All season long, Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, has given us his analysis before each game. Here is his final installment.
BREAKING DOWN THE GIANTS' OFFENSE
The Patriots are in the Super Bowl once again and against a familiar foe: the New York Giants. The last time these two teams faced each other was in Week 9, when the Giants defeated the Patriots in the final minutes of the game, but it’s a different ballgame this time around because the teams are not the same as they were in the last meeting, especially the Giants.
The Giants were without running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. The absences were significant; especially the latter. Nicks significantly affects the way the Giants passed the ball. New York relied heavily on horizontal as well as vertical (at times) stretches that created Hi-Lo -- pass catchers running similar routes at different depths in same area of field -- reads for quarterback Eli Manning.
They were unable to effectively attack the Patriots defense with the deep ball until a couple of plays in the second half, when tight end Jake Ballard ran a route into the middle of the field known as seam-read from Hitch-Seam concept. This is an option route that has Ballard reading the middle of the field and the deep safety or safeties. If there is a single safety, he continues to run vertical while running a post into the middle of the field when there are two deep safeties.
These vertical concepts run by the Giants are much more effective with Nicks in the fold because he draws coverage in his direction. Defensive coordinators have rolled coverage in his direction in the past, which has freed up the other receiving threats underneath or in Ballard’s case, the deep middle. Nicks has the ability to go up and catch the ball at its highest peak as well as pick up yards after contact because of his physicality after the catch. The Giants will often look to throw deep passes, as they did in the regular season with success.
Moreover, New York’s personnel packages mainly consisted of 11, one back and one tight end, and 12 personnel, which features a single back and two tight ends. However, the second tight end, Bear Pascoe, lined up mainly in the backfield in either a traditional fullback alignment or offset to a side, thus serving as an “H-Back“. Their running game, as usual, consisted of multiple concepts that include Lead, Power, Draw, Toss and Inside Trap.
BREAKING DOWN THE GIANTS' DEFENSE
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the New York Giants defense once again is very impressive despite injuries they suffered early which looked like it could derail their season. The defense is led by their Big Nickel -- three safeties -- package (more on that later) and the fierce front four defenders, which includes strip-sack master Osi Umenyiora, versatile Justin Tuck and a dominant Jason Pierre-Paul.
New York is heavily reliant on their front four to generate a pass rush, rushing them an astounding 82 percent of the time. This is a very impressive statistic, especially considering the fact that they generate a significant amount of pressure on signal callers, generating 15 sacks, which is most among playoff teams.
When they don’t sack the quarterback, they are still often getting to them with pressure that forces the signal callers to get the ball out of their hands quickly. This is important to note because when a quarterback is forced to get rid of the ball quickly, it leads to mistakes or passes to the outlet receivers, which usually don’t get the yardage required to move the chains.
The Giants can get creative with their fronts, occasionally playing three defensive ends in a three-man front as well as in a four-man front. The three-man front was utilized in the last meeting between the two teams, when the Giants slid defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul into a 1-technique (across centers shoulder) nose tackle.
In the four-man front, which his popularly called the “NASCAR package”, the Giants usually slide Pierre-Paul inside to defensive tackle (while other times, Tuck), is also very effective by getting to the quarterback every 8.5 dropbacks.
Pierre-Paul’s versatility is an integral part of the Giants defensive packages because he is able to play various techniques across the defensive line, such as the aforementioned 1-technique (outside shoulder of center), 3-technique (outside shoulder of guard) as well as a shaded 4-technique (inside shoulder of offensive tackle). The shaded 4-technique is one that should be paid special attention because it puts the offensive tackle in conflict by potentially forcing him to account for Pierre-Paul as well as the defensive end in a 5-technique (outside shoulder of tackle) if the guard is occupied by another rusher in the interior.
These various techniques are also important because it allows the Giants defense to play “games”. Games are stunt and twist packages that are put into place to confuse pass protections post-snap.
One of the biggest questions going into this game is, how will the Giants defend the Patriots tight end duo?
If Week 9 is any indication, they will base their keys off of the Patriots tight ends. The Giants set their defense based off of the alignment of the two tight ends by shifting their defensive line in the direction of the tight ends as well as dropping a safety into the box as an extra defender out of their Big Nickel package. By doing this, the Giants accounted for the run play as well as any pass plays by playing tight coverage against the Patriots pass catchers.
In pass defense, the defense played several coverages in Week 9, such as Cover 1 Robber and Cover 3. Although more coverages were played by the Giants, these two were mainly used because they are administered out of 1-high safety shells that allowed the defense to get an extra defender in the box.
Cover 1 Robber is combination coverage that has the cornerbacks play in man coverage while two safeties (or a safety and a linebacker) play zone coverage in the intermediate to deep depths of the field. This coverage was put into place in the gameplan so the defense could “rob” any underneath routes and look to force a turnover.
While Cover 1 Robber is a combination coverage, Cover 3 is a pure zone coverage that has four underneath defenders and three deep ones splitting the field into thirds (hence the 3). There are many variations of Cover 3 but the one that the Giants turned to is known as Cover 3 “Sky”. The word Sky describes the flat defender in Cover 3, which is the Safety in this variation.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Pascoe in Motion - TE Bear Pascoe is not the first guy that comes to mind when talking about the Giants offense, but he’s a factor when it comes to identifying tendencies. When Pascoe is in motion, whether it be from a Trips Bunch set to the backfield or offset to offset, it is often a run play. At times, the Giants will keep defenses honest by calling play action, but a lot of the snaps are run calls when he’s in motion.
- Giants Extra Pass Defenders - While the Giants heavily rely on the four man pass rush, they will also only rush three and drop a defensive end in coverage underneath to disrupt the passing lane of Tom Brady. They've done this before, with the versatile Jason Pierre-Paul dropping underneath with his 81” wingspan.
- Patriots DBs vs. Giants WRs - How will the Patriots match up with the Giants pass catchers? The Giants like to work the middle of the field with Nicks and Cruz running Dig (15 yards) routes and deep Shallow crosses (18-22 yards) and then take their deep shots. The Patriots will likely look to bracket Cruz because he’s the most deadly working out of the slot.
- TE Jake Ballard in the Seam - Ballard is not the most athletic nor quick tight end but he does a good job of separating from pass defenders horizontally and getting open vertically. He will get his chance to work in the seam and could prove to be a big factor if he’s matched up against linebacker Brandon Spikes, who is stiff in the hips and ankles.
- S Antrel Rolle in Coverage - Rolle has talked a big game all season but hasn’t played one, getting beaten numerous times in coverage because of his stiff hips. He struggles to change directions and can also be undisciplined at times. The Patriots are known for taking advantage of defensive weak links and I expect them to do the same in this game.
- Giants LBs vs. Patriots HBs & TEs - The Giants did not hesitate to match up in man coverage against the Patriots, especially against the tailbacks and tight ends. If they do the same, the Patriots will likely turn to receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez to move around the formation, specifically in the backfield. This could prove to be a matchup advantage for the Patriots because linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka lack foot speed and lateral agility to run with the Patriots skill players.
- No Huddle - New England has had success with the no huddle, up-tempo offense against defenses and did not use it much in the last meeting. When they did, they had some success and it's something that they will look to do again in an effort to run the ball.
- NT Vince Wilfork vs. Giants Interior OL - Wilfork has flat out been dominant in the playoffs and he could be problematic for the Giants interior offensive line that has issues with pad level and technique. They don’t always get their hands up quick enough, thus losing the leverage battle. Wilfork is very sound in his technique and its something that could be a big factor in this game.
- Patriots OL vs. Giants DL - This one is obvious but had to be put on here because of the importance of the matchup. The Giants NASCAR package is dominant and the Patriots will have their work cut out for them.
- Giants CBs vs. Patriots WRs - The Giants cornerbacks were physical at the line at times in Week 9, playing press man coverage and disrupting the rhythm of the passing game. Will they look to do it again? It would not surprise me if they did.
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Thanks to Alen for all his help this season. Make sure you say hit to him and ollow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen.