those Giants because of one significant improvement.
The pass defense.
In three playoff games against the Giants, opposing quarterbacks completed 54.9 percent of their passes, were sacked nine times and pressured or hit on countless other occasions. Result: Matt Ryan had one completion longer than 20 yards. It was 21. Aaron Rodgers had one completion longer than 20 yards, too. It was also for 21. Alex Smith had no more than three snaps on any of his last four series.
But why stop there? The Giants allowed only four touchdowns in three playoff games and held opponents to a 28.2 percent rate of success on third downs. They also stuffed all four fourth-down tries.
I guess what I'm saying is that this is not the pass defense that couldn't solve Rex Grossman (twice, no less) or Vince Young. This is the pass defense that flummoxed Brady in Super Bowl XLII and authored one of the Super Bowl's greatest upsets. This Giants defense is not to be undersold, especially with the pressure it can apply with its front four.
I know, I know, it's Tom Brady, and virtually nobody but Baltimore seems to bother the guy. Only the Giants do. In their past two games against Brady, both victories for New York, they held him to a 59 percent rate of completion, sacked him seven times, allowed three touchdowns, had two interceptions and checked him on a passer rating of 78.87 -- or 15.5 points lower than his career average.
Granted, Brady was sensational this season, but he was sensational in 2007, too, throwing an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes and not losing until the Super Bowl.
People tell me he doesn't string together back-to-back stinkers, one reason New England is a 3 1/2-point favorite. But these aren't the Denver Broncos, people. This is a defense that is confident, healthy and playing its best football of the season. Plus, this is a defense that shut down MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and didn't allow Matt Ryan and the league's 10th-ranked offense a single point.
Brady doesn't lose often in the playoffs, and his 16-5 record speaks for itself. But his biggest and most disappointing postseason defeat was inflicted by New York, and in four of his past five playoff games, he's been anything but Tom Terrific.
You can look it up. In his past five playoff starts, Brady completed 62.9 percent of his passes, with 11 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 14 sacks and a passer rating of 85.03. Subtract this year's 45-10 defeat of Denver, and suddenly those numbers drop to 60 percent, five touchdowns, six interceptions, 14 sacks and a passer rating of 70.69.
Like most people, I believe Brady has something to prove. With a victory, he would tie childhood hero Joe Montana with four Super Bowl wins and puts himself in the Greatest Ever conversation. Plus, he can avenge his biggest failure. But first things first, and first he must overcome a familiar nemesis.
In some respects, the Giants remind me of last year's Green Bay Packers. Like Green Bay, they qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Like Green Bay, they ended a second-half tailspin by winning their last two in their home stadium. Like Green Bay, they achieved big playoff victories on the road. And like Green Bay, their quarterback is hot -- with Eli Manning throwing for eight touchdowns and only one interception in the playoffs.
The only difference: Green Bay was a wild card, the Giants won their division.
We remember the Packers for their defensive prowess in last year's playoffs, with six interceptions in their first three victories. The Giants have only one, but they make up for it with five fumble recoveries. Moreover, they allowed 12 fewer points than the Packers in three dress rehearsals for the Super Bowl.
I think you get the idea. I wouldn't underestimate the Giants' ability to frustrate Brady and the Patriots. They did it four years ago, and, yeah, I know it's a different team with different players. But the formula hasn't changed, and, unless New England has, the Patriots and Tom Brady might be not gain what they want.