While the quarterbacks get most of the publicity (and MVPs) in the Super Bowl, the defense continues to make big play after big play without getting enough credit. That changes now, as I delve into a halftime adjustment made by Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell that helped New York win the Super Bowl.
Fewell’s personnel packages were normal in the first half, consisting of the NASCAR package that features three defensive ends, and a Nickel package that was made up of three safeties unlike the typical three cornerbacks that teams put out on the field. Where it got interesting was in the coverage concepts that Fewell implemented, some of which featured straight man coverage, while at other times it was pure zone. Both of the philosophies came out of 1 and 2 high safety shells, with the former being used more while the Giants played Cover 3 — a 4 under, 3 deep zone coverage.
This was not much different than what was seen in the Week 9 matchup between these two teams. New England’s quick-footed pass catchers got the best of the Giants’ pass defenders, separating from them at the break point of their underneath routes multiple times and consequently moving the chains en route to 10 points in the second quarter.
However, the second half of the Super Bowl would be different as Fewell and the Giants defense made a coverage adjustment that would pay dividends late in the game. They still played their Cover 3 concept but with a slight alteration of responsibilities that would see the middle linebacker drop into the deep third area in the middle of the field, while a safety would replace him underneath in coverage. This showed that they were not concerned about the vertically challenged Patriots attacking deep, an area in which they failed all night, instead settling on short passes out of three- and five-step drops.
This coverage variation was seen on the final Patriots drive late in the fourth quarter. With the Giants leading 21-17, they turned to their coverage adjustment that they made while Madonna was performing the shuffle and some one-hit wonder was flipping the world the bird.
On this play, the Patriots came out in their 11 spread gun personnel package that has a single back in the backfield and a tight end flexed from the end of the formation, while the Giants looked to operate out of their 40 Big Nickel package — four-man line (40) and five (Nickel) defensive backs, three of which are safeties.
Tom Brady’s view of the coverage pre-snap was interesting, as he looked to the middle of the field to identify how many safeties there were, yet right across from him stood a linebacker fifteen yards off the line of scrimmage. To each side of the linebacker were the safeties — what were they going to do post-snap?
When Brady snapped the ball, the MIKE (middle) linebacker dropped deep along with the two outside cornerbacks, splitting the field into thirds evenly. Underneath, the three safeties along with linebacker Michael Boley divided the field into fourths, with safety (left) Antrel Rolle and Boley being the Curl-to-Flat defenders, while safeties Kenny Phililps and Deon Grant became the Hook (middle) defenders.
After scanning the field, Brady threw the ball and targeted receiver Deion Branch. Branch, who ran an inside-breaking route, was open in the middle of the field, but the Patriots signal caller had to make a difficult throw. He got just enough air under the pass to put it through the hands of Philips…
But ultimately, the ball placement is what caused this pass to be incomplete, with Brady throwing it behind his intended target — something he doesn’t do very often.
While it appeared that Branch ran freely into the middle of the field, the Patriots did not complete the pass that would have given them a significant gain.
This play was merely one example (and the best for diagramming) of many that the Giants had success on while in this coverage. The coverage concept switch-up administered by Fewell proved to be a big halftime adjustment because it allowed the Giants to become more athletic underneath, thus negating the Patriots’ matchup advantage and cutting down the yards after catch opportunities on quick passes thrown by Brady.