With Super Bowl XLVI only days away, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots are starting to practice and their gameplans will soon be implemented. Coordinators and play callers on both teams will have to give it their best to win the ultimate prize, and many of us are wondering what they could have up their sleeve.
Who will Bill Belichick play in the defensive backfield? What kind of crazy front are they going to come out with? What about the Giants’ running game? Will Kevin Gilbride rehash more Run and Shoot concepts? Or will they just stick to what got them to Indianapolis?
I expect the Giants to do more of the same and stick to their running game while attempting to establish the play action passing game. Gilbride, New York’s offensive coordinator, usually aims to be balanced with his play calling, and given how much teams pass nowadays, a 60-40 pass to run ratio in the playoffs can be considered pretty balanced.
New York’s strength is the passing game, with quarterback Eli Manning often finding his receivers downfield. His pass catchers come in all shapes and sizes and have different skill-sets. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is the big offensive threat for the Giants, and he’s able to snatch passes at their highest point and be physical after the catch, which is why he’s often seen running inside-breaking routes toward the middle of the field. While Nicks is problematic for defenses, he’s not the only one. Wide receiver Victor Cruz is also dangerous with his speed.
Cruz is a smaller target, but he presents a similar problem for defenses. He’s able to leap sky-high for the ball and come down with it because of his quality body control and hands. He’s also very quick in short areas and has high football intelligence. His FBI (football intelligence), as NFL Scouts call it, is shown through his alignments, which can vary from the slot to the strong and weak sides of the formation. He’s also able to find the holes in zone coverage, and run away from man coverage because of his quickness and route running skills.
With those two talented weapons and a power running game, the Giants’ play action passing game can be very effective. One of the things they’ve done multiple times this season is have Nicks run the aforementioned inside-breaking route, while Cruz runs a Corner route against one-on-one coverage, a matchup he often wins. We saw this during the week 9 matchup between the two conference champions.
Late into the third quarter, the Giants came out against the Patriots defense with 12 personnel against a base 4-3, and they looked to sell the play action. What worked in their favor was their personnel grouping, which is viewed by defenses as a run formation, because it made the play look like a run.
To Manning’s right, the direction of the play action, Nicks ran an inside-breaking option route that appeared to initially be a Dig route (15-yard in) but he would ultimately sit down against the coverage once he broke inside. On the other side, Cruz took a vertical stem to sell a block before showing off his route running skills by planting his outside foot into the ground and turning inside toward the formation.
This turned Kyle Arrington’s hips inside and causing him to lose leverage. Once Cruz saw this, he took advantage by turning back upfield and hand fighting the Patriots defensive back to create separation.
After separating from Arrington, Cruz turned on the jets to sell a vertical route prior to planting his inside foot this time and breaking back outside to complete the corner route.
The Patriots secondary, which played Quarters coverage, would be beaten for the deep pass. The safety rolling over the top of Cruz was too slow to get over, while Arrington lost leverage.
New England’s defense will have to step up if they plan on continuing to play Quarters coverage. They played it often in Week 9 and with some success, but there were struggles too, and I expect them to play some more of it in the Super Bowl. Quarters allows them to get play the run with the safeties in the box while also helping in the passing game by getting over the top of vertical routes to help the cornerbacks.
However, the key for the Patriots defense in defending the Giants play action passing game is to not bite on the fake. They have to be disciplined, because if they don’t, Cruz will eventually work over the top and in behind the safeties for an even bigger gain.