Last year, the New York pass rush was inescapable. This year, it has vanished without a whimper.
With constant injuries and personnel turnover, there's little sustainability in professional football. Yet Big Blue's front line, which made up one of the most imposing rushes in the league in 2011, has remained healthy and intact in 2012, save for a month-long shelving of defensive tackle Chris Canty.
What's happened to the defense in that span, after it ripped and bowled its way to 48 sacks last year?
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will do his best to figure that out as the G-Men line up for what could be their most formidable opponent of the season. The Giants will need to flush the pocket as often as possible to stop the Packers' vertical passing offense, which is tied for first in the NFL with 28 touchdown passes.
With a stable core of linebackers and three big-time ends in Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, New York has all the pieces in place to put Rodgers on his back on Sunday.
Check out this defensive game plan that would bring the Giants' lauded pass rush back to life in Week 12.
Of course, the easiest way to increase pressure on the quarterback is by blitzing linebackers. Fewell is known for being a little shy about sending extra men, but the Giants will need all the help they can get if their defensive line stalls on Sunday.
The primary blitz option would be outside 'backer Mathias Kiwanuka, who was originally drafted out of Boston College as a defensive end. Kiwanuka boasts 28 career sacks and can get off the edge quickly. Plus, even if Kiwanuka can't break the pocket and hurry Rodgers, he will force the Packers' offensive line to shuffle along the outside. If Pierre-Paul, Tuck or Umenyiora finds himself engaged with a slower guard, Rodgers will be in trouble.
Fellow linebackers Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger are solid blitzing options as well. With Michael Boley enjoying an outstanding season in pass coverage and Chase Blackburn playing against the run, the Giants will look to their second-string linebackers for blitz schemes and rush packages.
Blitzing linebackers certainly has its risks. Leaving the mid level open gives Rodgers the green light on short passing plays, and blitzing also makes the Giants susceptible to the run.
Still, it's an option that the Giants can't afford to overlook.
The Giants can also throw in some blitzes from the second level, a high-risk, high-reward game plan. Safeties Stevie Brown and Will Hill have the speed to reach the backfield quickly, while nickel corner Jayron Hosley has already seen a few blitzes this year.
Blitzing from the secondary makes the Giants' defense more explosive and harder to read and adjust to, but it also leaves the outside open for deep passing plays.
Stunts and Fronts
The Giants will also look to hit alternating gaps and work interior stunts against the Packers. With New York's strong tackles, shifted alignments and masked rush schemes will keep the Green Bay O-line busy all night.
If Linval Joseph or Canty switches up his assignment or shows commitment to a different center-guard gap, the Packers will be forced to reshuffle and adjust up front. Toying with basic four-man rushes could create some serious mismatches come Sunday.
Reposition the Line
Could a few brief position adjustments up front allay New York's shortage of sacks?
Positioning Tuck at a tackle spot for a play or two would throw off Green Bay's game plan, and placing Kiwanuka at defensive end could keep things fresh on the outside. These adjustments are worth a shot, as many of the Giants' ends are big enough and physical enough to play on the inside.
Slimmer, sleeker personnel on the defensive line could be too fast for a Green Bay O-line that has already allowed a whopping 32 sacks this year.
Switching up the Pass Coverage
They say that a defensive lineman's best friend is a cornerback.
If the Giants can contain Green Bay's bevy of speedy wideouts, then Rodgers will find himself scrambling all day. After all, if nobody's open, the sacks have to come eventually.
But just how can New York's 25th-ranked passing defense keep up with MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers?
Perhaps the Giants deploy more zone coverage to combat the big plays allowed by No. 1 corner Corey Webster. A failed assignment in zone coverage is far less lethal than a failed man assignment.
Maybe the Giants experiment more with the speedy Hosley, or play free safety Stevie Brown at the nickel spot with the expected return of starter Kenny Phillips this weekend.
The Bottom Line
Fresh off a bye week and going against one of the league's worst offensive lines, the Giants have a golden opportunity to rediscover their pass rush against the Packers this Sunday.
Whether this means sending additional rushers, shifting along the front line or retooling in the secondary remains to be seen, but if the defending Super Bowl champs can break Aaron Rodgers' pocket, then they will likely break their losing streak as well.
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