x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

In the NFL, attack can be best form on defence

The AFC and NFC title games look similar, with the host teams featuring high-powered offenses and the visiting squads sporting tough as nails defenses.

Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers high-flying offence will face a stern test against the New York Giants' defence.
Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers high-flying offence will face a stern test against the New York Giants' defence.

NEW YORK // Few predicted the San Francisco 49ers would be hosting the New York Giants in the NFC championship game tomorrow for a shot at the Super Bowl.

Most believed the road to the NFL championship would go through Lambeau Field, right up until the Giants toppled the defending champion Green Bay Packers 37-20 last weekend, setting up the trip to the west coast to face the 49ers.

Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco coach, called his team "the mighty men" after they stunned Drew Brees and the favoured New Orleans Saints 36-32, winning on a 14-yard touchdown pass by Alex Smith with nine seconds to play.

The 49ers and Giants, Smith said, showed that no assumptions can be made in the play-offs.

"These teams, at this point, we're all capable of beating each other," he said.

Just as intriguing will be the preceding AFC championship game, at Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are hosting thanks to a high-powered offence that piles up points and yards.

Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens got there with a hard-hitting defence that made it a major challenge for opponents to move the ball.

"We've got our hands full this week," the linebacker said. "You watched what the Patriots did last week against Denver, just the way they came out and ran their offence, how efficient [Brady] was, how many different receivers he hit with the ball. I think their offence, period, is playing at a very high level."

Brady picked apart the Denver defence in a 45-10 divisional playoff win. By halftime, he had thrown five of his six touchdown passes. He had plenty of time to survey the field as the Broncos put little pressure on him. The Ravens plan to give him some company when he tries to pass.

"I think pressure is going to be crucial, but it's always crucial," said Terrell Suggs, the Baltimore linebacker, who led the AFC with 14 sacks. "But particularly when you are playing these type of quarterbacks, it's pivotal."

Brady's regular season was exceptional, even by his lofty standards. He passed for 5,235 yards, the second most in NFL history, with 39 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions.

The Patriots, with the receiver Wes Welker and the tight end Rob Gronkowski doing much of the damage, were second in the NFL with 428 yards per game and third with an average of 32.1 points.

"It's a very clever offence," said John Harbaugh, the Baltimore coach and brother of the 49ers' coach. "It's well put together."

The Ravens excel on the defensive side. They allowed 288.9 yards and 16.6 points per game; each mark was No 3 in the NFL.

They had four takeaways in the 20-13 divisional play-off win over the Houston Texans, the last by Ed Reed with 1:51 left. Lewis had a team-high seven tackles.

"When you do watch how the games are played, nine times out of 10, I just truly believe defence is going to find a way to win the championship," Lewis said.

"You can go back however many years you want to go back, and defences have a way to come out to make a play that changes the outcome of games."

Brady, however, could give that theory a stern test.