Giants must adjust pass rush for mobile quarterbacks

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Tony Romo eludes Jason Pierre-Paulprior to throwing a Tony Romo eludes Jason Pierre-Paulprior to throwing a second quarter touchdown pass at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Tom Rock Tom Rock

Rock covers the New York Giants. Previously covered college sports and outdoors.

It's never happened before.

Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora have never played together in a full game and walked off the field without a sack among them. Not since Pierre-Paul became a regular contributor to the defense midway through his rookie year in 2010, anyway.

The closest they had been to that happening was last year against the Saints, when all three began the game, but Umenyiora left with a high ankle sprain in the first quarter and the other two -- along with the rest of the Giants -- left with a sagging, empty feeling.

Last week, there was no excuse. No injuries, not before or during the game. The Giants' big three defensive ends who were supposed to gobble up quarterbacks, gnaw on the nerves of offensive linemen and cause panic in the backfield, came up completely empty. Blanked. The Giants sacked Tony Romo twice, but both came from lumbering defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard. The speed guys couldn't get there.

So what happened?

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Just as the Giants provided the league with a defensive end-focused blueprint for beating opponents such as the Patriots and Packers by swarming the quarterback and disrupting rhythms, the Cowboys may have established a new counteroffensive and shown the rest of the league how to beat back the Giants' pass rush.

All you need, apparently, is a mobile quarterback. And in the NFL these days, those aren't hard to come by.

Just look at the Giants' upcoming schedule. They face Josh Freeman of the Bucs on Sunday -- a big, strong passer who can absorb hits to extend plays rather than scramble -- then next Thursday, they get the Panthers' Cam Newton. The following week, they play the Eagles' Michael Vick. Later in the year, they'll face Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers and, of course, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III will get two cracks at the Giants.

Oh, and they have to face Romo and the Cowboys a second time.

What Romo was able to do -- and the others likely will try to do -- is escape the Giants' up-the-middle rush to the outside, buy time and wait for receivers to get open on double moves. The Giants' secondary usually doesn't have to worry about double moves because they take so long to develop and the defensive line typically disrupts the play before the receiver can get free.

Worry not, Giants fans. As the league builds a stockpile of mobile, fleet-footed quarterbacks, the Giants' defense will evolve, as well.

"You always want to go against those quarterbacks that are kind of Statues of Liberty in the pocket," Tuck said. "That makes things a little easier, but that's not the way of today's quarterback. Most guys now are mobile and still are franchise-type quarterbacks. The Romos, the Vicks. Considering last week's games, the RG IIIs, the Cam Newtons. It's the way of the world and us as D-linemen have to adjust."

So out goes NASCAR, the name the Giants gave to their four-defensive end front to capture the speed and power of their full-throttle look. In comes a more controlled pass rush, one that does not go tearing up the field and flush quarterbacks out but instead forces them to stay put, surrounded, while the walls close in on them. Maybe the Giants should call it the vise squad: hold a quarterback in place and squeeze.

"You've just got to choke down your rush a little bit and make sure you pay attention to your rush lanes because quarterbacks, like some of the guys we're going to play this year, are going to be able to hurt you with their arm and their legs," Tuck said. "Take your poison. You're going to have a 30-yard run or 30-yard pass in certain situations, so it takes a team effort as far as keeping guys in the pocket and just make sure we collapse it on them."

Will it work? Maybe. If it does, then there's a good chance that the no-hitter the Giants defensive ends absorbed against the Cowboys last week won't happen again anytime soon.

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