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The skinny on beating the Giants

Washington coaches suggest a blueprint

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 27, 2012
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MOBILE, Ala. - Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks were in street clothes when the Giants beat the Patriots, 24-20, in Week 9 at Gillette Stadium.

How much will that change things from the Patriots’ perspective heading into the Super Bowl?

“[The Giants] are totally different,’’ said Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett between Senior Bowl practices this week. “When they have everybody out there, that is a very tough offense to stop.’’

As NFC East rivals, Haslett and the rest of the Redskins coaches know the Giants well. And Washington handed New York two of its seven regular-season losses: 28-14 in Week 1 and 23-10 in Week 15.

Each time, at least offensively, the Giants had their full complement of weapons - minus athletic tight end Travis Beckum - and the Redskins held the Giants well below their season average of 24.6 points per game.

How did they do it?

Haslett said the first thing you have to stop is the two-headed running attack of the quick Bradshaw and the powerful Brandon Jacobs.

“I think that’s kind of what they rely on,’’ Haslett said. “I think that’s what makes them go.

“They’ll start Jacobs, but Bradshaw is the guy, in my eyes. He’s one of the best blocking backs in the league. He’s got great acceleration, he’s fast, he’s really good on screens. I think he’s outstanding.’’

The second key is to keep quarterback Eli Manning, who also didn’t have center David Baas and fullback Henry Hynoski against the Patriots, in the pocket.

The Giants’ offensive line is average and will give up pressure - the Patriots had 21 combined hurries and knockdowns against Manning - but Manning seems to be unaffected.

“He’s a big guy,’’ Haslett said. “He’s 6-4, 230. Getting hit doesn’t really bother him. He knows he’s going to take some hits and it doesn’t faze him.’’

Manning is at his best when he escapes pressure and buys time for his receivers - Nicks, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, and tight end Jake Ballard - something Patriots fans don’t have to be reminded of.

“What you want to do is keep him in the pocket and make him throw over you, not give him clean lanes,’’ Haslett said. “That’s where he gets his big plays. That’s where Cruz gets out, Manningham and Jake, that’s where they get their plays.

“You’ve got to be disciplined in your rush and understand what he’s trying to do. He’s not going to run away from you, he’s not trying to run away from you, he’s just buying time to stand on his feet.’’

Haslett thinks all of the Giants’ skill players are impressive, but he especially admires Nicks, their No. 1 receiver.

“I think he’s the real deal,’’ Haslett said. “I like the other two - Manningham is really good, really fast; Cruz has really come on as a slot receiver - but Nicks is the guy that makes it go for me. His height, he’s got great speed, he’s a big guy, his run after the catch, makes all the hard catches . . . you have to know where he’s at all the time.’’

Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have a sound game plan for the Super Bowl. How he decides to defend the Giants’ weapons will be a huge factor.

In this season’s prior meeting, Belichick started the game with Phillip Adams (since released) as the nickel cornerback between Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo were the safeties with Josh Barrett (injured reserve) rotating with Ihedigbo. The Patriots, because of injuries to Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes, had to finish the game with Sergio Brown and Tracy White playing on the ill-fated final drive.

The Patriots had Julian Edelman in the slot against Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin in the AFC Championship game. While Edelman did a solid job playing to the help of a safety, when the Ravens ran more sideline patterns late in the game Edelman was exposed. Cruz is three times faster than Boldin.

The Patriots could be matching up against Nicks, Manningham, and Cruz with Arrington, Antwaun Molden, and Sterling Moore, if McCourty stays at safety.

As far as the Giants’ defense, it starts and ends with the seven-man rotation on the line. How that unit goes, so goes the rest of the defense.

The players in the rotation - ends Jason Pierre-Paul (6-5, 278), Justin Tuck (6-5, 268), Osi Umenyiora (6-3, 255), and Dave Tollefson (6-4, 266), along with tackles Chris Canty (6-7, 317), Linval Joseph (6-4, 323), and Rocky Bernard (6-3, 301) - are big, physical, and fast.

How the Patriots deal with the pass rush will be the key on the offensive side. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said it was important, especially since he doesn’t have Tom Brady on his roster, to stay balanced.

“They’ve got a matrix up front, as good a front as anybody in the National Football League,’’ Shanahan said. “To have a chance to win, you can’t get behind and let them tee off, just get in a one-dimensional game, at least we couldn’t. So we just felt like we had to keep them very honest and keep the running the game there where they just couldn’t tee off, and I felt like we did that when we had a chance.

“For us, it was more of a play-action game. We felt like if we got too much into long third-down yardage, or didn’t have the threat of the play-action, it would be hard for us to win, especially with that type of front. So we just tried to keep the down and distance manageable, not get into too many third-and-longs, and try to keep the defense at least guessing.’’

The Patriots ran the ball well against the Giants - 24 times for 106 yards (4.4 average) - but still allowed Brady to drop back 51 times. He was only pressured 12 times, around the season average, with two sacks.

“You’ve got to take a look at who you are,’’ Shanahan said. “Every team is a little bit different. You have to take a look at your personnel like we did and have a game plan to attack them.

“The Patriots are much different than we were offensively with obviously their tight ends and quarterback, and they can do some things that we couldn’t. Bill will take a look at his football team, see how he matches up and whether it’s going to an empty set or having those two tight ends a little tighter to chip those guys before they go out, they’ll have a good plan.’’

Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster said to watch out for Canty, and that the Giants don’t stunt and twist as much as people think to get pressure.

“They don’t, because they don’t need to,’’ Foerster said. “There are times on third downs where they’ll get in some packages and walk a guy around, and one of the big guys moves and they’ll try to pick and stunt, but for the most part they want those guys to rush.

“They’re really sound with their discipline. Whatever the keys are, they read them well, they can recognize what you’re trying to do - play-pass vs. a dropback - so you really have to be good or they’re going to sniff it out. They are a very experienced group of players.’’

Foerster also said the Patriots should be prepared for a wrinkle from Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. He always has one the second time around.

“They are timely with what they do,’’ Foerster said. “Perry Fewell is a good game planner and he can come up with something. He did something to our formations that was game plan-specific to us and you’re like, ‘Wow, they haven’t shown that, and they’re making sideline adjustments.’ It’s not a lot, but it fits with what they do.

“Like two years ago, they were coming with double corner blitzes every time we reduced the splits [distance to offensive line] with our receivers to help with the run game. When the tight end moved, they were bringing a [strong-side linebacker and safety blitz].

“They had something specific that they knew was a tendency of ours. They did a nice job of that besides playing their sound base defense.’’

Facing the Giants this time is going to be a much different challenge for the Patriots.

The teams that know the Giants best know how to prepare for them. Given two weeks to get ready for the Super Bowl, Belichick is sure to have some wrinkles of his own.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard

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