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.”