The New York Giants’ defensive scheme is always interesting because of their personnel groupings, whether it’s the use of three defensive ends creating a “Race Car” package along the defensive front or three safeties in their “Big Nickel” package. These packages are used by other teams but not to the same extent or effectiveness.

Despite the intriguing personnel packages, the coverages used by the Giants pass defense are often not overly complicated, and they settle for man-to-man coverage unless the opposition has a game-changing skill player, as they did in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. While the Giants did use a plethora of man coverage concepts against explosive 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, they also had moments in which they bracketed him to prevent a big play.

An example of this was seen midway through the fourth quarter when the 49ers came out in 12 personnel against the Giants’ aforementioned Big Nickel — three safeties — package.

With a signal from quarterback Alex Smith, the 49ers’ personnel grouping adjusted from the traditional 12 to a 12-spread package when Davis shifted to the wide left. This forced Giants safety Kenny Phillips to come into the box to walk out with Davis, which suggested man coverage.

San Fran's 12-spread package widens the strong side safety.

Along with the alignment adjustment by the Giants defense, a call was communicated by linebacker Michael Boley to Phillips that would ultimately result in a variation of Man-Free coverage, which has the underneath pass defenders in man coverage, while the free safety in the middle of the field plays zone.

Cover 1 (Man-Free) diagram courtesy of

New York’s variation of the coverage concept featured Boley helping to cover Davis, who already had Phillips on him. Boley would contribute to the double coverage by running underneath Davis while Phillips covered over the top of the tight end, creating what is known as “bracket” coverage.

Giants bracket Davis out of man-free coverage.

Bracket coverage is a double coverage that can be formed by any two defensive players that cover either underneath and over the top of the pass catcher or each side of him. This is an effective and common coverage in the NFL, and one that’s done through several coverage variations.

Moreover, what makes this an appealing topic for this week’s post is the matchup against the New England Patriots tight ends that the Giants defense will face in the Super Bowl. In their last meeting, the Giants willingly played a lot of man coverage against the Patriots’ duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and they gave up 12 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Duplicating that performance likely won’t win them the Super Bowl, which may force the Giants to play more bracket coverage against Gronkowski and Hernandez.

While the defense gave up a 17-yard scramble to quarterback Alex Smith on the play outlined above, they likely won’t allow the same run to the athletically limited Tom Brady, which is why bracketing could be very effective.