The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, left, has combined with fellow ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have combined for 30 1/2 sacks this season.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- They seem like interchangeable parts because they rotate in and out, side to side, into the middle, sometimes four of them at once. They are the New York Giants' defensive ends, a special and aggressive group, and they all will have their eyes on one prize, New England quarterback Tom Brady, in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday.
The Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell calls it his "NASCAR package," for no particularly good reason other than, perhaps, the group's ability to shift into another gear in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
Has he ever employed a four-end defensive set before?
"I've never had four defensive ends like that before. This is the first time."
Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck had 30 1/2 of the Giants 48 sacks this season. At times, backup Dave Tollefson, who added five sacks, will sub in, Pierre-Paul will take a few steps inside to replace a tackle and attack from a different angle.
"They have a lot of freedom as far as where they align and what they do," Fewell said. "It's a coordinated freedom, because we give them the structure, and then they study, and then they have the flexibility to be creative."
Add in tackle Chris Canty, who likes to think of himself as another pass rusher, and outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who crowds up close behind Tuck to sometimes bring even more heat, and this is about the time offensive linemen's heads begin to spin like that little girl in The Exorcist.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said such versatility allows his team to forge its rush behind only four or five defenders, rarely using linebackers or safeties in blitzes, and leaving more players in pass coverage.
"They have great quickness up there as well as power," said an appreciative New England coach Bill Belichick, himself a defensive guru. "Those inside guys can really knock the line of scrimmage back. When they move Pierre-Paul and Tuck and those guys inside in passing situations, they have great quickness in there, too.
"We try to move our guys around a little bit, and get them to play like the Giants play [in practice]. I don't know if anybody can play like the Giants play. They have so many talented guys up there."
When these teams last met under this biggest of big tops, four years ago in Super Bowl XLII, Brady was sacked five times and hit on nine other occasions in a 17-14 Giants win. New York's approach and personnel -- Michael Strahan, in his final game, was at the end slot opposite Umenyiori -- were different, although Tuck may have played the best game of his career.
The strategy, though, is unchanged. The Giants want to be intimidators, not intimidated.
"Being that they are the Patriots, they are a good team," Pierre-Paul said. "They won three Super Bowls. Just looking at them, they are a great team. Tom Brady, he is a great quarterback. But that doesn't intimidate us. He's not a god. He's a great quarterback. If you give him time in the pocket to pick on your secondary and throw the ball, he is going to hurt you.
"As a D-line, we know that the pressure is mostly going to be on us. If we don't rush, then he has all day to throw the ball. Everybody knows that. I put it on us. I put it on the D-line to go out there and perform well. We have to perform well and get to Tom Brady quick.
"If you look at other teams, they don't really have pass rushers like us. You could put any one of us anywhere on our D-line. It can bring a lot of pressure because when we line up differently [opponents] don't truly understand. 'What are they doing?' It gives us an advantage."
The Giants expect the Pats to run some draw plays and Brady to throw more screen passes than usual to counter the rush. They also anticipate New England will employ an up-tempo, no-huddle offense to negate Fewell's substitution and rotation plans, thus keeping some of his many ends off the field.
"We have been conditioning extra," Umenyiora said. "We have done a lot of running because we know exactly what their game plan is going to be, or we think we know. All we can do is prepare the best we can for that. Whenever we have a chance to make substitutions we will, but guys who are in the game have to just play."
When the Giants won the regular-season meeting between the teams -- the Pats have won 10 straight since -- they said Brady sometimes reacted to pressure that was barely there.
"It was like he felt us," Pierre-Paul said. "When we watched the film, and we didn't really rush like we can rush as a defense, he was throwing balls on the ground. He did react to pressure that didn't exist, and he was just throwing the ball places where there wasn't even a receiver there. Imagine us getting there even faster and actually doing our jobs and getting hits on him."
That's exactly what the Giants are imagining.
"You gotta hit him," Tuck said.
"As many times as possible," added Umenyiora. "I think they are going to do a lot of things to try and prevent that, but at the end of the day, whenever we have our chance we are going to have to take it."
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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