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Football Outsiders Almanac, New York Giants, Part 1: The pass rush

Thanks to the gurus here at SB Nation I have been handed a copy of the 2009 Football Outsiders' Almanac. As you might expect, the Almanac is filled with good stuff to discuss about our New York Giants.

There are way too many goodies in the Almanac to cover in one post. I will break this down into four or five posts. Let's begin by examining what FOA says about the defensive line.

Outsiders has been consistent since the end of the 2008 season in saying that it was the collapse of the defense, not the loss of Plaxico Burress, that was the reason for the Giants downfall at the end of last season. That continued in the Almanac.

What drove the Giants’ demise was the defense. Unless you want to pin the blame on Antonio Pierce’s extracurricular issues related to the Burress incident, Burress had nothing to do with the decline. Instead, it was a regression in the team’s sack rate that correlated well with the team’s dip in performance, culminating in the playoff game versus the Eagles in which— despite playing behind an offensive line missing multiple starters — Donovan McNabb was not sacked once (although a hurry led to an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone). While Justin Tuck had 8.5 sacks over the first ten games of the season and a respectable 3.5 more in the final seven games of the year (from Arizona on), everyone else disappeared. Mathias Kiwanuka had 8.5 sacks by the Cardinals game and 1.5 after. Fred Robbins, Dave Tollefson, and Barry Cofield combined for 11 sacks before the trip to Glendale and all of one sack afterwards.

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the precipitous drop. ... There’s no sign that the scheme of newly-departed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo stagnated or was "figured out" by opposing offenses.

The working theory of the Giants organization is simpler: The front seven got tired.

We know how the Giants addressed that issue. Adding free-agent tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, and getting Osi Umenyiora back from injury. The Giants have an eight-man rotation up front that should be the envy of the league.

Outsiders expects new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan to use that impressive front to move away from some of Spagnuolo's more extravagant blitz packages.

Sheridan’s ascension to the role following Spagnuolo’s departure for St. Louis will come with some changes. Spagnuolo’s blitz-happy scheme relied on a combination of speed and deception; a typical play, for example, might involve lining up Kiwanuka and Tuck on the same side of the field, only to have them drop back while the overload blitz came from the other side. Perhaps owing to the increased depth allowed him by the free agent acquisitions, Sheridan has said that he will move away from the Jim Johnson-influenced subterfuge and employ simpler blitz schemes, relying on fresher players to get past tired blockers.

I think the beginning of training camp has shown that some of that will be true. Sheridan, however, will not be a 'vanilla' coordinator. The 5-1-5 alignment the Giants have unveiled shows that. There is no doubt this will still be a pressure-based defense. And the depth of the line should be a huge advantage.