Giants Go For Strip; Rodgers Has Firm Grip

It will be the best vs. the best on Sunday: The Giants' fumble-forcing propensity, led by star sackmasters Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, vs. Aaron Rodgers, who is by far the best at hanging onto the football. We break it down in this exclusive.

The New York Giants have one decided advantage entering Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers: Their second-ranked pass rush has piled up 42 quarterback sacks while the Packers have allowed a 22nd-ranked 34 sacks.

That troublesome disparity lends itself to more problems for the Packers entering this must-win game. Defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are tied for ninth in the league with 10 sacks apiece but they're not just content to put the quarterback on his butt. Umenyiora leads the NFL with eight forced fumbles while Tuck is tied for second with six.

"They do it pretty well," Philbin said while mentioning the Giants' defensive line coach, Robert Nunn, who held that position in Green Bay from 2005 through 2008. "Sometimes, it's because the inside guys are good and they're forcing the quarterback out and they're hitting guys from behind and the quarterback can't see him. Obviously, if it's a right-handed quarterback, 72 (Umenyiora) has an advantage there. It's just a good, overall pass rush. Those guys are trained well to knock the ball loose from the quarterback. They're trained well to tip the ball at the line of scrimmage. We're going to have our hands full."

The Giants' fumble-forcing propensity against Aaron Rodgers' ball security will be the matchup within the matchup on Sunday.

In his 13 games this season, Rodgers has fumbled twice – both against Atlanta – and lost only one with his goal-line fumble in that game. For context, no full-time quarterback has taken care of the ball better this season. With 410 passing attempts and 55 rushes, Rodgers has fumbled once on every 232.5 touches. Only the Chiefs' Matt Cassel (two fumbles) is even in the same league as Rodgers, with one fumble per 206.5 touches.

To better appreciate Rodgers, Oakland's Jason Campbell (nine fumbles) has fumbled once in every 33.6 touches, easily the worst rate in the league among regular starting quarterbacks. That's followed by Chicago's Jay Cutler (10 fumbles; 41.2 touches), Jacksonville's David Garrard (nine fumbles; 43.1 touches), Philadelphia's Michael Vick (nine fumbles; 46.8 touches), Washington's Donovan McNabb (10 fumbles; 50.1 touches), Minnesota's Brett Favre (seven fumbles; 53.6 touches) and the Jets' Mark Sanchez (eight fumbles; 62.5 touches).

Rodgers' counterpart on Sunday, the Giants' Eli Manning (seven fumbles), has fumbled once in every 72.0 touches.

Why has Rodgers been so good?

"A combination of a number of things," Rodgers told Packer Report while knocking on his wooden locker stall on Thursday. "I think Cliffy (left tackle Chad Clifton) has been pretty consistent. I've got to give my quarterback coach at Cal (George Cortez, the Buffalo Bills' first-year quarterbacks coach) a lot of the credit because we used to do this drill at the beginning of every practice. It was all about moving in the pocket, two hands on the ball, and he'd try to strip it from us. It was the most annoying drill ever. We did it every day, it was monotonous, but when I watch myself on film, I do that drill. When I step up in the pocket, whether I've got one hand and I'm patting it or not, any time I step up, I always have two hands on the ball and I see myself doing that drill we used to do all the time. Any time you're moving forward or moving in the pocket, two hands are on the ball."

It also helps to have the reliable Clifton protecting his blind side. Unlike rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is occasionally fooled by blitzes – like at the end of the New England game – Clifton has seen it all in his career. So, while Clifton might get beaten and give up a sack, his experience means Rodgers never has had to worry about an unblocked blitzer streaking in untouched to deliver a jarring blow.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Chad," Rodgers said. "I've said it this year already, he's playing his best football in the six years I've been with him. You can directly attribute that to him probably being as healthy as he's been in the six years we've been together. It's nice having him as a security blanket over there."

Then there's Rodgers himself. His big hands help him keep a firm grip on the ball. His grasp of the system and what defenses are trying to do against him allow him to know when there are more defenders than blockers so he can quickly unload the ball to his hot receiver.

While Rodgers has been sacked more than almost any quarterback over his three seasons as a starter, if you combine all of those factors, it explains why he's been remarkably good at avoiding costly fumbles.

"We were just talking about it the other night, we were looking at our sack totals over the years," Philbin said. "While they're higher the last couple of years than we'd like them to be and want them to be, our interception numbers have been lower than they've ever been. Sometimes, taking a sack isn't the worst thing. It's certainly better than throwing the ball to the other team. I think the best thing that helps a quarterback is that pocket awareness that's hard to really quantify and it's hard to drill or coach the guys that have the sense of where the rush is at, where it's coming from. I think he's very sharp mentally, so he knows if we're in a particular scheme where we've got X amount of blockers and he feels some type of pressure, a lot of times, you'll see a sack-fumble on an overload blitz and a team's not really sound protection-wise. I think he has a good sense of, if we are short a guy, getting the ball out or taking off."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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