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Friday, May 9, 2008

In Praise of the best New York Giants Defensive End of All Time- Michael Strahan

I started to comment to Cody in the previous post and it quickly became obvious that this two sentence reply to acknowledge #92 was becoming an ode to a living legend. Like it or not, even though Michael Strahan was going to Canton in a limousine before the 2007 Championship run, now he is going to get even more recognition for the accomplishments AND the ring.

What started this out was the reminder from Cody about Strahan's unheralded skill in stopping the run. Sacks are an easy stat to measure for the ability of a pass rusher. True, they do not include pressures, which as we all know was as important a reason for the beating of Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII as anything else accomplished that evening. But how do you really quantify the ability of a lineman (or LB or CB or S, for that matter) to play the run? In short, it is next to impossible. Looking at tackles made is insane because the defense may be set up for a NT to take on two men while the LB is free to get the RB unencumbered. Similarly, a Safety can have lots of tackles, but perhaps that simply implies the LBs were shoddy tacklers lacking in speed who let it get to that point where a tackle should not have even been necessary. THE ONLY WAY TO APPRECIATE THE ENORMOUS SKILLS OF MICHAEL STRAHAN AS A RUN DEFENDER WAS TO WATCH HIM AT THE STADIUM. There, you could focus on what he did WELL BEFORE THE BALL WAS EVEN GOING TO HIS SIDE. Just like RBs like Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers could see the field and make a cut effortlessly to find a hole that was not there a second ago, Michael Strahan would CONTINUOUSLY over and over again make all the right moves and find the hole that the runner was going to before he knew where he was going. Strahan's ability to use leverage and technique in pass rushing has been analyzed and dissected by many over the years, but he uses that same technique to shed blockers on runs. He is rarely out of place and wonderously has not lost a step in enabling runners to go around him... if they do, he always forces them to go so wide that the rest of the defense is given that extra split second it needs to come up in support and make the tackle.

One of my favorite plays of the season for Michael Strahan was against Tampa Bay in the playoffs. Going up against the wily veteran in Jeff Garcia, Strahan was sucked in to pass rushing but quickly set his feet and adjusted to deflect a pass to the RB just above the line of scrimmage. It was part of a key defensive stop in taking away and controlling tempo in the game. His presence on the field is a menace to the opposition because he shuts so many things down and makes it so much easier for the other 10 players. The statistics of the team for wons-losses the past 3-4 seasons when he is starting vs the games where he is out is so gaudy that it is almost embarrassing for the hard work and efforts of the other 21 starters (and coaching staff). In 2006, for example, the Giants had just beaten Atlanta and Dallas on the road and were arguably the best team in the league. The team started losing players to injury but when Strahan went down that was it.

No one will replace Strahan when he leaves. We can hope he gives the team adequate warning this time (last year's training camp saga one of the few blemishes on an otherwise storied career) to his intentions so that Kiwanuka and the LBers are able to get the reps in training camp at whatever positions they take in the regular season. At this point we have almost as much confidence in Spagnuolo to get the defense ready as we do in Strahan to close down the left side. However long we havehad Strahan, it has been a great ride. I think I can speak for Cody and everyone else that "(we'll) miss him when he's gone."


xtian said...

Strahan is simply one of the best DEs to ever play the game. He has excelled at the run stopping, pass rushing, and, just as importantly, leading his team, getting them and keeping them in the game. Remember his declaration to the Giant offense, mainly the OL, when he said in the Super Bowl over and over emphatically, "17-14, 17-14, 17-14, that will be the final score!"

Cody said...

Think about us a Giants fans and the indelible impact Strahan has had on all of us; through all of the down years he (and, to a lesser extent, Toomer) was a constant fixture. I don't care what anyone says, to me - to the team I grew up with and to the team that I love, Strahan *IS* NY Giants football.

Think about it:

Strahan was drafted (I think) in the 2nd round of the 1993 draft, and was a big part of those brutal Dan Reeves-era teams.

Then he played a huge role on the Fassel-era late '90s teams (we all will never forget his single season sack record; who cares that maybe B. Favre let him get that last one?).

He would subsequently clash with T.Coughlin but would come around when Coughlin gave him latitude to become more of a leader off the field.

And then for Strahan to win a Super Bowl? Yeah, of course I was fired up that they won, but how happy were you for guys like Strahan and Toomer?

For those guys to have been through so much and to have been *SO* loyal to one organization and to go through all of the ups (Super Bowl XXXV, Super Bowl XLII) and downs (playoss loss to Minny in '97, playoff loss to San Fran in '03, 23–0 loss to the Carolina Panthers in '05) - I just can't even begin to tell you fired up I was for Strahan to win it all.

So yeah, I totally agree: Strahan gets "best NYG DE ever" billing in my book.

The thing that means more to me, however, goes beyond stats, sacks, platitudes, etc. Strahan was a fixture on a team that has been a roller-coaster ride for all of us. You saw the pissed-off look in his eye when he walked off the field in '94 when the 'Boys pounded the Gmen 35–0 in the MNF season opener and you saw him jumping up and down on a float holding the Lombardi Trophy in the Canyon of Heroes.

This guy bled blue and none of us will ever - ever - forget him. Strahan was a monster and we will speak about him in the same reverential tones that the generation of fans before us described LT and Carson, and before that Tarkenton, and before that Gifford, and so on and so on.

Strahan occupies a very special place in Giants lore and he is now immortal! How cool is that? We got to watch him play out his whole career and we suffered right alongside of him and celebrated right alongside of him.

Andy F. said...

It says a lot that he has been with the team longer than Simms and Taylor, has had ~6 QBs, 3 head coaches, 3 GMs. One thing is for sure, he is retiring a NY Giant, no encores with another team.

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