By Kevin Saleeba
When asked what the key was in stopping the Patriots offense in Super Bowl XLVI, Giants defensive lineman Jason Tuck had a very simple answer. "Tom Brady!"
"That guy is an awesome quarterback and as he goes, the offense goes," Tuck said during a Thursday Super Bowl press conference. "He is definitely the leader of that football team, and for us personally (the Giants defensive line) it has to come down to making him uncomfortable."
Uncomfortable is just a nice way of saying the Giants want to hit Brady constantly and put him repeatedly on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. It's going to be up to the Patriots offensive line to stop the Giants potent pass rush, which is tied for second in the NFL in team sacks this season. Four years ago in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots O-line was not up to the task as the Giants made the pocket very "uncomfortable" for Brady, sacking him five times and hitting him several times more to help end the Patriots perfect season.
Patriots' assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia feels this year's O-line is up for the challenge in stopping the Giants formidable pass rush.
"We have two sayings: work together and see the game through one set of eyes," said Scarnecchia this week. "All five guys have to see the game through one set of eyes. If they see it differently then you have chaos; anarchy reigns and it never work."
Attempting to cause anarchy in the Patriots offensive backfield are primary pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Tuck. Looking to stop them are veteran pro bowl left tackle Matt Light and pro bowl left guard Logan Mankins, who were the only two linemen leftover from the Super Bowl XLII debacle .
Mankins said the line needs to just stay on their blocks. "If they're blitzing, picking those up and just blocking those guys for as long as it takes," he said. "For as long as (Brady) needs, that's how long we're supposed to block."
"I think (the Giants) pick and choose when they want to blitz," said Light. "I think that whoever they have doing it, they usually have a pretty good idea of what you do offensively and they try to time it up with maybe some of your protections ... I think primarily their front four do a pretty good job on their own of applying up-the-field pressure … they make it pretty difficult for you up front."
Joining them are pro bowl right guard Brian Waters from Kansas City, first-round draft pick Nate Solder, and the often injured, but talented right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has been out since November. Vollmer is expected to play Sunday.
Solder had to step in to play for Vollmer and he's also played tight end to help sure up protection. "He's gone through the usual rookie tough times … he's a gifted athlete, a very smart guy and very tough. Thank God we took him when you think about it. We didn't have Light at the time. All of the sudden we get some injuries at tackle with Sebastian and here's this guy you have to start and play against really good players. The fact that he's playing tight end and tackle on either side, to his credit how could you want any more out of a young kid than we have this year?"
The Patriots also played musical chairs at the center position since pro bowl center Dan Koppen sustained a season ending ankle injury in Week One. Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and Nick McDonald have all shared duties at the position. Connolly is expected to get the start on Sunday.
"(Connolly's) a very talented guy though," said Scarnecchia. "He's a really gifted athlete. He just came from a very small school … he came in here and spent his time on the practice field, did everything he was supposed to do. He improved himself as a player and he's a very good center. The first thing I noticed was his athleticism. "
Waters said the offensive line has become a tight-knit group throughout the season. "I've had an opportunity to know a couple of these guys before I got here. I had a lot of respect for Matt Light and Logan and the way they played the game before I got here and then just working with Nate and Sebastian – those are two of the most talented football players, especially young players, that I have ever been around. So, it has been a really good group.
"Even the young guys like Donald Thomas (at right guard) and Nick McDonald, Ryan Wendell, those guys have really stepped up when asked," said Waters. "Whether it's been for a handful of plays to start a game or when they had never started a game in their careers. It just shows that these guys are professional and they love the game and they have a lot of respect for each other that they stay accountable to each other. It's a good group; it's definitely a good group."
Good group or not, Scarnecchia said they better do their job protecting Brady on Sunday.
"If we do a great job on our mental assignments and don't screw many things up, in particular in pass protection, we usually do ok," he said. "But if we're a little out here or if one guy, God forbid, is (too much) to the right, then all hell is going to break loose."
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin ( on Facebook ).
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