Many of the national media pundits and analysts continue to point to the Giants’ pass rush as the key to their turnaround. Stories galore have been written about the comparisons of 2007 and 2011 and the effect the Giants pass rush should have on this game. Even Bill Parcells, on his Super Bowl confidential last night on ESPN, pointed to the Giants DL as the clear strength of their team.
The DL’s battle “will be fought, and possibly won, with a heavy dose of trickery. Not only will the Giants mix up their sets and vary their points of pressure, they'll try to cross up Brady's bodyguards with moves known as "games" or "stunts." But the real enemy of the stunt is smart offensive linemen who sees them coming. Several members of New England's line have said they're not susceptible to games.”
This leads us to how effective as a group the Patriots Offensive Line has performed as a group this past season. Per Football Focus, the Patriots are the “sixth-ranked offensive line in terms of Pass Blocking Efficiency. Th(is) is at least four spots ahead of every other offensive line that the Giants have faced in their playoff run,” including the 49ers who ranked “27th in Pass Blocking efficiency.” Even in week 9 “the Patriots’ offensive line had the better of the game in comparison to their season average as their offensive linemen (not team total) gave up only 10 total pressures on 52 pass plays compared to their season average of 10 on 42. Across the way, the Giants’ defensive linemen (opposed to the whole defense) registered only 10 total pressures on 52 pass plays compared to a season average of 15 on 43.” The only favorable matchup the Giants may have is IF Solder starts over Vollmer. Solder had one of the weakest scores (-5.5) in terms of pass protection. We should hope that Fewell will be eyeing a matchup of JPP versus Solder if Solder starts. But then again, this may not work in the Giants favor after all per some comments from Greg Cosell of NFL.com below:
Gronkowski and Hernandez provide greater versatility to align closer to the formation. They will be utilized to chip or nudge the Giants defensive ends, or any outside blitzers. Then they will release into their pass routes. In the AFC Championship, Gronkowski drilled Terrell Suggs, eliminated him as a pass rusher and then ran his route.
Cosell touched on the adjustment that the Patriots made in the 2nd half of XLII to slow down the Giants’ pass rush. In the 2nd half the Patriots changed “base personnel from 3 wide receivers to 2 wide receivers and 2 tight ends. New England’s offense was much more efficient and productive in the second half. It calmed down the Giants pass rush.” Let’s just hope Gronkowski will not be effective but either way BB will use his TE formation to slow the Giants’ pass rush.
By the way, Cosell picks the Giants as he did in 2007 due to the matchup advantage of the Giants' WRs unit. Long time Giant fans are always nervous when they are picked to win but these guys on "Tangled up in Blue" make us, at UltimateNYG, seem like we see things through neon rose colored glasses.
No one can argue with the high level of performance by Tom Brady given his body of work over the course of his career. The biggest statistic of all is 3 rings in 4 appearances. Based on his winning record and passing statistics in the regular season, he should be considered one of the top 3 quarterbacks in the NFL.
Through 2004 in the postseason Brady was impressive both in the regular season and postseason, consistently posting 100+ passer rating numbers with a high TD to interception ratio. But let’s look at his numbers from 2005 to the present in the postseason:
Brady’s statistics since 2005:
TD/INT Rating Yards/Attempt Fumbles
2005 4/2 92.2 8.6 2
2006 5/4 76.5 6.1 2
SD 2/3 57.6 5.6 1
Ind 1/1 79.5 6.8 1
2007 6/3 96 6.8 1
SD 2/3 66.4 6.3 0
NYG 1/0 82.5 5.5 1
2009 2/3 49.1 5 1
2010 2/1 89 6.6 1
2011 6/3 105.8 8.6 0
BAL 0/2 57.5 6.6 0
These are not intimidating or top-level numbers when you consider that an average quarterback over a season has a rating of 82-85. Even in 2007, when he had an average rating of 96, in the postseason he had some very average performances, especially versus San Diego.
Brady is no longer known for his mobility. It’s no secret that you limit his effectiveness by moving him out of the pocket. The Giants certainly showed that in XLII and again in week 9 when he had lowest rating of the regular season (75, to coincide with 2 interceptions and a fumble). Tuck summed up the defense's effectiveness in week 9, where Brady clearly was not as sharp as his usual self:
"I think it starts with hitting him, even when you don't actually get sacks, just keeping people around him so he can't step up," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Monday. "I think he gets a little frustrated when he has to go to his second or third receivers. You can kind of confuse him sometimes with our coverage. I think there are a lot of things that can get him rattled, but it just seems like not too many people are able to do that."
In addition, Cimini of ESPNNewYork wrote, "In the early 2000 years, they had a pretty good defense," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They had a very well-balanced team, but the defense got old. Now it's all on Brady. There's a lot of pressure on him and sometimes it gets to him."
This isn’t to conclude that we should expect Brady to perform at below average level or even that Eli has surpassed Brady. But you have to believe that Brady must be feeling the pressure of his post-season performances that are well below what he produces in the regular season. His comments after Baltimore may be an indication of that pressure.
Over his illustrious professional football coaching career, Bill Belichick has devised clever schemes in the Super Bowl. Does he have yet another one up sleeve in this upcoming Super Bowl? Back when Belichick was defensive coordinator for the New York Football Giants, his defensive game plan in Super Bowl XXV is legend. Remember, the Bills under quarterback Jim Kelly ran the potent K-Gun offense. Going into this game, the Bills were heavily favored. In fact, late in the 1990 season, the Bills defeated the Giants in the regular season at the Meadowlands. With the Bills projected to blow out the Giants, what kind of defensive scheme did Belichick come up with?
The premise of Belichick's defensive gem was to allow Bills running back Thurman Thomas to gain over 100 yards. For a Giants defense who prides themselves on stopping the run, many members of the Giants defense scoffed at this game plan. But Belichick was steadfast in his approach with his defense. Although many of the Giants defenders had their reservations about Belichick's concept, they bought into his idea. Indeed Thomas gained over 100 yards against the Giants, but the Giants were victorious. In Paul Zimmerman's recap of Super Bowl XXV in Sports Illustrated, here is background information about Belichick's defense.
That was the heart of the defensive scheme New York threw at Buffalo. Parcells was in charge of the overall concept, but the implementation was left to Bill Belichick, the brilliant, 38-year-old defensive coordinator who has head coach written all over him. Four Bills offensive players presented the most serious challenges: Lofton, who at 34 was enjoying a renaissance as a deep threat; the slot receiver, Andre Reed; Thomas; and, foremost, Kelly.
Lofton, who usually lines up on the left side, would be the responsibility of Williams, who comes in when the Giants go with five or six defensive backs, as they did on Sunday. Everson Walls, the right cornerback in the base defense, would use his ball-hawking skills at a deep safety position. "I told Perry to play off Lofton, to give him a little cushion," said Belichick. "The Raiders played right up in his face, and he killed them. He's so physical, and he has those long arms that get him by the initial bump. Then [Lofton and the cover man] get into a speed-quickness thing, and it's all over."
The first pass Kelly threw to Lofton was that 61-yarder deep down the left side that Williams tipped and Lofton caught. It set up a first-quarter field goal that tied the score at 3-3. The second one, in the second quarter, was another fly pattern, but Williams and Walls smothered it. That was the last time Kelly threw Lofton's way.
The primary responsibility for covering Reed, whose specialty is crossing routes over the middle and whose greatest talent is making the first defender miss him after he makes a catch, fell to Reyna Thompson, a cornerback by trade but a special-teams demon and a sure tackler. He took over for safetyman Greg Jackson, who for this game became what amounted to a linebacker on tight end Keith McKeller's side. Thompson's job was to keep Reed in a shallow route and steer him to the other side, where Banks was waiting.
Kelly worked Reed to death, aiming 11 of his 21 first-half passes his way, six of them on crossing routes in which Reed got hammered. Reed caught seven balls, but by intermission he was dropping passes. In the second half he was a nonfactor, catching the one pass Kelly threw him, a five-yarder. "No other team ever hit me this hard," said Reed afterward. "You can't even compare this to anything I've ever been through. They bruised up my whole body."
As for Thomas, he kept the Bills in the game through individual brilliance. He put Buffalo's final points on the board early in the fourth quarter with a 31-yard run in which he bounced free of safety Myron Guyton's head-on tackle.
Finally, there was Kelly, who was having a career season. "There comes a time when things just open up for you as a quarterback, when you just see things," said Simms before the Super Bowl. "You see all the soft parts of a defense, the things you can attack, instead of the bad things. It happened for me in '85, and right now it's happening for Kelly."
Kelly's numbers on Sunday were presentable -- 18 completions in 30 attempts for 212 yards -- but not inspiring. Belichick could deal with Kelly in one of two ways. He could come up with an exotic blitzing scheme, hoping that the rush would reach Kelly before he could find a receiver. Or he could play coverages -- rush three or four people, drop the rest of the defenders back and give up the underneath stuff, though making sure the receivers got jolted. Belichick chose the latter. He went with two down linemen, usually nosetackle Erik Howard and end Leonard Marshall, all day, but one of two linebackers, Johnson or Lawrence Taylor, would line up in a rush position, sometimes coming, sometimes dropping back.
That was the initial package, but there were variations, with linebacker Gary Reasons and occasionally safety Dave Duerson coming in for Jackson, or Jackson sliding over to relieve Thompson on the slot coverage. Belichick used all these wrinkles, and the result was a Buffalo offense that didn't convert a third-down play until less than two minutes remained, that was hammered and often frustrated but that remained game to the end.
"We made them work hard for everything they got," said Banks, who delivered the most serious hits on Reed and Thomas. "Guys wanted to come across the middle? O.K., we had people waiting for them. They did things they had to do. I mean, they played hard. This was classic football. Our defense was sound. There were no blown assignments. I missed one call, but we covered for it.
"The type of defense we play -- well, you need a lot of veterans. The hardest thing about it is not to allow yourself to feel rushed. They're running a no-huddle, but there's still time to line up the way you want to without rushing. I've seen them hit a long play on film, then all of a sudden the defense is scrambling around when it should have had its composure. I could sense that happening to us at one point, so I got everyone together on the sidelines between series and said, 'Let's be relaxed. Let's not let them rush us into anything.' The big thing is we played as a team -- t-e-a-m -- I can't emphasize it enough. We did things as a team this year."
Additionally, Belichick wanted his players to use delay tactics. In between plays, when the umpire immediately spotted the ball, a Giants player was coached to "accidentally" kick the ball. This was designed to interrupt the flow and rhythm of the Bills attack.
Another masterful Belichick game plan was in Super Bowl XXXVI. This time Belichick was the head coach and was up against another potent offense-The Greatest Show on Turf. (St. Louis Rams) Belichick's Bullseye gameplan targeted Marshall Faulk. Whenever he was on the field, Belichick wanted his defenders to hit him. Because Belichick knew Faulk was the key to the Rams offense. If the Patriots can stop Faulk, their chances of winning the game increased. ESPN analyst and author Ron Jaworkski quipped, I'm not sure if one particular photo is mounted on the walls of the Patriots facility, but if it's not, it should be: the image of any New England defender from Super Bowl XXXVI knocking Marshall Faulk on his ass.
What can we anticipate from Belichick in Super Bowl XLVI? Well if the past tells us something, his defense is going to be very physical. The key to the Giants success on offense is Eli Manning. If the Patriots defensive line can generate pressure all evening on Manning, they will win this game. As we witnessed in the second half against the 49ers, the Giants offensive line had difficulty pass protecting. Despite winning the NFC Championship, Eli Manning was hit TWENTY times and sacked SIX times. Needless to say, the Giants offense was stagnant in the second half. As we noted here on this blog, Falcons DE John Abraham voiced his opinion about the Giants offense. “Pretty much just try and get as much pressure on him as possible. He does a great job with his play-action fakes, he does a great job of getting the ball out quick. In order for us to have a good day, we’re going to have to get in his face and have him move out of the pocket.” Even though the Falcons had two sacks (one of which resulted in a safety), for a majority of the game Eli had time to throw the football. And the Packers defense was pathetic. They did not get pressure on Eli. The only team thus far to slow Manning down was the 49ers. Again, most of their damage was done in the second half. Belichick is well aware. And the weak link on the Giants offensive line is center David Baas. Look for Belichick to use DT Vince Wilfork on Baas. Belichick may use a Turkey Blitz against the Giants offense. This is a 5-2 alignment with the defensive linemen stunting.
His defense has to play solid football for an entire 60 minutes. If they are capable of doing this, as a head coach, he will win his fourth Lombardi trophy.
Pro Football Focus broke down the tale of the tape between the Giants offense and Pats defense with some insightful numbers. Our comments are italicized. (Note: PFF gave the Giants the advantage in all categories but interior running.)
Interior Running Game
The Giants have a problem on the O-line, and it clearly manifests itself in the performance of their running game, especially up the gut. Poor center play and sub-par work from the guards has left New York averaging only 2.5 yards per carry between the guards and with a long of just 19 yards all year. The NFL average on runs in the same direction is 3.9, and in the Super Bowl, they will find themselves going up against a heavy New England defensive front...In the first meeting between the two teams this year, the Giants only attempted three runs in this area, gaining 7 yards.
-A battle that the Giants probably won't win. This is fine by them. They know that this isn't going to start being a reliable option for them Super Bowl week. Just not going to happen. Even still the Giants would be wise to mix in a few of these to maintain a balanced rushing attack. Don't expect to see more than five or six inside rushes. Makes no sense with big Wilfork in there.
Outside Running Game
Runs to the perimeter is where the strength of the Giants’ run game lies, largely because they are relying less on the in-line blocking of their offensive line and more on the game-breaking ability of their running backs. Ahmad Bradshaw has forced 26 missed tackles this season on his 171 carries, and the Giants average 4.6 yards per carry on runs outside of the guards on the season...The Patriots struggle especially with runs off tackle, which netted opposing offenses 5.5 yards per carry in the regular season and 474 total rushing yards.
-The Giants will make their money on the ground on these plays. That means counters, misdirections, tosses, the patented "Bradshaw Backside Cut" and some traditional off tackles, which is a weak point for the Pats. Who knows what type of defense Belichick will throw the Giants' way, but no one would be surprised to see him "encourage" the Giants to run the ball.
Short Passing Game
The Patriots have had their troubles in coverage all season, but if there is an area of the field where they can be dangerous, it is in underneath coverage. In the regular season on throws under 10 yards in depth they surrendered twelve touchdowns and over 2,000 yards, but they also picked off 13 passes, three more than on passes beyond 10 yards in depth. Manning has been able to make plays on these throws, but over the season he has thrown five interceptions on throws under 10 yards down field. If teams can force pressure quickly, they can anticipate his outlet throws and make plays on them.
-Has become a much more reliable part of the Giants offense, another reason why they have become all the more dangerous. Between Gilbride/Eli's renewed focus on getting the ball to a back (even if it is on 3rd and long just to improve field position) and Cruz's ability to rip up short zones, the Giants could find success here. If they do then they will be all the more at an advantage when looking to gain those chunk yards. The Giants went away from the Nicks' hitch in SF (probably because of a combination of SF's talent, defensive scheme and the weather conditiions), a play that they found so much success with in GB. Look for it to be back in SB XLVI because it's hard to think the Pats CBs will be bold enough to look to jump this route with the deep threat that Nicks represents.
Intermediate Passing Game
When Eli Manning throws towards the sidelines this season he has been excellent on intermediate throws. He has just one pick outside the numbers from 93 attempts. Those attempts yielded 884 yards and seven touchdowns and featured some impressive passes in the face of heavy pressure.
-Here is where things start getting really dicey for the Pats. Between the impeccibally timed dig (deep in) routes, corner routes and deep climbing routes all the way across the field, Eli and his receivers have become deadly in this range. Eli's timing with his receivers has become as safe of a bet as the pass rush! It's going to be there. This is where Cruz can run circles around Edelman.
Deep Passing Game
If there is an area where cycling through a series of bodies is going to hurt in coverage, it is deep. New England coughed up 1,226 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season purely on passes thrown deep (over 20 yards downfield), and they allowed half of all such targets to be completed. 18.5% of all Manning’s attempts were 20 or more yards down field and he attempted 20 more of those throws than any other QB. The impressive figure, though, is that despite that volume of attempts, Manning still completed 46.8%. That was good for seventh in the league, despite eight drops on deep throws, two more than any other quarterback.
-And we get to our final stop. If Manning has the time then this could be the demise of the Pats' Super Bowl hopes. Although the Pats kept the Giants in check in this category back in Week 9 (without Nicks of course), this pass game is clicking in ways we couldn't imagine. No matter the coverage, the bottom line is that Eli has proven time and time again that he can and will fire the ball downfield. Another area he has improved so much as we know is his pocket presence- he has become so good at moving around amidst pressure, all the while keeping his eyes down the field at his receivers. As the stats show above, it has certainly paid off. This needs to and WILL be exploited by the Giants.
Phil Simms spoke with Mike Francesa on the NFL Now on WFAN yesterday morning. He reviewed the two games from last weekend and talked about the NYG-NE matchup.
1) BAL. Flacco played really well. If Evans holds on to the ball, or the kicker sends the game to OT for a BAL win, the public is talking about 'Flacco the hero.' Instead, the Ravens lose, so Flacco continues to get the bad rap. The Ravens 'held' because they knew they wouldn't be called by the officials in a championship game.
2) The NFL in 2012. 20 years ago it was about teams who dominated, so that when they got to the playoffs they could hold serve after the bye. Now, that is not necessarily the case anymore. You need breaks.
3) NYG-SF. Speaking of breaks, the Giants got them with the Special Teams mishaps of the Niners. Simms also mentioned the whistle that could have gone either way for Ahmad Bradshaw on the no-call of the Q4 fumble after the whistle. Amazingly, both offenses never turned over the ball. Re Eli taking a beating, Simms implied that getting taken down to the ground on a rain-soaked field meant a softer surface that was less punishing. Simms complimented Gilbride for being aggressive and continuing to pass the ball. Singled out the playcall in Q4 that gave the Giants the lead, the 17 yd TD pass to Mario Manningham (see below for comment).
Simms raves about the Giants WRs. Says they are better than the Packers WRs. They have size, speed, double moves, borderline great hands. Overall Simms reiterated that the Giants have more talent than the Packers as a team. Argued that Rodgers covered up for weaknesses elsewhere on the team.
In comparing the NE and NYG offensive weapons, Simms says he prefers the Giants, because they can spread it out more. The Giants can do it everywhere on the field, short, medium and long. The Patriots have Welker and the 2 TEs, so their long threat is a shorter ball and YAC. That is not like the Giants, who can also go deep. Simms prefers the Giants receivers because they give you more chances for big plays.
4) Scouting the Super Bowl. Francesa asked an interesting question and got a very good answer: What is more important for you as a player, the last four games OR the game played vs each other in Week 9. Simms answered unequivocally- the game you played against them in Week 9. Why? Because you learn things about them in the game that you cannot get on film... how long a player's arms are, how fast a player is, or why the TE is better than we thought.
Simms made another remark in reviewing the Patriots secondary: NE needs a cornerback who can make plays, and they haven't had that since Ty Law.
Simms reminded us that Brady fessed up after the AFC Championship and said he 'stunk.' Because of that, Simms believes that Brady will be extra vigilant to be physically sharp to make the throws in the Super Bowl.
5) Eli Manning. Re the leap forward in Eli's play, sometimes it is an accumulation. But Simms did not think so. Simms said that physically Eli Manning is throwing the ball a lot better this year than he has in his first 7 seasons. It comes out of his hands, it is more powerful, it is smoother. Said he wasn't sure what Manning did in the offseason, but knows he did something because he physically isn't the same. Believes the 25 interceptions in 2010 were clearly a motivating factor. Notes that Eli is not afraid to throw the 11th ball when the first 10 aren't very good.
UltimateNYG here. We feature Phil Simms here because we respect his insight. I will respectfully disagree with Simms when he excessively lauds Gilbride on the Mario Manningham TD playcall. It is 3rd and 15 from the 17. You are in FG position already, so what are you going to call? Something safe underneath? You have the same three great WRs that Simms simultaneously loves, so you MUST go for the endzone and find one of them in that situation. And besides, you are down by 4 points and the way the offense has been playing, you may not get another bonafide chance to score in this game. Remember, this "drive" was set up by the (first) turnover on Special Teams. So Gilbride's offense wasn't exactly lighting it up. To do anything else BUT attack into the end zone would have been negligent. One of your WRs (or possibly a TE) should have an opportunity; Manningham was still in single coverage on his cut, the ball was thrown higher and MM went up and got it.
As a reminder, Wonder had a very good scouting report on the Patriots before the Week 9 game. We probably won't have an effective Ballard, but Tuck and JPP should be much healthier, and Nicks and Bradshaw will be playing this time. If Ballard is even 80%, you have to like the Giants chances.