|Pierre-Paul points the way for the New York defense. (Getty Images)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Everyone wants you to believe that Super Bowl XVLI is similar to the Giants-Patriots matchup from 2007. It makes sense -- the ferocious pass rush Tom Coughlin's squad brings to the table is so similar to the dominant 2007 defense. That's not some hapless circumstance though: it's a result of a carefully-crafted personnel plan that starts from the top up and permeates the entire organization.
Ask anyone on the Giants roster or coaching staff about what kind of attitude defines that defense, a unit that hasn't given up more than 20 points since Week 15, and you can tell there's a universal feeling within that group about the way they play. Right now that feeling could be described as "confidence." Or something ... else.
“Right now we have a badass mentality," safety Antrel Rolle said Tuesday. "That’s the way we like to look at it, that’s the way we want to keep it, and we’re very confident in our approach. But most of all, I think we’re very smart in our approach, meaning that everyone is on the same page at the same time and we have a clear understanding of what every guy is doing, not only yourself. So, you know, we’re a very intellectual team, and we take pride in that.
"But, at the same time, when the bell goes off on Sunday, we’re in attack mode. That’s the way we look at it."
The Giants struggled badly throughout much of the year on the defensive side of the ball (the Seahawks hung 36 on them in New York and they lost to the Redskins twice; that's all you need to know). Rolle acknowledged as much. But they shut out the Falcons offense in the divisional round and put the brakes on the previously white-hot Packers before handling the 49ers, reminding everyone of the 2007 unit that generated so much pressure from their front four.
But since 2007, the organization's seen a few important changes Perry Fewell replaced Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Jerry Reese moved into Ernie Accorsi's spot as general manager. The organization's managed to not change though, primarily in the way they seek out and identify defensive players with a similar mindset.
"I think Jerry Reese and Mark Ross in our scouting department do a great job of identifying Giant defensive-minded football players," Fewell said. "And that came long before I came here. They've always had a good talent for doing that. The one thing that I can really talk about is pride, and 'Giant Pride.' When you step into the Giant defensive meeting room -- they make you write an essay about what it's like to be a New York Giant. And why do you want to be a New York Giant defensive football player."
"Yeah, that was not something I was accustomed to doing," Fewell said. "When I heard that they make the rookies do that, I thought it was really unique and different. So there's a lot of pride that goes along with being a New York Giant and being a defensive football player and I think that's permeated throughout the years with the Strahans and the Lawrence Taylors. It goes back more years than I've been there."
Think about that: you get your first job as a professional in your chosen vocation and when you get to work, you have to write an essay about why you want the job you've been chosen to do. It's insanity. But it's also a testament to the way the Giants build their defense.
So is the work the Giants do in the later rounds. There's no Victor Cruz (a shocking breakout as an undrafted free agent) on the defense. But there are a slew of slam dunks from the last 10 years of Giants drafts, whose talent allows the Giants to get hot at the right time.
"Our scouts are really the unsung heroes of this whole process. They are the lifeline," Reese said. "They go out for 185-200 days a year on the road, scouting. They unearth these players and bring them to our attention. We have a chance to look at these guys too. It’s all about us. The winning is about us as an organization. Our scouts and our players do a tremendous job. Our coaches do a tremendous job. I’m just happy for the organization as a whole."
Reese should be. Since 2003, the Giants have used their first pick in the NFL Draft on defense every single year, save twice: in 2004 when they took Philip Rivers (and swapped him for Eli Manning) and 2008, when they took Hakeem Nicks. Both those moves worked out OK, but it's the defensive selections that really stand out.
Mathias Kiwanuka, Aaron Ross, Jason Pierre-Paul and Prince Amukamara are all first-rounders taken by the Giants who either start or see tons of playing time. Corey Webster, a second-round pick, was the Giants first selection in 2005. Osi Umenyiora was a second-round pick in 2003, and Justin Tuck was a third-round pick in 2005.
What is it, exactly, though that the Giants look for when pursuing these guys?
"Ability," Tom Coughlin said. "The way in which we define the positions and evaluate the players according to the positions that they play. I'm not going to go into detail on how they're evaluated, but we stick strictly to our philosophy, our grading system and being as objective as we possibly can."
Coughlin's answer might sound like coachspeak. (Technically, it is.) But his point about "ability" actually points more to the Giants heavy desire to draft pass-rushers on a frequent basis. Accorsi did it when he ran the team, and Reese does it as well. Having four guys on the line who can generate pressure and turn up the heat on opposiing quarterbacks without having to send additional blitzers is precisely what makes the Giants defense so terrifying.
And Coughlin, like everyone else with the Giants, had a look of pride on his face when asked what differentiates the Giants defense and its specific players from other teams.
Don't expect him to call the the unit "badass." But he clearly feels the same way as Rolle. And it's a sentiment that's shared from top to bottom in an organization, and the reason why this unit's capable of looking like an elite defense.
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