Brady's bunch is primary concern of Giants' secondary

PHOENIX -- Tom Brady's right ankle won't stop being the No. 1 topic of Super Bowl XLII conversation until the New England Patriots' quarterback demonstrates it is completely healthy.

And he won't be able to do that until after the opening kickoff on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

In the meantime, there will be all sorts of speculation about how effective Brady can be throwing the ball or doing whatever else he needs to do to help the Patriots beat the New York Giants.

If Brady is at all limited in his ability to move or set his feet to throw, the Patriots' offense figures to lose at least a little of the tremendous firepower that generated NFL records for points (589) and touchdowns (75).

But if he is anywhere close to the quarterback he has been for most of the season, the one who threw for a league-record 50 touchdown passes, the Giants' secondary figures to be in for a long day.

As impressive as the Giants' late-season and postseason surge have been, they have had problems defending against the long ball. In their season-ending loss to the Patriots on Dec. 29, they gave up a 65-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss (see how it worked). In the NFC Championship Game, they allowed the Green Bay Packers to connect on a 90-yard scoring throw (watch the play).

If the Giants are repeatedly on the wrong end of such plays, they will have virtually no chance of pulling off a monumental upset Sunday. Their best (only?) hope of beating the Patriots is to force them to drive the length of the field as much as possible.

Stepping up in the playoffs

The good news for the Giants is that their secondary has done its best work during the postseason -- especially cornerbacks Corey Webster, R.W. McQuarters, and Aaron Ross. Webster and McQuarters have combined for five interceptions in three playoff games. As a team, the Giants had only 13 interceptions in 16 regular-season games.

Much of the secondary's recent improvement is because it has been getting healthier. Ross is back from a shoulder injury while Sam Madison has returned from an abdominal strain. Nickel back Kevin Dockery also appears to be recovered from a hip injury.

Still, the performance of the Giants' safeties, Gibril Wilson and James Butler, has not looked a whole lot better than it did during the regular season. Wilson and Butler seem as vulnerable as they were when the Giants allowed 621 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the first two games alone.

Expect Brady to try and set up Wilson and Butler with quick slants and crossing routes intended to force the safeties to concentrate on covering the middle of the field. Once that happens, Brady will look to throw to Moss and Donte' Stallworth, who will be running deep fade routes on the perimeter.

Often facing double coverage, Moss only caught a pass in each of the Patriots' two playoff victories over Jacksonville and San Diego. Brady expects the Giants to pay similar attention to the receiver who broke an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches, but that doesn't mean he won't look for him.

"I never lose track of him," Brady said. "I know that he works extremely hard to get open and I know that he is in the right place and he wants the ball. We have to find ways to get him the ball because he is an important part of this offense.

"(But) it is just a fine line. You don't want to just throw it to somebody if he is covered with two or three guys. You have to find other guys to throw the ball to, and we certainly have that luxury."

And the Pats should have their share of success with throws to the inside. Working from the slot, Wes Welker figures to have little problem getting open on circle routes designed to provide room for him to make significant gains after the catch. Tight end Benjamin Watson also will give Brady a target, drawing a linebacker into coverage by running toward the sideline on flat and drag routes.

A rush to judgment

The most effective way for the Giants to disrupt the Patriots' passing game is to generate a strong pass rush. The Giants, who led the NFL with 53 sacks, have a strong enough defensive line to generate pressure with minimal blitzing. They demonstrated as much during their previous meeting. However, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo won't hesitate to use some zone blitzes in an effort to create rare indecision in Brady and force him hold the ball longer than he would prefer. The Giants will concentrate their pressure up the middle, looking to prevent Brady from stepping up in the pocket and causing him to move laterally.

Of course, the Pats have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They've done a tremendous job of keeping Brady upright, but don't be surprised to see him making numerous quick throws from shotgun formation, where he will have a better view of what's coming at him. Ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora and the rest of the Giants' defensive line are capable of applying enough heat to force Brady into poor decisions and hurried passes.

"With a pass rush like the Giants have, it's key that we get open quick," Welker said. "We need to make sure we get separation quick and get some positive yardage on first and second down."

Besides throwing quickly to Welker and Watson, Brady also will look to his favorite target for screens, running back Kevin Faulk.

The Giants will no doubt look to borrow from the defensive game plan the Chargers used against in the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers were extremely physical against the Patriot receivers, and that contributed to Brady throwing three interceptions and Welker being the only New England receiver to catch more than two passes.

The Giants are comfortable with that approach.

"We always feel we want to play physically every week," Dockery said. "To beat up the receivers, that's our No.1 goal."

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