Don't say that the Giants' defense didn't touch Drew Brees.
"I touched him," Mathias Kiwanuka said with mock defiance. "I had to jump over somebody and barely got a hand on him, but it's not that I didn't touch him at all."
Kiwanuka was pretending to be defensive about the suggestion that Brees escaped from Sunday's game without ever feeling the Giants. Pretending to be defensive is about as defensive as the Giants were. In reality, Kiwanuka knows that his technicality wasn't enough to even make Brees blink, never mind disrupt his rhythm. "We didn't get there enough, it's not even close," he said, speaking for himself and the rest of his pass-rushing pals.
Although the secondary has taken the brunt of criticism for one of the worst defensive performances in recent team history, allowing Brees to pass for 369 yards and four touchdowns in the 48-27 loss, the guys upfront believe they are just as responsible. Their inability to fluster the quarterback, the cornerstone of their defensive philosophy these last few seasons, was just as big of a reason for those gaudy numbers as the blown coverages and misplayed balls down the field.
Even the one sack they were credited with, a late takedown of backup Mark Brunell by Chase Blackburn, was taken away. The Elias Sports Bureau changed the ruling from a sack to a rush of minus-9 yards.
"We absolutely did not get there," Kiwanuka said, "and we put our DBs out on a limb."
Now, on the heels of that performance, comes Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals' pass-first, pass-always philosophy. Forget about stopping the run against the Cardinals, they do that themselves with their play-calling. Fifteen of their 100 first downs have come on the run, they pass more than two-thirds of the time, and their leading rusher, Tim Hightower, has more receiving yards (228) than rushing yards (158).
As Tom Coughlin succinctly put it: "The ball is in the air a lot."
And while there are certainly technique and communication errors in the defensive backfield that need to be addressed, the biggest key to slowing the passing attack is putting pressure on the quarterback.
On the surface that would seem easier against the Cardinals. Without a real running attack the play-action plays that confounded the pass rushers against the Saints will be less effective. The Cardinals use far less max protection than the Saints. And Warner has a reputation for holding onto the football too long in some situations - a reputation that seems to have its genesis in his brief time with the Giants.
"Coming into this week I was looking at the same thing and licking my chops," Justin Tuck said of Warner. "And then you get in [the film room] and you see he's getting rid of the ball in the area of 2.2 seconds, which is a drastic change. This year he's really changed it up and he's getting the ball out quick, which is going to make it difficult on us."
But not impossible.
"There's still opportunities there," Tuck said.
As much as the Cardinals pass, they have changed the way they do so. No longer do they air it out downfield. Their longest completion of the season is for 40 yards. They are hitting their physical receivers earlier and letting them pick up yards after the catch. Warner said that's mostly because defenses are staying back and not allowing the deep balls. The Giants likely will do the same thing with their secondary that still has a shiner under its eye, so the clock will be ticking on every snap for the defensive line.
What's the answer? More blitzing? The only real hit on Brees came when linebacker Antonio Pierce came through the line. Does the Giants' play-calling need to be more aggressive?
"That shouldn't matter to us upfront," Kiwanuka said. "We pride ourselves on being a great defensive line that can pass rush and we want to be in a situation where you just line us up and say: You four go against these five or six. That's a situation we want to be in. We don't want our defense to have to blitz to get pressure. We want to be able to do that ourselves."
Especially against a team like the Saints or the Cardinals, where a blitz can expose a receiver to one-on-one coverage. Or, as it seemed to do at times last Sunday, one-on-none coverage. "You don't want to leave anybody in a bad situation," Kiwanuka said.
Except, of course, for the opposing quarterback.