Flinch factor

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- These brief moments of truth -- a blur, three or four steps, the clatter of impact -- pass too quickly for Brandon Jacobs to see fear in the other man’s face. But later on, he can tell.

After the game, Jacobs watches videotape of him bursting through the line, into the secondary, barreling toward a solitary and smaller -- usually much smaller -- defensive back.

The New York Giants’ 264-pound crash test of a running back can see who wants to tackle him.

And who does not. “The guys who dive down at your legs, not going for the tough tackle,” he says. “Just dive at your legs and hope you fall.”


New England Patriots defensive backs who will face Jacobs in Super Bowl XLII suspect that at some point on Sunday afternoon they will confront this painful choice.

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who gives up almost 70 pounds to Jacobs, says: “You’ve got to be a man. It’s a man’s game.”

The other corner, Asante Samuel, runs about 80 pounds lighter.

“Sometimes it’s good to go low,” he says.

Consider what happened on the Giants’ first play from scrimmage in the NFC title game at Green Bay two weeks ago. Running right, Jacobs found himself face-to-face with Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.

Woodson stood his ground and got trampled. Then he limped off the field.

“The play we ran, my read wasn’t there so I had to improvise,” Jacobs says, not making a big deal of it. “He just happened to be in the way.”

The five-yard gain ignited a celebration on the New York bench and signaled the start of a game the Giants won, in large part, by out-hitting the Packers. Hobbs doesn’t want the same thing to happen on Sunday.


First impressions, he said, can make all the difference.

“It’s an intimidation factor,” he says. “Setting a tone.”

Jacobs can set a tone merely by stepping on the field. Six feet four. Built thick. Through his early playing days and into the NFL, some thought him better suited for tight end or the defensive line. They questioned his upright running style.

Doubters overlooked his unexpected quickness, an attribute that causes Patriots safety Rodney Harrison to discuss him in Darwinian terms.


“It’s something incredible to see where the game has evolved,” Harrison says. “To see a back that big, to be able to make moves and have the production that he has.”

Jacobs gained 1,009 yards in 11 games during the regular season -- he sat out five because of knee and hamstring injuries -- but the Patriots got a limited dose of him when they defeated the Giants, 38-35, late last month. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry but ran only 15 times in what became a shootout, quarterback Eli Manning throwing four touchdown passes.

Similarly, Jacobs’ rushing yards have been limited during the playoffs, but as defenses have focused on him, Manning has been freed to blossom.

And Jacobs’ physical play has opened the field for rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Just when defenders brace themselves for a full frontal assault, the smaller Bradshaw enters the game with nifty moves.


“It sort of alters your style,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi says. “You have to recognize who’s back there.”

Then Jacobs returns with the flinch factor. And, as Harrison points out, defensive backs aren’t the only victims: “I mean, I’ve seen this guy run over 300-pound linemen, 250-pound linebackers.”

But defensive backs tend to be the smallest players on the field. Jacobs shrugs off the suggestion that he looks to put a hit on -- or otherwise intimidate -- the little guys.

“I just go out and play football,” he says. “However the moment presents itself, that’s what I do.”


And on certain plays when he breaks free in the secondary, cornerbacks and safeties must choose their poison.

Stand tall. Or take a dive.

Some 45 pounds lighter than Jacobs, strong safety Harrison doesn’t like to think about confronting him one-on-one. Better to gang up on him. Hobbs compares the big back to a tree -- “keep chopping, keep chopping” -- in an attempt to slow him down.

Free safety James Sanders -- more than 50 pounds lighter -- is reserving judgment until Sunday, when he will make his decisions on a case-by-case basis.


“There are times when you can hit him and drop him,” Sanders said. “There are times when you’ve got to hit him low and wrap his legs up because that’s a big body coming at you.

“You’ve got to pick and choose your battles.”





Running with the big boys

If Brandon Jacobs scores a rushing touchdown, he will become the second-largest player -- to William “the Refrigerator” Perry -- to score on the ground in a Super Bowl.


*--* JACOBS PERRY Southern Illinois College Clemson 4th (110) Round 1st (22) XLII Super Bowl XX 27 Jersey No. 72 RB Position DT/FB 6'4" Height 6'2" 264 lbs. Weight 380 lbs 4.58 Time in 40 Unknown *--*

Source: Los Angeles Times