St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Not bad being the next-best thing

Giants defense doesn't get the same publicity as Ravens, but it matches up well and knows how to handle a certain ex-Bucs QB.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


TAMPA -- If there is a hole in the Giants defense, it rests in the middle of Michael Strahan's smile.

It's funny, but nobody bothered to ask the gap-toothed end during Super Bowl week how history will remember his defense.

They are the Backseat Boys, lip-synching saccharin sound bites about how honored they are just to be allowed on the same field as the Ravens' dominant D.

The Giants? Well, they're first against the run, first to get passed over.

But really, they don't care if the other guys are considered the greatest of all time. Just as long as they are the best defense for the next 60 minutes.

"I hope people underestimate us," Strahan said. "The Baltimore Ravens had a remarkable year. I've never seen a team go out and impose their will on an offense like their defense does. Their defense is going to play well. We have to play well. We're not focused on making them look bad or upstaging their defense. That's not our game plan. Our game plan is to play well and win the game. Plain and simple. Win the game. We're going to have to try and match them, and that's the key."

That could be difficult, especially considering that the Ravens have allowed 16 points in three playoff games and have forced 49 turnovers this season, seven more in the post-season.

But the Giants defense may be up to the task. Not only did it give up the fewest rushing yards in the NFL, it completely dismantled the Vikings in a 41-0 victory in the NFC Championship Game.

"We're like the girl who gets all dressed up for the high school dance and then sits around all night and waits for people to ask her to dance," linebacker Micheal Barrow said. "And she's like, "Forget it, they're playing my songs so I'm going to dance by myself.' We've been dancing by ourselves for a long time. It's not about respect. It's not about pride. We realize that if we just worry about ourselves, everything will be all right."

The Giants have another reason to be confident: They just have to beat Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer.

Sixteen months ago, it was on this very field that the Giants confused Dilfer into the worst performance of his career.

On opening day of the 1999 season, Dilfer threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that accounted for all the Giants' points in a 17-13 Bucs loss at Raymond James Stadium.

As much as any game, the meltdown in his sixth season persuaded the Bucs to pull the plug on his career in Tampa Bay.

"I try to throw that one away quick. That was as bad a 10 minutes of football as I've played in my life," Dilfer said. "I can't explain it. Obviously, it had a huge impact here in Tampa in a negative way." On the Bucs' third play from scrimmage, blitzing linebacker Jessie Armstead hit Dilfer, forcing a fumble that defensive tackle Christian Peter scooped and returned 38 yards for a touchdown. Two more interceptions, including one that was returned 8 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Andre Weathers, led to the Giants' 10 second-half points.

Dilfer finished 15-for-31 for 174 yards with one touchdown. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by backup Eric Zeier after throwing his third interception, a ridiculous jump pass while rolling to his left and just a step from being out of bounds.

"I am familiar with them, but at the same time, they're so complex on defense and they do so many things well that I don't know if you can figure them out," Dilfer said. "I think the times I've made mistakes against them, I've tried too hard to figure them out instead of just playing football."

And make no mistake, the Giants defensive schemes are as hard as calculus.

Defensive coordinator John Fox, who could be offered a head-coaching job in Buffalo or Cleveland after this game, uses an array of blitzes and coverage schemes to exploit the weakness of the opposing offense.

Fox's defenses are not only kaleidoscopic, they play with the same intensity as the Ravens.

And they have great leaders. Start with Strahan, who is known as a disruptive pass rusher but also can play the run. He had two sacks and forced a fumble against the Eagles' Jon Runyon and a sack and two deflected passes against the Vikings' Korey Stringer.

Armstead and Barrow have as much speed as any tandem in the NFL. In fact, Armstead is nearly as good as Lewis at running sideline to sideline.

"It's a blend," Fox said. "You have to be able to motivate people. You have to make people have a blue-collar mentality because this is a hard job. A lot of fanfare that you see on Sunday is a result of a lot of hard work that goes into that. These players have worked most of their lives to be where they are today. Getting that attitude across is the difference in winning because everyone at this level has athletes. The X's and O's are very, very important to put your players in the best position for them to succeed."

As for the Ravens' success?

"They deserve that," cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "They set the record for (fewest) points (allowed) in a season. They were No. 2 (in yards allowed) for the season and we were No. 5. You play and let everything else speak for itself. You don't want to worry about if people think who's better. That all will be decided (today). But right now, they're better than us. They had the better stats than us; they played better than us. They set the record. They're better. But it's how you play the game. And we have Sunday to go out there and show what we have. And so will they."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.