|William Perlman/US Presswire|
|Giants pass-rushers Osi Umenyiora (72) and Jason Pierre-Paul will be gunning for Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI.|
Ernie Accorsi didn't go into his final draft as Giants general manager, with successor Jerry Reese riding shotgun, looking to prove a point.
But almost inadvertently, that's exactly what Accorsi did.
When the Giants came up with the 25th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the top player on their board was Boston College edge rusher Mathias Kiwanuka. New York already had Michael Strahan and 20-somethings Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora on the roster, so Accorsi traded down seven spots, with the Steelers looking to move up for Santonio Holmes. Less than two hours later, now at 32, the Giants came up again. Kiwanuka was still there. So Accorsi did what legendary personnel man Joe Thomas taught him. He took the pass rusher.
"Joe's whole thing was you have get the quarterback -- and the right quarterback, not just the one that's available in a given year -- and you have to protect him," Accorsi said on Thursday night.
"And then you draft pass rushers until the cows come home."
The Giants are going to their second Super Bowl in five years, and fifth in the past quarter century, for many reasons. But the big one with Big Blue never seems to change: When the Giants are at their best, they're putting the other team's signal-caller on his back more than everyone else.
The defenses of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick that won two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990 altered games in that way with the greatest of them all, in Lawrence Taylor, and even altered the careers of quarterbacks like Joe Theismann and Joe Montana. The 2000 group that lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV had Michael Strahan coming off the edge.
And yet, this unit -- altered from 2007 to 2011, with some of the principles remaining -- may best reflect the teachings Thomas passed to Accorsi, and Accorsi passed to Reese.
"Collectively, we're a force to be reckoned with," Umenyiora told me. "Because each one of us is so unique in what we bring to the team, you can't really gameplan for anybody. We line up at so many different positions you never know what you're gonna get, so collectively, I think we're a force."
Or, to boil it down, the organizational philosophy of "drafting pass rushers until the cows come home" is being put to work. Four years ago, it was Strahan, Tuck, Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson as interchangeable edge pieces, with Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins and Jay Alford inside. This time around, take Strahan out and add Jason Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka (injured in 2007) on the edge, and sub the inside group out with Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph.
The effect is two-fold. First, it creates matchup nightmares all over the place for the offense, with those edge rushers all serving as "jokers" in the Giants' deck. Second, it keeps legs fresh across the board.
"We ask a lot from our front four, as far as stopping the run and getting after the quarterback," Tuck said. "It's important for us to be fresh in that fourth quarter. A lot of our games have come down to the fourth quarter. And those games where we've had a great rotation like that, and are fresh in the fourth quarter, we've won most of those."
The concept isn't novel. As Accorsi explains it, he learned the lessons in the mid-1970s under Thomas with the Colts. Back then, in the ex-Giants GM's opinion, the Patriots had top-of-the-NFL talent at tight end (Russ Francis), tackle (Leon Gray), guard (John Hannah), middle linebacker (Sam Hunt), corner (Michael Haynes) and safety (Tim Fox).
But the Colts had the "Sack Pack", a fearsome pass-rushing front, and a better quarterback, in Bert Jones. According to Accorsi, that was enough to carry Baltimore past New England and to three straight AFC East titles during that time. "That's when I realized how Joe's theories worked," Accorsi said. "That team carried what Joe wanted out to a T."
George Young, the architect of the 1980s Giants, also worked for Thomas in Baltimore from 1972-74. Young passed the torch to Accorsi, who passed the torch to Reese. And the legacy in that lineage is alive and well.
Accorsi recalls watching the first play of Super Bowl XLII, and seeing Umenyiora come screaming off the corner to whack Tom Brady. Though Umenyiora didn't register a sack in that game, Accorsi felt he deserved MVP consideration because, "I swear, after that, Brady peeked at him all day. It's the perfect example. If you give Brady time, he'll carve you to shreds. The one way to stop him is to put him on the ground."
Reese has carried on in the footsteps of Young and Accorsi and, really, Thomas too. In 2010, he informed his scouts prior to the draft that -- even with Tuck, Umenyiora and Kiwanuka on the roster -- South Florida's Pierre-Paul was his guy, and the Giants were taking him if he was on the board at the 15th pick. True to his word, Reese pulled the trigger, just like he and Accorsi had on Kiwanuka in 2006.
And Reese had a moment like the one Accorsi described above this year too. On the Giants' first third down of these playoffs, Canty came screaming through the middle and decked Matt Ryan. As was the case with Brady four years earlier, the tone was set.
"You like to see that you're causing some confusion," Tollefson said. "Sometimes it's not all about sacks either, you know, if you can get a quarterback to throw the ball before he wants to, and not have his feet set, that's something that we actually talk about quite a bit. You'd think we'd talk about getting sacks but really we talk about just getting pressure, man. The sacks will come, you just got to put that constant pressure."
Accorsi describes it as a quarterback being "like a boxer taking body punches. It takes its toll. Really, it's the only way to slow the great quarterbacks down. You saw (this year's Giants) allow 30 points in three straight weeks. And then the pass rush got healthy, and that back seven got better in a hurry."
The old GM added "it's almost eerie" how similar the 2007 Giants are to this year's edition, both in the way they've won and the way the roster is constructed.
That makes sense. The blueprint never changed much either.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer