A Giant Task for the Tackles

Vikings offensive tackles Ryan Cook and Bryant McKinnie might have the toughest test on Sunday – trying to contain three of the top sack-producing defensive ends in the league. See what a number of the offensive linemen had to say about the rough task ahead.

Few teams in recent years have enjoyed the consistent defensive success that the New York Giants have experienced. In defensive coach-speak, they will tell you it all starts up front, and for the Giants, that begins with defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Through 10 games of the 2007 season, no team has more quarterback sacks than the Giants. Of their 34 sacks, 23 of them have come from their top three defensive ends – eight each from Strahan and Umenyiora and seven from third DE Justin Tuck. That's the same number of sacks the entire Vikings defense has been able to produce. Putting heat on the opposing quarterback has been a hallmark of the Giants defense since Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor were the faces of the franchise. Times have changed, but the song remains with the Giants, who will put a lot of pressure on Vikings offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Ryan Cook. They know it's going to be a long day for them trying to do what few other teams have been able to accomplish – slowing down the G-Men's pass rush.

"Rushing the passer is a defensive point of emphasis for them," Cook said. "We know that they're going to bring the heat on every play, so we have to be efficient in what we do, execute and not make the mistakes than can cause big plays."

That may well be easier said than done. The Giants have a trio of defensive ends that can genuinely terrify offensive game-planners with the multiple looks they can give. While it was expected that in his 15th season there would be some kind of dropoff from Strahan, who held out all of training camp and the preseason, he hasn't missed a beat.

Someone who has been able to give the Vikings linemen some insight into the strengths and (if there are any) weaknesses of the Giants defensive ends is tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. After spending four years trying to keep them off the Giants quarterbacks in practice, he has more than just a passing knowledge of what havoc they can create. To hear him talk, he sounds more like Mike & Osi's agent than an opponent. When he discusses their strengths, he paints a pretty bleak picture for the Vikings O-linemen.

"First of all, they get off the rock quick," Shiancoe said. "They're strong, they know how to use their hands well and they keep on going until the end of the whistle. We're going to have a tough time trying to block them."

It's not like the Shiancoe is telling the Vikings anything they don't already. While the Vikings didn't play the Giants last year, since the Vikings' humbling 41-0 defeat to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game following the 2000 season, they had played the Giants in each of the five previous seasons. Center Matt Birk has been on all of those teams and he's seen enough of Strahan & Co. to know that they're going to get theirs regardless, so changing everything you do on offense to try to counteract them is often counterproductive.

"You can only do so much," Birk said. "Strahan has been around for 15 years and he's been productive all 15. People have tried everything they can against him. When it comes down to it, it's a tall task for our tackles. They certainly have a challenge ahead of them. But that's part of sports."

As good as the Giants defense has been in the past, it would seem they've kicked up a notch this year. After an 0-2 start in which New York allowed 80 points, in the eight games since they have a 7-1 record and have limited six of their eight opponents to 17 points or fewer.

Much of the reason has been the drive-ending sacks that the Giants defensive ends can produce. If the Vikings are to avoid a similar fate, they're going to need everyone – their offensive tackles, their tight ends and even their fullbacks – to do their part because this Giants defense looks on film to be as strong as any they've faced in recent years.

"They're playing at a top level this year," Kleinsasser said. "You can see it on film that they can change games. We have to come out with our best game to beat them and get our offense moving."

Kleinsasser was quick to point out that, upon further review, the D-ends of the Giants aren't just one-trick ponies that look for the sack on every play. They pick their shots and need to be accounted for regardless of what the play call is going to be.

"Those guys have the ability to disrupt the run and the pass, so you have to know where they are on every play," Kleinsasser said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us because they do so many things so well."

For those in the direct line of fire – McKinnie and Cook – while there will be support help on some plays, they're going to be asked to hold down the fort by themselves on most plays, and if there was ever a time to bring the "A" game to the table, this is the game and the opponent.

"It looks like there will be a lot of plays with me on an island," Cook said. "But you look forward to those kinds of challenges. I'm sure they'll find plays to get some help on my side, but I have to go in saying I can stop Strahan on every play and not have any help behind me or next to me."

With a young, inexperienced quarterback to protect and a running game to try to establish with Chester Taylor to control the clock, the Vikings offense has a lot of spinning plates going at the same time. While it would be understandable to see the Vikings trim down the playbook and try to keep the offense as simplified as possible, other teams that have employed a similar tactic have found the going difficult. But changing too much to neutralize one strength of an opponent is something the Vikings aren't going to do. For better or worse, they will bring the same plan of attack to the Giants that they have to other teams and let the chips fall where they may on Sunday.

"It's important to do what you do," Birk said. "Everyone wants to make the other team change what it does because of the things you can do. Bryant and Ryan have done a really good job for us. Is it going to be a tall task? Sure it is. Going into the Meadowlands to play is never easy, but they're going to have to rise up to the challenge."

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